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Interview with Matthew Dols, October 23, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Matthew Dols, October 23, 2007
October 23, 2007
Local artist and entrepreneur Matthew Dols talks about his art career and business ventures. Dols is the director for Tabula Rasa, a non profit company that supports arts in Wilmington. Dols' home is located just steps from the Tabula Rasa darkroom that used to be available to photographers in Eastern North Carolina and was Dols' original vision in creating Tabula Rasa. Now, Tabula Rasa the organization is used to run, PEDestrian art as well as Art for the Masses.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Dols, Matthew Interviewer:  Hayes, Sherman / Shivar, Ashley Date of Interview:  10/23/2007 Series:  Arts Length  120 minutes

Q: Welcome and thank you. Today we are talking with Matthew Dols-- did I say that?

Matthew Dols: Dols.

Q: Dols. Well, I got it somewhat--

Matthew Dols: Sorry. Everybody--

Q: Is your full name Matthew--

Matthew Dols: William Dols.

Q: Born when?

Matthew Dols: September 3rd, 1973, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Q: All right, good. And I am Sherman Hayes, University Librarian at UNCW, and, with me, also, is interviewer Ashley Shivar. Did I get that right? Whew, boy, I'm on a roll here, two out of three isn't bad. And, today we're talking to Matthew as a local artist, and I use the term art entrepreneur. He may disagree with that use, so we can talk about that later, but he has been a mover and shaker in the sense of supporting and expanding the art community, as well as an actual professional artist himself. And he is turning his phone off. Is that the--? We know the date. Today is October 23rd, 2007, and this is part of the Greater Southeast North Carolina Oral History Project on digital arts. So, let's talk, first and foremost, a little bit of context. You're in Wilmington now, but how did you get here? In other words, where did you start, what was your family like, before we get into the specifics of art.

Matthew Dols: I grew up in Arlington, Virginia. My father is a Episcopal Minister. My mother is an interior decorator. Let's see, my father's brother also is a minister at St. James on Third Street, here in Wilmington.

Q: Is that right? What is his name?

Matthew Dols: Bill Dols; William Dols.

Q: He isn't here now?

Matthew Dols: No, he was here in the early 70s, which is how, in the end, which is how we ended up here.

Q: Well, that's fascinating.

Matthew Dols: So he actually was the rector from, I believe it was like '67 to '73 or so, and lived here for awhile after that, and he is the reason why we all ended up down here, but I guess I will get to that in a second. Yeah, Grosvenor Arms [ph?] in Virginia, all the way through high school; then I went to Elon College for two years in North Carolina; then I was asked to leave Elon College, and left and went to the University of Iowa, where I got my Bachelors of Studio Art and Photography. Then I went to the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., and got my Bachelors of Fine Arts in Photography. Actually, no, Iowa was BA in Studio Art; then I emphasized a specific degree in photography at Corcoran; and then I went to the San Francisco Art Institute and got a Masters in New Genre Art.

Q: Interesting. Let's go back to the Iowa part.

Matthew Dols: Yeah.

Q: Because I'm from Iowa, so that's good, isn't it?

Matthew Dols: Iowa City, Iowa.

Q: That's right. I'm from Newton, but I have a degree from The University of Iowa. What was the fine art degree there like? I mean, that's a large, large--

Matthew Dols: Yeah, that was interesting, actually. I didn't go there with the intention of being an artist. I actually transferred out of Elon and went to the University of Iowa because I wanted to be a Native American Studies Major.

Q: Interesting.

Matthew Dols: And the University of Iowa was one of the few-- any College University at all that had a Native American Studies major available. I got there; I was transferring in as a junior, and I enrolled, I talked with them, I conversed back and forth about it, got there, and they said, "Okay, so now that you're here you're going to have to start over as a freshmen in order to get a degree." And I'm like, "No." So, over the weekend I just like-- I said, you know, forget it. I'm just going to be an artist. And I dropped Native American Studies, and just decided to start taking art classes, and that was my major.

Q: But there must have been-- why was art there driving that? Was there a high school experience?

Matthew Dols: Sure, yeah, I mean, you know, gifted and talented things in elementary school. I won awards for my drawings and all kinds of stuff, and I used to always draw. It's funny, I never really like was a drawer, I was a copier. I could mimic something beautifully. I remember stupidly being like in third grade, or something. I don't know when the movie came out, but I used to-- people would pay me-- kids would pay me to make copies of the Ghostbusters symbol because I could do it really well. I don't know why or how, but that's what-- I would do stupid things like that. Like I was very good at copying, very good at geometric patterns, and things that could be tangible and literal.

Q: You said your mom was an interior--

Matthew Dols: Decorator.

Q: --decorator. So did she come from an art background herself?

Matthew Dols: No. She was about the only person in our family, other than my brother, that's not artistic or creative in and of her core being, only personal manner. She would agree to that. We've actually talked a lot about this as I've gotten older, that she's one of the-- I mean, she's got creative things about her, she does a lot of-- she did a lot of junior league projects, she does craft stuff, she does scrapbooking now is her big thing. But she would not consider herself the creative person in the family.

Q: She wasn't the commercial--

Matthew Dols: No, absolutely not. It was all her personal use. The closest she got to that was doing interior decorating. But she has her Masters in Interior Decorating she is not you know, uneducated in it or just does it for fun.

Q: Well what do we mean, for a person who doesn't know that terminology, what does that mean?

Matthew Dols: Interior decorating versus interior designer is the difference, designers actually design the entire room, like theoretically doing doors and designing the way the wall is textured, from everything down. She did more of-- once somebody already has a really nice room, she would come and buy the furniture; help them choose paint colors, and wall treatments, and window treatments and things like that. So it was more of a superficial decorative thing than an actual design from conception on.

Q: I think that that is really an artistic fit. You have to have an eye for sure, at that.

Matthew Dols: Yes, absolutely. Oh no, I'd still go to her, like she helped me actually lay out-- helped the lay of this out better, I used to have everything re-arranged in different ways, and she helped me to figure out ways to make this room more of a comfortable, actual living room, and then that room was purely office, where as if you had come by 2 months ago, it was actually very mix-matched. So there was a lot of office stuff in this room and a lot of personal stuff in that room. So I mean little things like that she's actually very good with.

Q: Back to Iowa, and the question then is, now you're just going to be an art major, was that the whole spectrum, you had to take everything--

Matthew Dols: Yes.

Q: --or did you at that point start to concentrate on photography?

Matthew Dols: No, I was doing everything. I did lithography, print-making, metal smithing, pottery, installation work, environmental sculpture. I even had to do all the basics, the drawing 101, the-- all that stuff. Yeah, I got a hardcore basic--

Q: But by being in that program you can transfer your basic studies, you didn't have to--

Matthew Dols: Yeah, even though I transferred, and even though I changed my major in my junior year, I was still able to graduate in four years. So I got my first degree in four years.

Q: That's good.

Matthew Dols: One of the few people that still do that.

Q: I think back, that's true.

Matthew Dols: I mean I ended up in the end, in total, being in college for going on eight years between my BA, BFA, and MFA. During that I time I also go to study abroad in London and to study abroad in Belize.

Q: Now what, for a person who is reading this or listening, we toss out in the academia BA, BFA, why would there be any difference, I mean if you were in an art, you have an art, you have an art, right?

Matthew Dols: After graduating from the University of Iowa, I had a Bachelor's of Studio Art with no emphasis on anything. So I hadn't done any in-depth studies or produced anything of any substantial quality in any one discipline.

Q: Did you have to have a senior show in that, you didn't have to--

Matthew Dols: I did, actually, yeah. I did a photography show. But what it actually broke down to was I applied to a few masters programs, and they all turned around to me and said, well, what is your major? What's your thing that you want-- what department do you want to be in? And I hadn't had enough background or studies or emphasis in any one different discipline or department to be able to say, I would like to get my masters in pttt [makes sound].

Q: And interesting thing is that--

Matthew Dols: Let's see how that transcribes, ptttt.

Q: -- later on, as we talk about your interest in helping the arts in general, it seems to me like it was a wonderful preparation for talking to so many artists.

Matthew Dols: Oh, yeah.

Q: Isn't there a tendency for the artist to eventually get so narrow that they can't talk to somebody--

Matthew Dols: Well, it's actually very interesting, because, like, as this kept going on, I started off BA in Studio Art, emphasis in photography from the Corcoran, and then I turned around and went to my San Francisco Art Institute. Now, I went to the San Francisco Art Institute, I applied; was accepted, and did my first year of my masters as a photography major. And I didn't like the department, because the department was all about photography. Every time I showed a piece of artwork, it was, "What kind of camera did you use with this?" "What kind of film?" "What settings did you have?" You know, a very, very technical based photographic information, which was irrelevant to me. That's the easy part. Anybody can get a camera; anybody can use a certain paper; anybody can use a certain film; we were still at film at the time. Anybody can, you know, do all these types of technical aspects, but I didn't care about that. What I cared about was the why, why did somebody do it? Why? Why did you choose to take the picture in the first place? Why did you choose to light it that way? Why did you choose to print it at that scale, so, printing it this big; printing it that big. Why do you choose to present it in this manner, lit in this way, in this type of a room, with this colored wall.

Q: So it wasn't a photography/art curriculum as much a practical?

Matthew Dols: No, it was a photography/art curriculum. But it was only photography. All they cared about was the print, the finished product. They didn't care about the stuff before it, why did you choose to do this? How does this--

Q: Interpretation.

Matthew Dols: They didn't care about that until it came to the finished print. And, then, beyond the print, they didn't care. How did you frame it? How did you present it? You know, what kind of-- so that they were very narrow in their scope, or at least I felt that way. I'm sure they really weren't. If you asked my teachers at San Francisco, they would disagree with me, but I felt that way. So I actually had started hanging out with a lot of the people in what's called the new genre program, which is-- I had never heard of it before I went to San Francisco, and so I don't blame anybody to not know what we're talking about, but it's genre, G-E-N-R-E, genre. And what it is, is it's a very fascinating way to study, because instead of being disciplined based, you're conceptual based. So, when you come into a new genre program class, it doesn't matter what the class is, what's important is why. And then, after you figure out the why, you figure out the how. So, I could come in and say, "I want to do a piece of artwork conveying my issues with global warming." Then you figure out what discipline to do that in. Do I want to do it as a dance performance? Do I want to do it in a print, making a book? Do I want to do it as a sculpture, a painting, a photograph? That's the next step. But the core idea is, as an artist, what am I trying to say?

Q: What if you can't deal in those other mediums?

Matthew Dols: Then you learn. That was the point, all the medium, all the disciplines were available to you at the Art Institute. So I could go to any teacher, and that's the thing, as a new genre major, I could go into any other department and they had an obligation to teach me something.

Q: Wow.

Matthew Dols: That's what the, like, the new genre departments are basically inter-disciplinary, so I was a member of every department by being a new genre, so I could go to any department and they had to teach me something. If I had said, "I want to know how to do a lithograph so that I can do a series of prints about this concept that I have," they had to teach me.

Q: Wow.

Matthew Dols: So, it was really interesting because it taught me to take a step back from the tangibles and the literals of a photograph, of a final product and all that and start to think more about why's and how's, and ideas, and learn more about the creation of art, the concepts behind it, and in the same manner, how to talk about it. Because talking about art, engaging in art is very different. When you're a photographer looking at a photograph, it's one thing; but when you're an artist looking at art, it's a very different thing. And so it allowed me to be freed up, that suddenly I was an artist looking at art.

Q: Was there a writing component to it, because it seems like it's almost preparation for art criticism.

Matthew Dols: We had a strong component of art criticism, teachers, actually. Mark Van Pavillion, who is a critic for Art News, and Art in America, he actually taught there. We had a couple different people like that, so, I mean, yeah, there was a strong component of that. We took a lot of-- we did a lot of reading about conceptual work going on in Europe, installation work, conceptual stuff, all kinds of crazy, crazy things that just made you go "Oh, my God." Like, "How did you do that?" Like it was so over the top, that you're just like, "That changed my entire outlook on life," like knowing that somebody can accomplish something like this. I don't remember any of them, now, but..

Q: Is there a pattern where these people end up? I mean, is there a career path from this program, because it's so wide open?

Matthew Dols: No, actually, the fascinating thing about the people that I knew that graduated from that program, from the New Genre Program specifically, there was everything from curators of museums, directors of galleries, art critics for publications, to full practicing qualified artists that have, you know, exhibits at the Whitney and at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and places like that. So, no, that, to me, was probably the most engaging part of that department, was that you weren't set in, if you follow this path you will end up "here." This was the, if you follow this path, you will end up in a place that is exciting to whatever excites you. So if you were a museum curator type of person, you would end up towards going in that direction. If you were a gallery for profit, like, type of a person, you would end up there. Actually, there were a lot of them that ended up running their own non-profits in San Francisco as well, non-profit art places. A lot of them actually opened their own in the beginning.

Q: So it wasn't a career path type program.

Matthew Dols: No. Well, San Francisco Art Institute across the board is not a career path institution. They just taught you how to be an artist. They don't even have-- they didn't even have a business class. They didn't have math classes. That's not their concern. Their concern is teaching to be artist, not to be a business person.

Q: We missed a small interlude of a BFA in-

Matthew Dols: The Corcoran, The Corcoran School of Art. I want it down as The Corcoran School of Art because it's now called The Corcoran School of Art and Design. I did not graduate from that school. This is Don, my big fat cat. I graduated from The Corcoran School of Art.

Q: Do we need to get that, to sign the release?

Matthew Dols: The Corcoran School of Art was in Washington, D.C., and I had graduated from Iowa, and I was working as an intern at a stock photography agency called Woodfin Camp, actually no, I did that while I was still in Iowa, and then I started working at Uniphoto, which is a stock photography agency that got bought out by a company in London, and then they closed down. It's a long story, doesn't matter. But I was working at a stock photography agency during about an eight-month time period.

Q: What is a stock photography?

Matthew Dols: Stock photography agencies were photographers, some photographers choose to do what's called stock photography, which is they go out and take generalized things, sunset over the beach.. there was this one guy, Robert, well, I'm not going to say his name. But, anyway, he was this one photographer, he would hire a model, and the model would be a big strong guy, and he'd do this, and he'd put an apple there, take a picture. And then he would change the background color to blue, to green, to whatever, and he'd do this exact same shot, different color background, take the apple off, put a banana there, same shot. So he just created a whole bunch of stuff that then were bought by textbooks, magazine, advertising campaigns, to use as these images in the background. So instead of any of these places having to hire photographers to do things, which is rather expensive, they could buy these stock images, basically buy just the rights to use it for their one project.

Q: So it's commercial photography.

Matthew Dols: Oh, absolutely. Oh, yeah, it was horribly commercial in the worst sense of the word. So I was there and I met my sort of mentorish type person, Paige Carr. Her full name is actually Linda Paige Carr. And she was the-- what was she?-- I think she was the editor, sounds right. She ended up being, since they closed, she was the editor of Ranger Rick, photo editor for Ranger Rick Magazine. And she's now a professor at Northern Virginia Community College. She's been there for six, seven years now. But she, after the University of Iowa, I was working at Uniphoto, and I showed her some of my work, and she said, oh my goodness, you need to get into a masters program, but to do that you got to get a BFA and get more solid portfolio work. So I went back through The Corcoran and got my degree.

Q: And Corcoran is a creature of the museum itself?

Matthew Dols: Yeah. It's in the basement of the museum.

Q: And it's a fully accredited regular kind of school. That's kind of unusual.

Matthew Dols: Art school.

Q: Right. But I'm just saying that it's different than--

Matthew Dols: It's not a university; it's not accredited like that.

Q: It's not a college or a university.

Matthew Dols: No. They have no PE classes, no math classes, no English classes, none of that kind of stuff. It's all on art.

Q: But if you get a degree out of that, it's recognized as a--

Matthew Dols: A degree, yeah.

Q: --a competent degree. I mean, it's prestigious in the sense of--

Matthew Dols: It's interesting, some of the teachers there barely graduated high school; some of the teachers there have their Masters and PhD's. So it really just depends on.. I mean, their accreditation is on their competence, not necessarily their degree. So, like one of their best men is Skip Barnhart, was one of their most active and influential artists that they have there. But he barely graduated high school. And then there are some other artists that barely make work, but they have their Masters and PhD's. So it was a very interesting group of people, because you had the professional artists, the nonprofessional artists, the institutional teachers, the adjunct ones that came in thinking it would be fun, and learning that they didn't like working for a school, things like that, a very interesting group of people, a lot of fun, oddly very competitive. The students competed with each other. And I find it to be very healthy. I didn't have a problem with it. It wasn't like we would sabotage each other or anything.

Q: But it was all art. You didn't have to go back and redo, and you were now doing all photography, right?

Matthew Dols: Yeah.

Q: Was it the film-based still at that point?

Matthew Dols: Absolutely.

Q: I didn't know if the digital had come in yet.

Matthew Dols: No, digital was just starting when I graduated. One person did iris prints, but the photos were still taken with film, so that was just on the start.

Q: So had you moved up, then, to the importance of great equipment and so forward and so on, or what--

Matthew Dols: I still don't see the importance of great equipment.

Q: You were still about the art?

Matthew Dols: Yeah. Now I started to do that kind of stuff and then-- I don't remember who it was, there was a lecture I went to while I was with Corcoran where somebody said something to the effect of, which, I'm paraphrasing what they said, but it was a basically, a poor musician blames his instrument, and so there was always, good equipment does not make a good photographer. A good photographer uses the equipment well. So, it has never been about good equipment, to me. I've still got-- I've got equipment from years old, the newest thing I have is my digital camera, and I don't care to buy a newer one, a better one, a faster one, it doesn't do me any better. If I'm a good photographer, I'll be able to take good pictures, doesn't matter the equipment. I mean there are certain things, like if I went into the commercial world, that's very different.

Q: Very different?

Matthew Dols: Absolutely, and you do need very good equipment to be able to answer the needs of your clients and things like that. But, absolutely, in that realm--

Q: Or it seems to be the lighting, lighting becomes very, very important if you want to have total control, but you're probably looking for serendipity or--

Matthew Dols: Oh, no, I have total control over my light.

Q: Oh, do you? Okay.

Matthew Dols: Oh, no. Up until probably my last set of work that I did, I did all studio work. I controlled every bit of lighting. I don't like serendipity, or I limit serendipity. I rather the serendipity-- like I'll set up the lighting and I would love for serendipity to be the model. But if you allow too much serendipity to happen, things go all crazy.

Q: Well, I'm saying lighting can make a difference. I mean, there's a part where equipment could make a substantial difference. The camera not so much, but I'm saying, that's kind of your paintbrush on the--

Matthew Dols: It can be.

Q: It can be. Well, we'll get to that in a second. The Corcoran, so you're working and going part time; is that the kind of deal these are?

Matthew Dols: I was a roadie at the time, while I was at The Corcoran. And I used to tour around with rock and roll bands on the weekends. So I would go all up and down--

Q: Doing photography or just helping on the road?

Matthew Dols: No, I was a roadie. I did the lights, the sound, the staging; I hauled the band gear, picked up the mikes when they fell over in the middle of a show.

Q: Any that later became famous?

Matthew Dols: Oh, they were all famous already. No, no, yeah. I was already working with-- I mean, I did concerts for everybody from U-2, Lenny Kravitz, Soul Coffin, Medeski, Martin and Wood. I did the HF Festival, I did MTV Shows, I did-- I mean I did everything. I did anything that came between New York and Richmond, Virginia.

Q: And who was your finder for all this? You were working for an agency?

Matthew Dols: Yeah, there were four different companies that I worked for. The house that I worked for, the venue that I worked for the most was The 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. That was my home base, and then, through them, I met all the people that hired me to do all the other stuff. And we did everything from Garth Brooks in the Park, that concert in New York, at Central Park, we did that. I did work at the Kennedy Center. I was striking sets for performances at the Kennedy Center. Anything. Anything arts, theater related, concert related, we did the Million Man March, actually, we set up for that. And we set up for the 150th Anniversary of The Smithsonian. We did the Fourth of July fireworks; I set up those one year, around the Washington Mall. That was very scary, actually. I mean, that was a lot of gunpowder that you're hauling around, and they trusted us. We didn't know a darn thing about it. So we're like waa-waa-waa, like that. But, you know, I mean, and, like, there was a time I remember when we did the Easter egg roll at the White House, set up the PA system and the staging and all that. It was really funny because three of the people that I worked with weren't allowed on the premises because of security risk.

Q: So was this a union shop, too, or was it--

Matthew Dols: Some of them were union; some were not. The White House was not a union job, actually. Kennedy Center was a union house, or Warner Theater, Arena Stage, but not 9:30 Club was not union. So, you know, so it just depended. I mean, I worked union jobs, absolutely. Unions have their benefits in certain types of fields. That one, like, when it comes to something like Kennedy Center, Warner Theater, then it's fabulous, it's great. I mean, the union is a very good thing. I wish that they didn't charge quite so much, 'cause then prices could be a little bit more affordable. I mean, I made sickeningly large amounts of money working at the Kennedy Center. I did one job, I'll never forget it, because I'm always like, my God, why did I quit this job? My base pay was $35 dollars an hour for the same thing I was being paid $10 dollars an hour to do at the 9:30 Club; $35 dollars an hour. I was doing it after hours, on a weekend, on a holiday, on Sunday, over eight hours of work, and no meal break. I was on six time overtime. So I figured it out, and I was being paid $129.00 dollars an hour to sit there and literally coil cable. I'm smoking cigarettes, coiling cable, for the same-- $129 an hour for the same thing I would be paid $10 an hour to do at the 9:30 Club. Whew. So that's where all your money goes when you go to a Kennedy Center concert.

Q: Well, we guess the performers do okay, too.

Matthew Dols: They do very well, yeah. I mean, if the stagehands are getting that kind of money, the performers are doing very well.

Q: And the ticket takers.

Matthew Dols: Oh, everybody is doing well at the Kennedy Center, yeah, that's fine. I mean, I enjoyed working there because it was great money.

Q: So you've finished the program. How long did that take?

Matthew Dols: Two years.

Q: Two years.

Matthew Dols: Everything.

Q: And then you went to San Francisco.

Matthew Dols: Yeah.

Q: And, so, now you're done in San Francisco, and you have an MFA--

Matthew Dols: In New Genre Art, or New Genre.

Q: And I think, also, you just want for people to know that an MFA in the academic world is very comparable to like a PhD. In other words, they don't even offer a PhD, do they, in Genre Art?

Matthew Dols: Yeah. Well, there are PhD's in art or some disciplines of art that are out there. But it's generally not. A masters will get you what's called your terminal degree. So it's the highest degree accessible to discipline based art without going into like Museumology or anything.

Q: What was your either thesis or final major project, then, at San Francisco, because generally an MFA requires some sort of-- besides a terminal degree, a kind of a culminating--

Matthew Dols: It was a book that I made that I did hand letter press the entire text, and did all the prints, and hand bound the book, and turned it in as my thesis, and it was called-- I can't remember the name now. Oh, "When I tell the Truth, People Think I'm Lying," was the title of it. And it was all text and image, like if you opened up a spread it was text generally on the left, image on the right, and there was text literally from my journal that I'd been keeping for about ten years, so it was my real personal issues, concerns, whatever, in life, and images that somehow related to them.

Q: Interesting. And what were the images, from all different mediums?

Matthew Dols: No. Well, see, when the project started originally, it was "Everything I Know I Learned From TV," was the working title of it. And, so, all the images were actually off of television, so there were pictures literally taken off of television. Because it was supposed to be about my growing up and my learning of my sexuality, my sensuality, and how I learned all of that, or what I perceived that I learned, and what I learned from TV. Because I was a late bloomer, I was a dork as a kid, I was fat, you know, and I didn't get out much, I watched a lot of TV, and so it was sort of this long, personal journey for me to come to grips with that. So the nature of all that ties back together, that the start of the process was that I was going to do this personal delve into how I learned about all these things about myself through television. Or, at least, that was sort of like the filter through which I learned everything. And, then, as it went on, the issue, the television became less important. It became more about me. So the television issue got taken out, but the images still stayed. So the images were all sensual, sexual, erotic, some sort of, you know, but not pornographic in any way, just somehow very similar to this one over here kind of thing, like it's just sexy. That's it. That was done by a student, that was one of my students, that did that one. But very sexy, but the text was not sexy. It was actually very insecure, things that I was scared of; fears that I had about things; things that I didn't do, where the image was often the opposite of it. And this was an ongoing battle I've had since The Corcoran, with my teachers, about whether or not to use text or not use text with your images, and whether that's okay, whether it's legitimate as an art form, and all that kind of stuff. So that was a long, you know, four or five year battle before finally it was okay to use text.

Q: But was that within the art world, you mean? Is that still out there as a fight?

Matthew Dols: Oh, yeah.

Q: Which is the issue that if you're bringing in--

Matthew Dols: My friend caught hell for putting text in this painting here, 'cause Rosie said she'd never eat asparagus again, and she caught hell for putting text into her painting. You know, it wasn't supposed to be there.

Q: Interesting. From the professor?

Matthew Dols: Oh, from everybody, professors, students, whatever, it doesn't matter.

Q: Actually that's kind of funny because I thought that had given way, particularly in modern art, the text has been around for a long time as a medium of possibilities.

Matthew Dols: It's a medium of possibility, absolutely, yeah. You can use text.

Q: Right.

Matthew Dols: To a certain extent the use of text in imagery and artwork is often seen as a crutch, like if you can't get the idea of your artwork across with your imagery, then you choose to use text in order to lead the viewer down a road. And, so, it's if you choose to use text, you have to really think about it a lot, and make sure that the text is not a crutch but an actual strong component of it, and a complement to the image. Like, for instance, this one. I mean, like I said, I mean, I love the piece. This is a friend of mine-- I traded-- every piece of artwork that is in my house is all traded for. But this is a friend of mine from San Francisco, and she did all the dot work and all the markings and everything, and put the-- Rosie said she'd never eat asparagus again because nobody understood what the dots meant. But once you leave that, and then, but she had this little conceptual thing. She was in the painting department, not new genre, but she had this conceptual idea behind why Rosie, or how the term, "Rosie said she'd never eat asparagus again," was because when, prior to coming back to school, she had worked at a food processing plant, and Rosie, her friend, Rosie, did asparagus, and had to sit there and count asparagus and then bundle it together. So that was the job, dot, dot, dot, dot, and, you know, counting all day, passing time, marking it. And then, later, and so she had made the entire piece, all the way up top and bottom, with all these tick marks. The top she redid because she ran into Rosie again, and Rosie had quit working at the place, and now eats asparagus again. And, so, the top is at the circle of the pattern about how, like, you might choose to stop doing something but often times it comes back to you again.

Q: The dilemma for any artist, though, it seems to me, is that what was in her head, which was a fascinating intersection, how do you--

Matthew Dols: Did not translate. Yeah, don't get me wrong. This is not a personal guess.

Q: But she almost needs to have the text on the--

Matthew Dols: She does. And that's the crutch.

Q: Because the story surrounding it actually makes it a much more--

Matthew Dols: That's right. And in that way, this piece is using text and using that outside story very much as a crutch. It's not-- I love the piece, don't get me wrong, I think it's a great piece. I absolutely adore having it, because I know the story, because I was there when she painted it. But I think, as a general public viewer, they will have a difficult time in directly engaging with it, because they're not going to get all that story.

Q: But the point of the matter is that much of contemporary art--

Matthew Dols: Chooses to use text.

Q: Or doesn't use anything that's a realism of sorts to engage. I mean, it uses--

Matthew Dols: Absolutely. Well, I mean, (inaudible) would probably be the beginning of that whole style.

Q: That's all I'm saying.

Matthew Dols: I mean, he sat there and did a whole bunch of geometric lines, and then wrote a 500-page treatise about why his lines are creative like that. So which is his artwork, is it the text or is it the actual art, because the text explains everything about the art; the art doesn't explain everything about the text. Which is the art?

Q: And, yet, contemporary artists would argue that whatever you bring to--

Matthew Dols: That's right.

Q: --to theirs is there. Now, in your photography-- I guess we should get going on some of your own photography. We don't have to see it per se--

Matthew Dols: Good. I don't put any of it in my own house.

Q: Yeah.

Matthew Dols: I see my art--

Q: Where are you--

Matthew Dols: People ask that a lot. Why don't you have any of your own artwork up? I see it in my own head. I know of the pictures I've taken. I don't need to live with them. I don't need them. I'm more inspired by seeing people that I know and other artwork that's not mine, so I don't need my own.

Q: All right. Let's go on a literal trip here.

Matthew Dols: Yeah.

Q: And you're finished. You've got this wonderful MFA. What's the next that got you to Wilmington? What was the interest here?

Matthew Dols: My parents had lived in the house that I grew up in since, hmmmm, 1974, when I was about six months old, and they-- and so I had grown up there, and that was the only home I knew, and then they moved here to Wilmington in 1999 or so. But my dad had retired after been at the same church for 30 years, and they moved, they retired down to here. But they had chosen to retire to Wilmington because my older brother, Christopher, and his wife and child, had moved to Carolina Beach. And, so, my parents had a retirement property bought in Baltimore, Maryland, they sold it and chose to move down here so that they could be near their only grandchild. It was just easier. So they moved down here. So, actually, my brother and his wife, kid, moved first, so that would be eight years ago now, so '99, then I guess my parents moved here in 2000, I graduated from the Art Institute in San Francisco in 2001, and I didn't have anyplace calling me, so, you know, I'll just move to Wilmington, be near family for a little while, sort of get a little grounding, and put the resumes out there and try and get a job teaching somewhere.

Q: Because that was what you were thinking, was going to be--

Matthew Dols: My plan was not to be here not more than six months to a year, get a job teaching somewhere. I'm still here.

Q: And we're grateful that you are.

Matthew Dols: Some people are; some people aren't. It depends on who you talk to.

Q: And as what we tell everybody who takes these, once you have this DVD you'll never be any older than this, because you can just bring this out and say that's exactly--

Matthew Dols: Oh, I've already got video tapes like that. I won't show those to anybody. Yeah, I mean, I don't--

Q: All right. So you come to Wilmington, and so you're attempting to be an artist as a photographer, primarily?

Matthew Dols: Yeah.

Q: I mean, is that the chosen--

Matthew Dols: I got here August 18th of that year. Don't ask me why I remember the date, but I do. And I got here, and I tried to find a job, and there was no jobs to be had. Talked to all the local universities; talked to the high schools; there was no jobs in my field. It took me about four or five months to get a job. I did everything. I even applied to Wal-Mart. I was so desperate for a job I applied at Wal-Mart, and they turned me down. They said I was over-qualified. I was so irate.

Q: Too friendly as a greeter?

Matthew Dols: No, no, I had too many degrees. They knew that it would have been a waste of time to train me to work at Wal-Mart because I would have left very quickly. And from then on I stopped putting my master's degree on my resume when I applied for jobs because it was almost like I was too well educated to work some of the menial jobs in town.

Q: Were you tempted to go back into the roadie work, I mean, because with the film industry and so forth.

Matthew Dols: No, actually, I never did. Yeah. That's a whole other story. The roadie work was very attached to a certain lifestyle that I had, which I don't have anymore. I did a lot of drugs-- Corcoran timeframe was riddled with drug use; so was Iowa for that matter. But, I mean, you know, I was young; I was an artist; I did all kinds of stuff. I mean, I did lots of drugs, partied a lot, but I quit eight years ago, nine years ago now, and when I quit doing that I had to leave everything. So it was after I had graduated The Corcoran, and, so, I quit, which is why I moved as far away as I could, and went to the San Francisco Art Institute. So I left all my friends; I left all my jobs; I left everything, dropped the drug use and moved. And I haven't really gone back to anything that was relevant to my life Corcoran and prior because it would be equivalent to going back to the people and the places that I knew with the drugs.

Q: You're right. The roadie would have implied a lifestyle--

Matthew Dols: Nah. Yeah. And there are lots of roadies out there that don't do drugs, but that's the way that I engaged with it, and, so, for me, I couldn't go back to doing that again. So, no, I didn't even try to get into the film industry, really. It's too closed knit a group of people, and I just didn't know any of them at all. I mean, I came here knowing nobody. The only people I knew in Wilmington were my parents, and my brother, wife and kid.

Q: Is your brother still here?

Matthew Dols: Yep.

Q: Good. And your mom and dad are still here?

Matthew Dols: Yep. And still married, too, 43 years.

Q: Sad commentary that we have to say that.

Matthew Dols: I think it's great. I'm proud of them, are you kidding? I think it's fabulous. Yeah, they're still married, very happily married, tried to go on a-- well, we're not here for that.

Q: So, tell us a little bit about, then, photography is an art form. I mean, I'm an amateur photographer, and we were talking on the way over about the dilemma of photography, that is particularly the digital revolution has come along and pushed up the bottom, you know, as far as just getting images that are reasonable, has that made it harder--

Matthew Dols: Thinking about it, you're having trouble.

Q: No, I'm serious, has that made it harder?

Matthew Dols: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Photography was already hard enough as an art form. I mean, photography is probably-- well, it's sort of the bottom of the barrel for art, for art forms. Everything else has existed for so much longer, painting, sculpture, ceramics. All of those have existed for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Photography is the newest, outside of like digital and everything else, which, then, is another issue all upon itself. But it's one of the newest of the art forms, and so it still is trying to find its place in the arts, or the lexicon of the art world. And the creation of the digital photography just sort of caused even more of a problem with it, because anybody could step up and do it, anybody could, you know, if you had enough money you could buy the right tools and whatever else to do whatever you needed to do. But, to me, part of one of the issues would be the archivalness. I've always had a big issue with archivalness. So, I mean, for years and years and years, photography--

Q: What do you mean by archivalness?

Matthew Dols: Yeah. For years photo prints weren't bought by galleries and museums because they were always afraid they weren't archival enough and that they would disintegrate and they would have been a waste of money, or they would have turned dark, or whatever. And, finally, we were starting to get to a point where museums and stuff were starting to invest in photography because they were starting to really have a real, you know, the archival quality was getting really strong, and they were saying they would last hundreds of years, everything was really good, and then, all of a sudden, digital photography just pops up and people-- you know, artists, fine artists, are making the things that might last 20 years. They didn't know, it wasn't tested long enough, and lots of museums are kicking themselves for having bought all these early digital prints with these dyes and papers that, you know, were not on--

Q: They really have been a problem? I mean, those early--

Matthew Dols: They were early on, and, so, that just threw photo into this sort of like, oh, God, do we really invest in all this stuff, because we don't know if this ink or this paper, or this whatever, is archival enough, and do we need a different storage thing, does it have to be refrigerated, or can it be--

Q: But in some ways that may have even, then, sent a signal that the artists practicing were obsolete. In other words, that's the thing that made--

Matthew Dols: Right.

Q: --you know, use old film or black and white, or, you know, I mean--

Matthew Dols: No, there are people that pay for the right quality.

Q: Oh, is that right?

Matthew Dols: Yeah. I mean, I think, and I've had this long standing idea that I believe that the inception of digital photography has actually heightened film photography to a fine art. Digital photography is now the-- well, like, shoot back, we'll say, back to the 70's. In the 70's, taking pictures was everyday, so being a professional photographer was not any difference in quality; it was a difference in ability, technical abilities, or artistic abilities, or whatever, that made you better, you were professional. Now, digital photography is the everyday. It's a fine art, the film and the darkroom, that's fine art. So it's not even professional, it's fine art.

Q: Wow. Even within the short life of the photography history, every technology there's had to have been somebody who wants to go back and reuse it, so the Platinum (France), the (inaudible), I mean there's all those people going back because they're trying to use historic technology that elevate.

Matthew Dols: Yeah.

Q: So I don't know how long that will last. That's my only question.

Matthew Dols: It'll just become a part of-- when I was in school, like Platinum Palladium, (inaudible), all those things, those were what we'll call alternative processes, so that was its own department almost, but within photography. And, so, we didn't have digital yet. So it was basic film or alternative processes. Well, now, maybe what's going to happen is film will be put into alternative processes, and digital will become the core.

Q: That's what I think.

Matthew Dols: So, I mean, that's fine. But the science around platinum palladium, those were always the fine art. Like when you walked up to a sepia type you couldn't go, "Well, that's just an everyday image." No. Inherently, by the use of the medium, it was a fine art piece or an artistic piece.

Q: So you're saying that making that energy to go and use that alternative format elevates it automatically?

Matthew Dols: Yeah.

Q: So what's going to distinguish, though, within the digital world for the person who wants to be an artist in the digital world? Is it still going to be just the quality of that image?

Matthew Dols: No. Because I know people that make a living taking pictures with their cell phones. It's not the quality of the image; it's not the quality of the camera.

Q: It's the vision of whatever they take.

Matthew Dols: Being an artist, yeah, which is this nebulous concept, so..

Q: Well, to me, as an outsider looking in as an amateur photographer, I always talk about it's an eye; it's a vision, and I think the pros still have a better eye. In other words, I see a lot of good things, but a professional artist consistently sees it differently. That's what I'm hoping--

Matthew Dols: You've been fooled into the belief that professionals are somehow better than others. We make so many mistakes. The rule of thumb that was taught to me by my professors at Cochran, actually, were for every one picture that you take that's good, not great, not exhibition work, good, you are taking 35 that did not work.

Q: Of course.

Matthew Dols: So, even as a professional.

Q: Numbers make a difference.

Matthew Dols: My point being is that you have this belief that professionals are just, they just see so much better. Fine, we see so much better, but we still screw up. We still make mistakes, and the lighting is wrong; the angle. I mean, we still make-- the difference is that our mistakes are things that you might not have seen as a mistake. Even in your best one you might think-- you might not notice it as a mistake, but we would see it. So it's just our expectations of ourselves are higher, and so we expect better quality, better, more perfection, whatever you want to term it as, we have higher expectations on ourselves.

Q: All right. But what about the choice of subject, isn't that a very distinguishing factor? I mean, what do you hold up as your best subject?

Matthew Dols: People.

Q: Okay. That's important. You do people.

Matthew Dols: Uh-hum. And I've done landscapes. I like doing landscapes, when I'm in the landscape kind of mood, but rarely am I in a landscape kind of mood, but it happens. I mean, once every, you know, generally it's like once every five to six years I get in the mood to do landscapes. Generally, and it's going to sound stupid, but this is like sort of how well I know myself. Generally when I'm fed up with dealing with people in my work life, in my daily life, when I don't want to be around people anymore, you'll see me doing landscapes. You know, but when I'm feeling very good, when I enjoy being around people, when I really like myself and I feel comfortable with people in my daily life, you'll see me doing more people shots.

Q: Well, I think I want to go back to your point about having done 35 and only one is good. I think that the technology talks about that and implies that you should get the perfect one. No painter was assumed that they started and just painted it out. How many times did they throw away a canvas? How many times did they repaint over? But we don't talk about that. How come the photographer is held to this kind of strange numbers game?

Matthew Dols: That's why it's this odd discipline.

Q: I mean, because the painter doesn't just paint a--

Matthew Dols: Well, I mean, that's the other thing is, right now, photographer, it's much more difficult for a, let's say an art photographer to make a living, because a painting, this painting will be $5,000. My photograph, if I made a photograph that big, I could not sell it for $5,000, because they know, as well as I do, that I could reproduce it, so the buyer is not going to pay $5,000, knowing that I can just go have another made, because it's mechanical reproduction. Photography, for all practical purposes, is breaking it down to the most technical aspects in mechanical reproduction. You know, obviously, there are some artistic choices that you make you do certain things, but, still, it's mechanical reproduction.

Q: Have you chosen to do a mixed media photography?

Matthew Dols: Sorry, other photographers--

Q: Pardon me?

Matthew Dols: Sorry, other photographers who don't think it's mechanical reproduction, but that's the way I see it.

Q: Well, but, there are people who add to photography, I mean, mixed media, there are people who colorize, in other words, you know, they're drifting into--

Matthew Dols: That's my most recent piece.

Q: Oh, is that right? This is yours? Oh, great.

Matthew Dols: Yeah.

Q: Can you see it?

Matthew Dols: That was the last piece I made.

Q: Good. Well, talk to us a little bit about that.

Matthew Dols: That was-- we had already decided to close down Tabula Rasa as a darkroom here in town, and, so, I had a lot of extra paper and time and chemicals at the darkroom that needed to be used, because once the darkroom closed, they probably weren't going to be used for a good couple years. So, I decided, you know what, I'm just going to make some work. I'm just going to make stuff. I'm not going to sit and deeply conceptualize for myself about why and how and all that, I'm just going to make, I'm going to make for the sake of making. So I sat down and I decided to throw out every rule I'd ever set down for myself. No, I mean, because every rule, every artist sort of sets up a set of rules for themselves, because, otherwise, I could just go willy-nilly and do anything I want, and you can't do that in the art community. You set up these arbitrary rules for yourself. My arbitrary rules were things like I never mess with my negatives. Once I took a picture and I have a negative, I never alter the negative. That was just a rule I had for years, and I never messed with it. So, what I purposely did with that, that particular piece, and, actually, I have like three or four of them that I made, I tore, scratched, ripped, cut, did anything I could do to not care about the individual negative. And then I taped it back together, put fingerprints on it, did all kinds of stuff, trashed the negative, broke every rule I'd ever like held fast for 15 years. And, then, when I went to make the print, I tore the papers, I ripped it, I bleached it, I toned it, I did all kinds of, everything I hated to do, and hated seeing other people do in the darkroom, how can you do that, oh, my God, you know, everything that made me cringe when I saw other people do, I just do them all. And it was great. I mean, it was so much fun because it excited me about the process of photography again, because, at the time, digital was coming up, and everybody was just winging out these nice prints out of their Epson's, you know, their Epson printers, and, you know, they're great, good-looking prints, lovely, have a good time, but I was feeling that there was, at the time, there was a lack of actual artist interaction. The hand of the artist was no longer there. Took this beautiful picture, played with it in Photoshop, printed it out on my nice Epson archival printer, woo-hoo, so what, anybody could do that. You know, I mean, I did part time work at a local camera store. I can't tell you how many idiots came in and bought Canon Rebels and the nice printer and Photoshop and called themselves professional photographers. Drove me nuts. Still does, to this day. People still do it. I'm sorry if anybody here owns a Canon Rebel, it's nothing personal, but it drives me nuts that people would do that. Besides the Canon Rebel is not a professional camera. It's still a consumer rating.

Q: But what do you really mean they called themselves professional photographers?

Matthew Dols: They literally, they will put ads in Cape Fear Bridal Magazines saying I'm a professional photographer, and they're shooting with a consumer brand, doing it on their home PC, and printing it on their Epson Printer.

Q: You mean they're shooting weddings and--

Matthew Dols: Yes. They were being hired by people that would have traditionally, ten years ago, hired a real trained professional photographer, are now hiring these idiots with these Rebels.

Q: But that's a side industry that's not you. Are you finding people who--

Matthew Dols: But what you're saying, "I'm an artist." Yes. But, no, but it still translates, because with the lowering of the expectations of quality in weddings and portraits and everything else, same thing in fine arts, people were not willing to pay higher prices for good looking images because they knew they could get it for cheaper by-- I mean, I actually had somebody come up to me one time, I did a nice show, my work, and somebody said, oh, you know what, I took that same picture with my camera and pulled out a little pocket point and shoot and showed me. And I'm like that's really nice, then go do it your damn self. You know? And, like, there was no reason for him to have even said that to me. I mean, it was just rude.

Q: But you're hitting on the very same issue from day one of photography, right?

Matthew Dols: Oh, yeah.

Q: You were talking about that.

Matthew Dols: Because in day one of photography they said, well, it looks just like a painting. Why would I want to pay to have a photograph made when I can have a painting done?

Q: Or weren't there, then, photographers who ran away from clarity because they wanted to say it's not just reproduction.

Matthew Dols: Right.

Q: So we had the pictorialists who were doing the softie softie, and there were people who tried to make it look like a painting, right?

Matthew Dols: Uh-hum. Oh, yeah.

Q: I mean, we had everyone chasing after.

Matthew Dols: Yeah. And that's what this little piece for me was, or the last item. I actually did four of them at the same time, but the idea was to get-- I wanted to get excited about making pictures again, not just making pictures, but making art, creating something. I wanted to get away from the general sort of rule of thumb right now; that is, the end product is what's so important, not the process, so I wanted, like this stuff is purposely very rough edge, very, very literally you can see the hand of the artist tearing the stuff, coloring the stuff, my fingerprint is in there. I mean, like, that stuff is there, and I wanted that put back in there, because I think in this digital age, and this overly-perfected Photoshoped everything kind of a lifestyle that we live in, people are forgetting that there's actual work being done to create this stuff. And they're not realizing the process of getting the ease of the perfection. So I wanted to sort of play against that, and, so, therefore, I made some works that were sort of the anti-perfect work, like absolutely like I ended up making that with completely non-archival processes. Like, it's held down with rug tape and glue and, I mean, every kind of bad tape.

Q: What about that particular paper, is your mike going to eventually just--

Matthew Dols: Oh, yeah. I didn't fix it long enough, and I didn't wash it long enough, and I knew it will totally go away in probably ten years. Yeah, it will be gone. But that was the point. I mean, I was speaking with the Stearns twins, Mike and Doug Stearns, from the early 80's, where they purposely went out of their way to use non-archival materials to do their artwork. They did these huge installations that were-- God, I saw one that was 20 feet wide, 40 feet tall, made out of laser-colored copies on translucent acetate.

[Phone ringing]

Q: Why don't we just say that we are going to take a break here, and then we'll come back and take two. See you in just a second, folks.

(tape change)

Q: Okay, we're back. Take two, Matthew William Dols, artist. And we were starting to roll on a topic and I've forgotten, so let me take the luxury of moving on to some of your more creative ventures that were using art to serve the community, or perhaps to make money or to serve other art. You tell me the various motives.

Matthew Dols: I can tell you right off the bat, none of my motives are ever to make money.

Q: Well, I'm hoping they're making money.

Matthew Dols: Well, I'm hoping they're making money also. But the core idea behind anything I have done since moving to Wilmington has never been, my God, this would be a great idea to make money. They've all been, this would be a great idea, and I believe we can get funding to be able to support this programming, or this idea, or this process, or whatever it is. But money is one of those things that I worry about constantly, but it always seems to show up when necessary. But no. Money is never the reason for anything I do. If it were, I would be in the for-profit world instead of in the non-profit world. Because I probably would actually do very well if I went in the for-profit world for myself, but that's not why I'm here and that's not what I want to do.

Q: It might not be in art, though.

Matthew Dols: Well, that's the thing, is I might not enjoy it. I prefer to be broke, starving artist and do good things and enjoy what I do than work at some dead-end job in a cubicle and I don't enjoy going to work. Don't get me wrong, I don't necessarily enjoy all of what I do as a job. But in the end, the end result, the reasons for the philosophy behind, or the actual.. A lot of times, other people get enjoyment from the things that I do even if it annoys the hell out of me.

Q: Tabula Rasa?

Matthew Dols: Tabula Rasa.

Q: Spell that for our transcriber.

Matthew Dols: T-A-B-U-L-A, second word, Rasa. R-A-S-A.

Q: What was your goal there? A space for people with continued darkroom work?

Matthew Dols: Yeah. When I moved to Wilmington, I was a practicing photographer. And I moved here and I wanted to do some of my own work. And I said, "Oh, well, that's fine. I'll just go to the local darkroom and do some work." And I was like, "Hmm. There's no local darkroom." The closest local darkroom was Raleigh, and it was directly tied to The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke. So it was a two-hour drive.

Q: Well, I didn't even know such an animal exists in some large cities.

Matthew Dols: Oh yeah, lots of large cities have. Where I grew up in Washington, D.C., we had three public darkrooms. San Francisco, there are five.

Q: Where you pay to use the facility?

Matthew Dols: Yeah. You pay by the hour, or you can buy a time slot. One of the intermediate schools where I grew up, Thomas Jefferson, you could come in for a four hour time period from when intermediate school ended until 6:00 p.m. And you paid like $20, they set all the chemicals out for you, they did all this stuff, all you do is just come in, do your prints, and leave. But you had to pay for a certain time slot. You could work one hour, you could work four hours, but you had to pay for four hours.

Q: In defense of Wilmington, other than large cities, the concept probably hasn't penetrated down to smaller locations. Is that a fair statement?

Matthew Dols: No. But you're welcome to say that.

Q: (Laughs)

Matthew Dols: No. I disagree highly. I think that it's in a lot of small cities, but Wilmington is just very, very behind the times in the arts. And let it slide with that.

Q: I'm not here to agree or disagree, I'm just here to get you to tell us your opinion.

Matthew Dols: When I got here seven years ago, this town was very behind the times. It's getting better. It's getting closer. I still think it's seven to ten years behind where it should be-- easily where it should be. It should be up more along the lines of Charleston. It should be equivalent to, or at least competing with the artistic quality and merit of the stuff going on in Charleston.

Q: But Charleston has been working at it--

Matthew Dols: Since the seventies.

Q: Quite some time. And had some very unusual people that came in.

Matthew Dols: Well, we've had equally unusual people, but they haven't been motivated to do anything for the arts.

Q: A certain kind of leadership.

Matthew Dols: That's right. And the government in Charleston had made a mandate and a directive to support and encourage the arts, which Wilmington has never done.

Q: Also having been to Charleston several times and read that history, they were in some pretty dire straits. As a community and financial and so forth, there was a lot of investment to fire out [ph?]. We may not have been, overall as a community, received as being--

Matthew Dols: --that dire.

Q: I mean, as a community, not necessarily an artist. I didn't realize how far down Charleston was in the seventies. Evidently it was in trouble. And they can see both art, music, and the history as a package, right? That's a fascinating...

Matthew Dols: I don't know about music. But I think people only talk to me about the art part.

Q: Well, the music part, because of the Spoleto, the music...

Matthew Dols: Again, people only talk to me about the visual art part of Spoleto.

Q: I'm sorry, that's a huge, huge component that-- is it Madadi [ph?]? I'm trying to think of that correct name. A very famous composer went and started that festival that brings in as many as 50 to 100 people.

Matthew Dols: Oh, no, it's very successful. It's a great thing. We've got people here in Wilmington that keep wanting one here too. I don't think the town's ready for it.

Q: And they've blended it together, lots of artists. Anyway, back to Tabula. You started that here. Where was it physically located?

Matthew Dols: 19 South 16th Street, in a building that, when I first went into it, it didn't exist. Because it's an old Quonset hut, so World War II design, semicircular, sort of pat barrel. And when I went to try and pull permits for it and set up the mail service, it didn't exist. It wasn't on any county records, there was no preexisting mail service there, so nobody knew anything about it.

Q: So you got a free new address.

Matthew Dols: No. But nobody knew what it was or where it was. I had to get inspectors to walk out of there and go, "That's the building I want mail sent to." So it was very interesting. But oddly enough, what was weird was there was mail that was there from the previous tenant, but yet they still didn't know the address existed. So, very weird. It was the Love Church before it was us. So that's kind of very funny.

Q: The Love Church.

Matthew Dols: Yeah, they moved. Actually the Love Church is over on the south side.

Q: And besides the dark room, you had the idea of people renting. But you had programming, you had events. Was that all part of the original vision, or did that kind of come along.

Matthew Dols: I keep wondering what my original vision was, because I don't know what it was. I just thought it would be fun to open up a darkroom. I figured there would be people coming in and working. And there were, don't get me wrong. Lots and lots of people came and used Tabula Rasa. It's funny. After closing it, I looked back on the budget and everything and I'm like, it actually was doing all right for itself. I'm like, dammit. I mean, it was good, and it created some community-- people met, people of similar interests. People who didn't have similar interests met. It was very interesting, a lot of friendships and partnerships have come out of the people that met during their time in the darkroom and in classes, and things like that. So it was very beneficial on a lot of levels. Financially, it was barely breaking even on its costs.

Q: You set that up as a business or a non-profit?

Matthew Dols: Non-profit. The Tabula Rasa as an existence, has always been non-profit, still is non-profit. I'm simply the executive director. There's always been a board that has decided everything and pushed it and decided on the directions and helped with the directions. I just ran the day-to-day operations. And this is one of the things that maybe I never really conveyed this publicly a lot, but even the class schedule was often made up by my board of directors.

Q: Who were some of your early board?

Matthew Dols: Dr. Kemille Moore was actually one of the early board members. Annette Irvine from UNCW was also a board member. Paige Carr, actually my mentor from Washington, D.C. who still is in Washington, D.C. but will come down for the annual board meetings and kept in touch via phone and e-mail, was helping with that because she had a lot of connections still in the photography world. She actually helped us to get a chemical company that gave us reduced price chemicals and things like that. So she was actually very useful for years. Rick Mobbs, a local painter, was on our board. I'm thinking Tabula Rasa, the darkroom and earlier board. It really didn't change that much. I mean, the darkroom was only open for four years, and they were on two-year terms. So the board really didn't turnover that much in that time frame.

Q: Just for history, people that jumped in to help.

Matthew Dols: It was a nice, small board. I think our biggest board at the time was three. It was very manageable, very easy to work with. They were very nice people.

Q: Did you get all ages participating?

Matthew Dols: Oh, yeah. We had everything from intermediate and high school kids all the way up to retirees using Tabula Rasa. It was used for all kinds of stuff. Saturdays, icon rating was taught in the mornings.

Q: Was this your dad?

Matthew Dols: It was my father that taught that. But he paid rent to use the space just like anybody else, and taught his class. We had some writing classes in there. Agnes McDonald taught some writing classes in there for a little while, until she started complaining about the cold-- bad pun I can get into that. I'm trying to think. There was silkscreen classes, etching classes, Susan Boehm-- I'm not sure if she actually taught a class or not. We talked about it for a long time. David Silverthorn did some photography class, some portrait work. We had a number of different teachers come through, different disciplines, different things going on.

Q: So you're using it kind of as a community arts outreach center but not necessarily just this community, anywhere.

Matthew Dols: It could handle about 10 to 15 people at any given time. So it was able to have a nice sized class, still intimate, I always liked that.

Q: And you finally got a darkroom.

Matthew Dols: And I got a darkroom. I did a lot of prints over those years. They're all sitting in a drawer over there. I mean, it was good times. There was a lot going on. The students, like when we were teaching for UNCW, the students did exhibitions of their work. We had three public exhibitions out in real public places, so they were real shows, they weren't just some student show or anything like that. I made them do it professional from the get-go. They had to do press releases, they had to do marketing, they had to do advertising. They had to do it all, they had to learn how it went.

Q: This is a period where you taught photography for a semester or two?

Matthew Dols: I taught photography for two years for UNCW.

Q: Art photography.

Matthew Dols: Art photography, yeah. Prior to Tabula Rasa, I taught for Cape Fear Community College for a year and a half. And then it became a conflict for my time.

Q: Was that art photography again?

Matthew Dols: No, that was all kinds of photography, but it was under the Art and Humanities Department.

Q: But a little different emphasis?

Matthew Dols: Not everybody was into art. As a matter of fact, that was one of the reasons-- they complained about it. Some of the students complained about me to no end. One student, I did a showing of artwork just like other photographers that existed, and I did Larry Clark and his Cocaine Blues series. And one of the students went down to my supervisor and complained that I was soliciting drugs in class. I'm like, "Excuse me? I was showing you a serious work about drug addicts done by another artist. What the hell are you talking about?" But I constantly got in trouble at Cape Fear. I mean, I had one student-- I'll never forget this student, because I found it so absurd. This student complained to my supervisor, the director of the Art and Humanities department, that I was making them work on Sundays, and Sundays was a holy day for them and they weren't supposed to work on those days. And I was like, "I didn't make you do any work on Sundays, because you had six days prior to Sunday to get your work done. Now, if you waited until Sunday to do your work, that's your own choice. So I didn't make you do anything."

Q: Did you meet on Monday?

Matthew Dols: Yeah. The class was on Monday, and they were angry because they waited until the last day to get their work done, and then they didn't have it done. And I'm like, "That's not my problem." The person ended up dropping out of my class and filing a formal complaint against my lack of sensitivity to her religious beliefs. I'm like, "You have got to be kidding me. You had all week to do your work." I told her, "If you didn't get it done prior to Sunday, you're welcome to come in on Sunday, the darkroom is open." And she freaked. So, needless to say, I'm not really crying over not working at Cape Fear Community College.

Q: Or at UNCW.

Matthew Dols: UNCW was a lot of fun, actually. I really enjoyed it. Some of the students were a little problematic, but most of them understood. By that time, I had learned how to be a better teacher, I think is part of it also. Cape Fear was my first foray into teaching by myself and taking my own responsibility.

Q: You had talked about some one-term goal early on, that you were going to be an academic. Is that still out there as a possibility?

Matthew Dols: No. I have no interest in doing it.

Q: You learned that it has its drawbacks as well, right?

Matthew Dols: Oh yeah. Absolutely.

Q: I talk to a lot of artists who are true artists and do have to do the teaching thing. And it's not the same thing, right?

Matthew Dols: It's not fun. People are like, "Oh, you're just going to teach, it'll be fun. You get to engage with creative people all the time." No. It's an annoying thing to have to do. Especially, let's take UNCW. The majority of those students you're going to have in the art department are taking art as an elective. They don't actually care. They're taking it because they thought it'd be a fun, easy A-- did you take it for that reason?-- They thought it'd be a fun, easy A.

Q: I didn't take it at UNCW. (inaudible)

Matthew Dols: So you took it just straight through us. And they would get into my class, and I sat down on the first day, and I put the fear of God in them. I was like, "This is not an easy A class. I will not give you a free pass." I had some teachers that taught me very interesting ways to address students and artwork and everything, and criticism. Like one of them was, is that, "As of today, first day of class, you are failing this course. Now prove to me that you deserve a better grade." That was the way I started my class.

Q: It probably went over well.

Matthew Dols: No, I lost half of my class after the first meeting. But I don't care, because they were people I didn't want in there in the first place. They were people that would have dragged down everybody else.

Q: This wasn't majors, this wasn't art majors?

Matthew Dols: No, that's the thing. The art department never really set up a photo class. It was an additional class that was just offered.

Q: I think they do now have one.

Matthew Dols: They do now. They have an actual teacher there, he also runs the gallery out there.

Q: I think that that's a basic dilemma both for art in general, but particularly for photography, because there are a lot of people who do want to be better amateur photographers.

Matthew Dols: We should add that class, then.

Q: But you should say what it is.

Matthew Dols: Better amateur photographer class. Or real photographer...

Q: But that's what you should state it as. Because they come with false assumptions.

Matthew Dols: Yeah. And they did. And they came in with all these stupid ideas, like that they're just going to get better. Like I had people coming in to my photo class with a point and shoot digital camera. And I'd be like, "Yeah, this is a film class. And even if you've got a film camera, you can't use a point and shoot, you need to have one with controls." "No, what are controls?" Forget it. So they drop the class.

Q: Well, there is still, interestingly enough, a demand consistently over the years from students who want to be better amateur photographers.

Matthew Dols: And I'm happy to teach those classes also.

Q: But that's a continuing education.

Matthew Dols: But I'm happy to teach those kind of classes.

Q: But you would teach them differently.

Matthew Dols: I've taught those before. Still, to this day, I'll do private lessons for people as well. So that's not a problem. As long as I know what they're expecting when we get in there, I can tailor it to whatever they want. But if they just go, "Oh, I just want to learn photography," I'm like, "Okay, great. Here, let me teach you how to be a great artist using [phone rings] photography as a medium." And they often times get disappointed and don't want anything to do with that.

Q: I think it's a good point though, because I think that the academic [recording plays]... Good segue into Creative Wilmington. That was telling us we need to get on to the Creative Wilmington. So Tabula Rasa went away, or stopped?

Matthew Dols: No, Tabula Rasa still exists.

Q: As a nonprofit?

Matthew Dols: Uh-huh.

Q: Is it the parent, then, of Creative Wilmington?

Matthew Dols: Tabula Rasa got a "Doing Business As" Creative Wilmington. So Tabula Rasa still is our corporate name.

Q: As a board?

Matthew Dols: As a board, and we now have a board of seven.

Q: Who's on that board now?

Matthew Dols: I love our new board. Dan Browley, from the Cucalorus Film Festival, Rick Mobbs is still on there. Debra Velder is the director of the Cameron Art Museum.

Q: And who is the second one that you said?

Matthew Dols: Rick Mobbs. Carolyn Butts, local psychotherapist and art collector; Andy Steele, sculpture professor at UNCW; Eric Goldstrom, who is the choir director and organist down at St. James on Third Street. Don Britt, attorney downtown who used to be the president of Wilmington Downtown, Incorporated-- very active man, I love him. And there's one other I can't remember.

Q: It'll come. Yourself? You're Executive Director?

Matthew Dols: Yeah, I'm not on the board. I don't have a vote on the board. I'm the director. I'm the employee.

Q: If I could summarize Tabula Rasa, although starting out as a darkroom, you broadened it to include other art as far as the teaching space itself worked. But Creative Wilmington, having mentioned some of the background, what's the bigger vision for you? What is its function?

Matthew Dols: Creative Wilmington, in its existence, came about because... While the darkroom was still open, actually, the city of Wilmington approached Tabula Rasa and asked us if we would be willing to help the city put out public sculpture. And that's where the existence of Pedestrian Art came into existence. Now, the city came to us and said, "We have this mandate to include public sculpture into our parks. Can you help us find artists, create a system, do all the work?" So he said, "Sure." So we created Pedestrian Art. Well, in creating Pedestrian Art, we also realized that there's a set of other, broader issues that are not allowing Wilmington to progress in the manner that would be effective. So what the entire corporation decided to do was to change our direction to better serve the needs of the public itself instead of worrying so much about a niche market. Because the issue wasn't the photography. Especially darkroom photography became such a niche market that since there wasn't an arts council and any other big entities in the area that were advocating for the arts, there was no inherent infrastructure in the Wilmington area to support any of the niche markets. So what we realized was there were two sort of core ideas, core issues, that were lacking in the Wilmington area, which is, nobody knows the information. So there's no dispersal of information, there was no way to even find out the information. There was no office, there was no phone number there was no website, there was no anything that had the information.

Q: You're talking arts in the broader sense.

Matthew Dols: Very broad sense.

Q: Not the visual arts, not the film arts...

Matthew Dols: Everything. And that's the thing, is there was no centralized group or organization that was creating the infrastructure that encouraged and allowed for things to build on themselves and integrate.

Q: Although you were not on the board of the Greater Wilmington Art Association, we might put in some context there existed in the past an organization that was attempting to do some of that but was primarily a grant pass-through organization, correct? Was one major function, I think, of art councils and the sounding boards and so forth. But that no longer existed, right? No, it was gone. You're smiling, I'm not getting that accurate.

Matthew Dols: No, you're not right. Years ago, there was an arts council in the Wilmington area called the Arts Council of the Lower Cape Fear. They ran the Piney Woods festival and did other things like that. They also did the grant and they did the Grass Roots Experience, the Regional Art experience, they did all that. They ran into some financial issues and they closed their doors, roughly around the year 2000-2001, somewhere in that range. Maybe 2002, actually. Because it was after I moved here I had met them and I had been in their office and such that may close. After that, Harper Peterson created what he called the Brown Bag Lunch series, where he gathered up the people in the arts community to talk about what can be done in the void that was left by the loss of the arts.

Q: Was he the mayor at the time?

Matthew Dols: He was the mayor.

Q: So he was acting as part of his mayoral duties.

Matthew Dols: Correct. So he created this Brown Bag Lunch. It started off as a very broad group of people from all different avenues. Artists, arts organizations, institutions, everything. They would come down for an hour, maybe once a month they would meet, and they did this for about two or three years. No, maybe they met for about a year. And then they came with this.. to give to the city, which is, I don't know, I can't read it from back here.

Q: It's a report to city council, the State of the Arts and Cultural Affairs, and Arts and Cultural Affairs Task Force, City of Wilmington, February, 2003. So this informal group created this?

Matthew Dols: This informal group created this, that was given to city council as a report about basically the state of arts and culture in the Wilmington area. And it was the background of what did happen, where we are now, and potentially what is necessary for the future of the Wilmington area. And that was put in front of City Council in 2003. Well, that group thought, "Hey, we did such a great job, let's actually create the organization to implement all these ideas. That organization, then, has turned into Greater Wilmington... GWACA I don't even know what their acronym stands for. Greater Wilmington Area...

Q: Is that Arts and Cultural Alliance?

Matthew Dols: Yes. They stayed away from the term, "Arts Council," because if they used the words "Arts Council" they would be closely associated with the IRS, a debt from the previous arts council. So they weren't allowed to use that name.

Q: But there's no set of known people? This was just folks?

Matthew Dols: Yeah. Like the second page and the title page.

Q: Oh, attendees.

Matthew Dols: Yeah. Those are different meetings, those are meetings that went on.

Q: Just meetings that had been going on.

Matthew Dols: You're looking here.

Q: Members. Okay, let me just put this for the record then, for history of some of the people. Norman Bemelmans, who's currently the...

Matthew Dols: The art czar out at UNCW.

Q: Art coordinator or something. Gilbert Burnett [ph?], a retired judge. Do you know Gilbert Burnett?

Matthew Dols: I don't...

Q: Frank Carter?

Matthew Dols: Arts and Humanities Director, Cape Fear Community College.

Q: Julie Cook?

Matthew Dols: Celebrate the Arts.

Q: Francine Decoursey?

Matthew Dols: Black Arts Alliance, locations for films.

Q: She's a documentary filmmaker, did the 1898 documentary.

Matthew Dols: Yep. Very big advocate of 1898 issues, and she's not just doing documentaries anymore. She's branching out. She did the dancing one.

Q: Or at least film festival type... Rob Garelock [ph?]?

Matthew Dols: Public relations person. I can't remember the name of his company. Just an advocate of the arts, likes the arts.

Q: Judith Grizzel?

Matthew Dols: She was a Convention of Visitors Director.

Q: Lee Ann Melkies [ph?]? Don't know. Dorothy Nesbitt, who we know well. Dorothy was a dance advocate.

Matthew Dols: I don't know her. We'll have some breakfast with her one day.

Q: She's a senior citizen, but actually danced in Ballet Russe in the 20s.

Matthew Dols: Amazing dancer. Absolutely.

Q: But anyway, she's interested in arts, but she's coming from...

Matthew Dols: Very old school dance.

Q: Clancy Thompson?

Matthew Dols: He worked for child advocacy for a living, but he's also a practicing photographer. He and his wife run a company called Shaped by the Sea. And they actually make sculptural elements from sea things, coral shapes, and then photograph them.

Q: I think I've read about them.

Matthew Dols: I'm sure you've seen them around.

Q: And Lela Thompson [ph?] is his...

Matthew Dols: I would assume as much.

Q: His wife. Griffin Weld?

Matthew Dols: Big downtown advocate. He was a big part of the convention center.

Q: Coming from the business community. Owen Wexler, who is a painter?

Matthew Dols: Practicing artist, yeah.

Q: Jennifer Wright.

Matthew Dols: Simmons Wright. Simmons Wright Art Gallery.

Q: Art gallery that was here for a while. And Connie Yao [ph?].

Matthew Dols: I want to say Convention of Visitors Bureau again, for some reason, I don't know for sure, though.

Q: The co-chairs were Rhonda Bellamy, who's a local radio personality.

Matthew Dols: Theater actress, singer. She's everywhere. Black Arts Alliance as well.

Q: Susan Dankel [ph?] who, probably at the time was head of WHQR, is now in a different career. And the staff was Scott Cholesky [ph?].

Matthew Dols: Chamber of Commerce.

Q: Did you put your two bits into this too?

Matthew Dols: I showed up for two meetings and was never invited back.

Q: Well, we don't know what that means, but you were part of...

Matthew Dols: You can infer exactly what that sounds like. Because I went to two meetings and they did not appreciate my remarks, and they did not invite me back. I don't know who "they" were.

Q: But this went to the City Council and then, effectively nothing happened, informally. Because this other group--

Matthew Dols: No, actually, there was something done by that. Informally, what happened was the city said, "Okay. We need to create a liaison between the arts community and the city of Wilmington government." And so what they did was they took a-- there were many ideas about how to do that liaison. What it ended up being was is that they took somebody who already worked in Parks and Rec Department and said, "Okay. You're to use 10% of your time to work with the arts and culture of the entire Wilmington area." So one employee at the Parks and Rec Department was to give ten hours a week--

Q: Four hours.

Matthew Dols: Four hours, yeah, that's right. Ten percent. Four hours a week to every arts and cultural need and interest in the entire Wilmington area.

Q: And I think it's important to note that the cultural component is in there as well. Because although our project is the visual arts and we're coming partly because you're a photography and a visual artist, this was supposed to be everything. Which is a big, big set [ph?].

Matthew Dols: Yes. This person was supposed to answer for every need. All the festivals, all the arts shows, anything arts and culture in the Wilmington area.

Q: So this would have included azalea festivals...

Matthew Dols: Riverfest, Art for the Masses, anything. Any concert outdoors.

Q: Your program that was still going at that point was the sculpture program.

Matthew Dols: Extreme Art is still going, and that person was responsible.

Q: At an earlier view [ph?] Doomey [ph?] Gorman was doing sculptural bike signups and--

Matthew Dols: And that same person was the person that integrated all that.

Q: But they did not authorize or recognize or start this other group that you mentioned. That's an informal group of its own.

Matthew Dols: Well, technically, no. It's a formal group. They have their 501C3 status, they are a non-profit organization, they are the pastor for the Grass Roots Council grants. So they do a lot.

Q: They're serving in particularly the grant area.

Matthew Dols: They're serving in the grant capacity, apparently, to the best of my knowledge.

Q: So Creative Wilmington, then, one of your big, big, very innovative products, is the website, right?

Matthew Dols: Yeah.

Q: Tell us a bit about what that is and what that does.

Matthew Dols: is designed to be sort of a warehouse of information and knowledge. It's supposed to be a place where any creative person, business, or organization, for profit or nonprofit, can have a profile on there, can have their direct contact information. The intention of Creative Wilmington was never to be middleman, but to just be the organizer of information. So their direct link, direct phone number, address, e-mail, website, examples of their work, whether they're a musician, they came up with .MP3s, all visual artists come up with images, it doesn't matter. It's all capable of doing all of that.

Q: They pay a small fee to participate?

Matthew Dols: Twenty five dollars a year to be a member, and they get the access to be able to have their profile, post any information about anything they're doing in the Wilmington area on the calendar. They can put any needs or desires or offerings in the forums, there are maps. It's everything that you would need to know, and in the most basic of senses, about what's going on in the arts and culture of the area.

Q: Is it the area or just Wilmington? How broad?

Matthew Dols: It's the region, actually. Because we've got people from Topsail, all the way down to Holden Beach. We've even got people from Cary, so there's a couple people from Charlotte. Gray Seal Puppets are from Charlotte. But they do performances down here a lot, so they're part of this community. The idea is it's not about a geographical thing, it's about a conceptual. This is the community of people that do things in the Wilmington area.

Q: Now, you've had it for how long? Two or three years?

Matthew Dols: Somebody said three years the other day. I think it's only two years. It was November 11, 2005 that we officially launched it. We now have 492 members, so that's businesses, organizations, and individual artists and creative people.

Q: Close to 500. That's amazing.

Matthew Dols: Within that. Thalian, in all, probably has like ten employees. So the number is substantially higher than that, but that's how many tangible members there are on the site [ph?].

Q: Because an institution would just be a museum or library, or whatever.

Matthew Dols: Yeah. But they have X number of employees that that represents by them being involved in this.

Q: Would you say the greatest strength is the individual artists themselves coming forward, because we've been using heavily the visual component to identify, to find out, to get some background. It's been a very helpful source for us as we work on this particular web project.

Matthew Dols: The idea is just to be able to put the information together. Because I can't tell you how many times people have come into town-- I would get phone calls, hey, what's a good gallery to show my work in? I'm a whatever, painter, sculptor. And I would have to sit there on the phone and talk with these people and tell them what they're about. And when I would say it, they wouldn't understand it the way I meant it. I'd say, "Well, this is a good gallery for this kind of work, that kind of work, and this kind of work." And then they'd probably end up getting it wrong anyway, go to the wrong gallery. So it's just substantially easier to have something like a website in existence, because it doesn't give any emotional or subjective choices. So there's no, if they listen to some inflection in my voice or in somebody else's voice, or about facial expression or any of that, there's none of that. And that's one of the core ideas behind Creative Wilmington, which is very different than a lot of the other arts and cultural websites that have been out there. We are completely impartial. Everything is automated, everything is by time, by date, or by alphabet. There's no preferential treatment for anybody, there's no anything of that manner that makes it so that anybody can get more, better, exposure or anything like that.

Q: If the artists and participants provide the material themselves directly to the site, there must be some reviewer oversight so that you don't have it wrong, right?

Matthew Dols: No.

Q: In other words, if they put it in the wrong spot--

Matthew Dols: That's not our fault, that's their fault. We think people are mature, they're adults, and they can take responsibility for their own actions.

Q: But you do give them a very nice template.

Matthew Dols: Yeah. We make it pretty easy. I mean, if you really did screw up, then you just weren't paying attention. There are not a whole lot of questions, so there really shouldn't be that many things that could go wrong with it.

Q: Have you gotten a response, particularly from the artist? Are you finding it successful?

Matthew Dols: Every now and then we get some people complaining about a lack of something on there. And most of those things we already have sort of as a, "Okay, we know we need to do this," and it's in the works to be able to incorporate. Or we'll listen to it, as "Hey, we need to try and evolve and have this type of a thing offered on there." Like one of the most recent ones we just made was the ability to have a direct link. So let's say for me, it was number, whatever, it was just absurd. So we went through and figured out how to do it and so now you can go directly to

Q: Perfect. That's a good idea.

Matthew Dols: And everybody who has a membership, it has a profile on there, has a direct link like that.

Q: And they can then promote that particular link and they aren't really wanting you to have to go to page 14. Because you're trying to keep it fair, so you don't say where they're at, you just have to... That's a good idea.

Matthew Dols: So we've now got that one. Actually, you will have one still. You're still up there. So it's probably Randall Library, all one word no spaces.

Q: Let me ask you a question. You and I had talked earlier about this. If Creative Wilmington's trying to do bigger things under its portfolio as the website, do you not have the same risks that happen with Tabula Rasa, which is niche for your darkroom but you did more. Creative Wilmington, you're doing other things beside the website, but then does it get identified as a website?

Matthew Dols: We ran into that in the beginning. I actually had a number of people come to me and go, "Well, but you're just a website."

Q: I didn't realize you were doing other things. It's kind of like the Greater Wilmington whatever gets categorized based on some previous entity that was doing something, so whoever sees that extrapolates it. What other items, then, are you hoping to do in the Creative Wilmington or Tabula Rasa, bigger? Tell us about the one coming up, Art for the Masses.

Matthew Dols: Creative Wilmington, as an entity, Tabula Rasa, would like to play an active role in making the arts part of the everyday life of the residents of this region. Now, are we going to, as a board and as a group, sit around and decide what that is for everybody? No, probably not. What we'll do is we'll all go out and think about what would be the most effective use of our time, and whoever's money we're going to be asking for, and locations and spaces to answer that question. Creative Wilmington does Pedestrian Art. So we do public sculpture, that's one process.

Q: Tell us about that. That's an interesting project.

Matthew Dols: Let me finish this and I'll get back to Pedestrian Art. Creative Wilmington does Pedestrian Art, it does Art for the Masses, and we look forward to being able to do more things like this. In this past year, we had sponsored the Harvest Festival, a bluegrass festival down on the Waterscape [ph?] parking deck. We were a sponsor for that event. We did a partnership with the Cameron Art Museum where we actually got artists free tickets to the William Ivey Long exhibition. So it's things like that that we can do more to be more actively engaged with it. We actually have a partnership with the New Hanover County school system that allows the school teachers in all art departments, so music, visual arts, even the English teachers, theoretically, could have their own profiles on Creative Wilmington to be able to show what the students are doing.

Q: Are you offering that free?

Matthew Dols: That is free to the New Hanover County teachers. That's the kind of stuff that we have to be able to do. We have to go take Pedestrian Art and expand it on the school properties. The Hanover County schools, it's been very interesting doing that, but that sort of just breaks down to an issue of funding. We hope to do more, and the core idea of Creative Wilmington, Pedestrian Art, and everything that we do in this area is that we're trying to make it so that the arts are not necessarily a prominent part, and not necessarily an incredibly in-depth part, but an active part of the residency of living in the Wilmington area.

Q: I think that they are. Pound for pound, we have lots and lots of artists, we have lots and lots of people who are interested in art.

Matthew Dols: Yeah, but there's a lot of shortcomings going on right now. There are five arts capital campaigns going on right now in the Wilmington area: The Children's Museum, Thalian Hall, Cameron Art Museum, Brooklyn Arts Center, and I think there's another one, all asking for multi-million dollars to try and up fit their stuff to be contemporary and more accessible. And every single one of them, to the best of my knowledge-- don't know the numbers for sure-- are all coming short.

Q: Struggling.

Matthew Dols: Not struggling. Really short. Like millions of dollars short. So the public perception that, "Oh, the arts is paid for by somebody else," is stupid. That's ignorance. You're not looking into it closely enough. Because there is not a single arts organization in this town that is making a living without having to beg, borrow, and steal from somebody, or scam for a shortcut.

Q: Other than the university and the schools, and I guess Cape Fear Museum is publicly funded, there isn't much funding. There isn't a county or fine arts museum, or so forth and so on. In other words, there may be a lot of activity. Thalian is not a public entity...

Matthew Dols: It's a nonprofit organization.

Q: That's what I'm saying. So the public may be misinformed thinking that the government is helping with this and so forth and so on.

Matthew Dols: That's right. It's just a lack of-- it's sort of an empathy. People are like, "Oh, Thalian Hall's there, it's been there for years. It'll always be there, why do I have to worry about giving them money?" That's the sort of empathy that goes on throughout the arts community. The Cameron Art Museum, "Oh, God, they've got that amazing museum out there. Why would they possibly need my money?" Cameron Art Museum loses, for the cost of having the Cameron Art Museum open. So the doors being open, lights turned on, air conditioning, mortgage, all that kind of stuff, it's like $33 a minute there. A minute.

Q: Somebody has to pay.

Matthew Dols: Somebody's got to pay it, and they don't have an endowment. And that's the thing. You go to major metropolitan cities, a lot of these types of museums and institutions and corporations like the Kennedy Center, the Warner Theatre, and all those kinds of places, they have large endowments. Smithsonian is the best example of an endowment that's ever existed in the history of man. The Smithsonian Institution, all 12 museums, all their research venues, are all funded by an endowment. So all those museums are run off of the interest of the amount of money in the bank. God, I have no idea how much money's in the bank, but it's got to be absurd for the interest to be able to run all those museums.

Q: But they also have a draw in the sense of there are all kinds of other revenue streams and visitors and so forth, and we're, it's a little travel center [ph?].

Matthew Dols: But they got created because one person, the one man who founded the Smithsonian left his entire inheritance for that. And we just don't have that in this town. The Camerons have done great with the Cameron Art Museum, that's great. But they didn't leave it in an endowment. So they built this great building, but they can't pay to keep it open. Thalian Hall. Thalian Hall's a great facility, amazing, great history. But there is no money to maintain it unless they work 365 days a year to keep it going.

Q: And the interesting thing is that even the university, which is perceived to be well funded by the state, is out raising money furiously because of the same things. You can't do the edge, you can't get the extra, you can't do whatever unless you have...

Matthew Dols: And it's the catch-22. The Cultural Arts building was taken back by that. They built Cultural Arts building with the intent that, if they build it, they will come kind of thing. Well, now that it's built, now they have to find funding to market, advertise, and schedule things in that building. So they now have to find this extra money to run the building to do the things so that they can pay for having built this building.

Q: And then the other thing is that the arts community has other things that go with it. The amenities, the receptions, and all of those things, and you can't use state funds for that. And all of these other people too, don't want to always be poor, right? In other words, you mentioned that too. Why should the arts always have to be poor and everything?

Matthew Dols: Oh, I'll give you a really good example of that one. The Hanover County schools, the elementary schools in this county. They went to that magnet system. So they shifted all the elementary school focus from every school having an arts department, or at least an arts teacher in the elementary school. They moved all the arts teachers over to this magnet school that they just opened up. Well, in doing so, they cut all the arts classes out of every other elementary school in the county. Now they have an Art Cart that they push around to the classes and go, "Okay, here's your Art Cart, the projects are all there." And whatever teacher is in there just has to figure out how to run an art thing, even if they're not trained in it, because all the art teachers were moved over here. So they cut the funds for the arts to everywhere else in the county. So the only people that are getting trained in arts, or even getting the access to quality arts in art elementary school is one school. So it's not even quality or quantity, it's just even having access to it. One school. And only if they were accepted into this magnet school.

Q: At the elementary level.

Matthew Dols: At the elementary level. So we're talking core educational basis. And this includes everything. Music, visual arts, the whole thing. So there's no music departments in every elementary school anymore. They were all transferred to this one magnet school. And if somebody wants to do music, they have to go over to that school. That's pathetic. So imagine our next generation that is currently in elementary school. When they get up to being professionals, 25, 35, 40 year olds, they're not going to care about the arts, because it wasn't ingrained into them to integrate it into the rest of their sense of community and sense of life. The fact that art is part of life. I've gone enough on tangents.

Q: But if the schools aren't going to do it, then Creative Wilmington and all the other institutions are going to have to pick that up. The Children's Museum, whatever.

Matthew Dols: Except schools are funded by the state and funded by the county and funded by the federal government. Thalian Hall, Cameron Museum, Children's Museum, we are not funded by any of those people. The funding was allocated to educate our children, and you're expecting nonprofit organizations that can't even keep their doors open as is, to find the funding to educate these kids. Cameron Art Museum is a great example of that one. 50,000 kids come through the Cameron Art Museum every year. Do you know how much money the county gives the Cameron Art Museum for allowing these kids to come through? Zero. Nothing. Cameron Art Museum is expected to allow New Hanover County to bring their kids in, spend their time, their energy, and allow them to trash the place and waiting. Just the use of the place, for 50,000 kids to come through there for free. Because the county just expects it. They pay them nothing. That's really an unfortunate situation for this entire region, when the county government, who is supposed to be supporting the arts, is expecting those people to raise their own funds and then offer things for free to our government.

Q: Well, it sounds like Creative Wilmington has a lot of possibilities, a lot of need to be (inaudible).

Matthew Dols: It does. And we know that. And quite honestly, I'm excited about it. As annoying as it is, as frightening as it is, as unfortunate as the situation that we are currently in, in the grander scheme of things, is. Fine. This is where we are. We can't fight where we are, but we can fight for where we will be. So we look forward to being the advocate that tries to get the arts back into the elementary schools, that tries to get funding for the Cameron Art Museum and the Children's Museum and everywhere else to be able to do what they do, because they are parts of our community and parts of our lives that have to be there. People will say no, they don't have to be there, it's an amenity. But I think that's absurd. I think the idea that something like an art museum, the one and only art museum for a two hour drive, that's not an amenity. Every community should have some art museum. Every community should have a good theater. So Thalian Hall must be there, or else we are losing a part of our culture and our lives as citizens, that can't be replaced by something else. So if we were to lose that, it would lose the momentum that Thalian Hall has had for so many years. But the future is very exciting. There is money being infused into specifically our downtown area, with PPD Convention Center and all the other things that are going on. And there's interest. The workers that are moving to the Wilmington area are more interested and expect the cultural opportunities that past residents have not necessarily expected, but they enjoyed. It's funny, I was talking to Mayor Spence Broadhurst back when he was from there. And we were talking about the arts, and he said that back in the day when somebody was thinking about moving a job to a different location, they looked at the sewers, the water, and the schools-- or sewers, roads, and schools. These days, sewers, roads, and schools are a given. You have to have those in order. If you don't have those in order, then an employer won't even think about bringing business here. What employers look for now is what are the cultural opportunities in an area, because you've got to already have good sewers, roads, and schools. So now, they know that if they want to keep the intelligent workers, the creative workers, the high quality workers who are supposed to engage and be part of a community and want to work for that company, that they need to have outside things to do. They need to have those cultural opportunities to take part in to enjoy living there. And if Wilmington doesn't have all that, we're going to lose a lot of those types of workers. Be it intelligent, be it well paid, whatever you want to call them. So that's a situation that Wilmington is starting to learn slowly, that they have to start investing in the arts or they're going to lose the quality of workers.

Q: Last thing, we've still got just a couple of minutes. We didn't get on Arts for the Masses. What was the idea there?

Matthew Dols: Art for the Masses is fun. Me, Tim Jones, who's a local artist actually, right there by the painting behind me, who now lives in New York, and his at the time wife-- so now ex-wife, Stephanie Jones, Stephanie Hagen, Hogan, something like that-- came up with the idea because we were so tired of Azaleafest and Riverfest and all these things that had sort of turned into these craft fairs and stuff that didn't really care about local anything. There were all these people on tour with the circuit and all that. So we decided to do like an anti-Azaleafest, or an anti-Riverfest. No spit-and-polish to it. It was rough-and-tumble, guerilla style, we get in, we do, we get out before anybody notices kind of thing. And so Don Lashley, the owner of the Roudabush property, was nice enough to allow us to have that property. We did it very professionally. We paid for insurance, we did all the cleaning, we did all the organizing. In the end, we left the building cleaner than when we entered it. And that's one of the big things. A lot of people have great ideas for things to do in the Wilmington area, but you've got to be professional about it. You've got to be organized with it. So we went to him with budgets and proposals and plans and everything and said this is what we'd like to do, and he was very nice about it. And the idea behind Art for the Masses was-- there's a twofold idea. And again, going back to Art for the Masses got started, and that was sort of the beginning of things that led up to the creation of It had two ideas, a short-term and a long-term. The short-term was that we wanted artists to be able to just make some money. And we wanted the lower end buying public to be able to afford to buy original artwork. Because there are too many people with posters and cheap mechanical reproduction stuff out there, that we wanted people to be able to replace that stuff. It wasn't necessarily high end art, it wasn't really necessarily amazing art. But it was original. And so the long-term hope of Art for the Masses is to groom these art buyers so that as they have more disposable income and have more interest [ph?] in things, as their taste and their age and their homes and whatever starts growing, that they will be more interested to buy original works over the years. So somebody who bought a bunch of $100 and $200 small works now for their home, five, ten years, 15 years from now when they have two kids and a bigger house, they're going to buy an original piece for over their mantle instead of a poster, or instead of a giclée or whatever else. Because they're going to learn to appreciate the original works. So that's the idea. Obviously there's no one to necessarily come across when we're out there, just like throwing artwork around for 250 bucks, but that's the short and the long-term of Art for the Masses.

Q: And it's been very successful. You've got another one coming up very shortly. Where's the venue going to be for this particular one?

Matthew Dols: 115 North Second Street, which is the old Mack Tire Building, next to the post office.

Q: I think they've become kind of a great event. The local paper has picked up on it, and you've got supporters. Now, let's go on. We've just got a couple more minutes. Quick, do the final one, which is the sculpture in the...

Matthew Dols: Pedestrian Art. Pedestrian Art, it actually started, we were going around to downtown businesses asking if we could put art inside their empty storefronts, so that it would be [ph?] secure and safe inside, but being able to see it from public. And that's where the name came from, because it was as though you're just walking down the street and you look in the storefront. It's an empty storefront but it's attractive. It's got some art in it, it's engaging. So he was planning to be a benefit for people trying to rent properties or sell properties or whatever, and a benefit for the artists because they get exposure. So that's where Pedestrian Art as a term started, and then it also tied in-- we just took the name over and put it for the public sculpture program, because again, it was the same idea. Let's put public sculpture out where pedestrians are instead of expecting people to go, "I'm going to go to the Cameron Art Museum and go see artwork." We tried purposely to go out of our way to make it so that art is part of everyday life. You don't have to be intelligent, you don't have to be well read, you don't have to understand art to experience it or enjoy it in the Pedestrian Art process.

Q: These are rotating in the sense of the Pedestrian one is not permanent, then?

Matthew Dols: Correct. One of the things was, everyone drives down through Third and Market, that intersection there. But everybody stops noticing that there's sculptures all around there, because they're the same sculptures that have been there for generations. So the idea was to continue to keep them changing, so every six months we have something new so you don't get bored with it. You walk by, "Oh, wait a minute. That's different." And you'll keep noticing it every six months.

Q: What happens to the work when it's done?

Matthew Dols: It just gets returned to the artist. So basically what we're doing is we're leasing the art from the artist for six months.

Q: But you do pay them?

Matthew Dols: We do. They get an honorarium, absolutely. We lease it for $750, is what the artists get for the six months, and then we try to sell it. We try to do as much publicity as we can, but we're not a sales place so that's not really our core thing. But we try our best to make sure that that information is accessible to the public. And then if it doesn't sell, it goes back to the artist. We're always looking for funding, Creative Wilmington, Pedestrian Art needs funding. Send us your money, cash and check, you're appreciated.

Q: Well, thank you very much. A very entertaining and interesting perspective, I think, both as an artist and as an art story.

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