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'Cover Me' presses for attention

Email|Print| Text size + By Geoff Edgers
Globe Staff / February 12, 2008

AMHERST - At first glance, Mo Ringey seems an unlikely figure to rally the Pioneer Valley arts community. She is tiny, just over 100 pounds, and has a chronic condition - five herniated discs in her neck - that forces her to hang in a traction machine for an hour a day.

But thanks to a knack for networking, Ringey finds herself the spokesperson for a group of artists unhappy with how much - or little - local newspapers write about the arts. Their frustrations have been channeled into "Cover Me," an exhibition Ringey has curated at the Hampden Gallery at the University of Massachusetts.

Ringey says she's got no personal complaints, as the local press has taken notice of her work. "But people were urging me to do this, and I figured we're all in this together," she says. "Why not open my mouth? I've got a big mouth."

The idea for the show emerged last April after Ringey, in a post on her blog, wondered whether arts coverage was drying up. Dotted with colleges and universities, the Pioneer Valley has more than its share of writers, painters, sculptors, and crafts fans, not to mention newspapers with pages to fill.

Anne LaPrade, who curates the Hampden Gallery, picked up on Ringey's question, posting a comment on the site suggesting a show about local arts coverage. LaPrade even picked the title. Artists were eager to participate.

Their pieces range from photographs to video installations. Carey Ascenzo's "Money Graf Banger" features dozens of people, superimposed over film clips of movie newsrooms, saying, in the style of Perry White, "Let's put this baby to bed."

For "News, Weather and Sports," Larry Slezak screwed together four old windows to act as walls. Clips from The Republican, the daily newspaper based in Springfield, are pasted on the window frames. Inside, Slezak wound barbed wire.

Slezak, who has run the Springfield Technical Community College's Carberry gallery since 1980, says he misses the writing of Gloria Russell, a freelance critic for 20 years before a Republican editor told her he could no longer afford to pay her to review art.

"We've had to grovel to get coverage for exhibits," says Slezak, "and it's gotten more and more difficult over the years. Rarely, now, can you even get a calendar listing, never mind a review of an exhibit."

Ray Kelly, the Republican's assistant managing editor for arts and entertainment, disagrees. The newspaper has not reduced arts coverage, he says. It runs reams of listings every week, and does regular features on the local arts scene. Kelly concedes that since Russell was let go, the paper has stopped reviewing art.

"It's a natural position for a visual artist to feel that there should be more coverage in the newspaper, on the radio, on television about visual arts, just as I'm sure that playwrights feel there isn't enough coverage of theater in the mass media, or a classical musician may feel there's not enough attention paid to classical music," says Kelly. "But they're hardly being ignored."

Ringey grew up in Longmeadow but spent 15 years in Boston before moving back to the area in 2002. Her work typically features crushed stained-glass glued in patterns on '50s era appliances. Both The Republican and the Valley Advocate, an alternative weekly, have written about her art, but it remains hard to sell her work in the economically challenged region, she says. (Her current solo show is on display at the Stone Soup Gallery in nearby Florence.)

In fact, many people know Ringey as a kind of journalist. Thanks to the popularity of her electronic newsletters, the Valley Advocate asked her to write a blog, which she did for several months last year.

"Mo had been doing her e-mail blast, and absolutely everybody read that blast," says Michael Kusek, the newspaper's marketing director. "It was the most comprehensive thing about what was going on in town. She has something that's very rare in artists - the ability to promote themselves."

Because she's gotten healthy coverage, Ringey says she planned merely to curate the gallery show, not participate. "I had originally not asked me," she says. "It seemed like nepotism."

But LaPrade intervened and Ringey created a piece called "Such Are The Dreams Of The Everyday Housewife."

It is a hair-dryer chair straight out of "Leave It To Beaver," only with a hood of shattered glass. Ringey created phony covers of Art News and a Christie's catalog showing her work, and placed them on the chair.

Ringey says she's still not sure what will come from "Cover Me." Stopping into a Chinese restaurant in Amherst for lunch last week, she grabbed the latest issue of the Valley Advocate and checked to see if the show had been listed.

It hadn't.

"The underlying message is the importance of arts coverage," Ringey says. "It's a plea and not an attack or accusation."

Geoff Edgers can be reached at gedgers@globe.com.

Related

"Cover Me" runs through Feb. 26 at the Hampden gallery at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Free.
Monday-Thursday, noon to 6 p.m.; Sunday 2 to 5 p.m. 413-545-0680. umass.edu/fac/hampden/directions.shtml

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