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Monday, July 14, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 2/17/2013

Manet for nothing

A bunch of critics for British news media didn’t bother to give the Toledo Museum of Art proper — or any — credit for its central role in planning a genuinely world-class exhibit that recently opened in London.

So what? Why should Toledoans care?

Because it isn’t just a matter of wounded local pride. The attitude reflected in such neglect is all too prevalent in many elite precincts, not only in the rest of the world but in parts of this country as well. It’s based on the belief that what happens away from America’s east and west coasts isn’t important enough to notice.

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That neglect, rooted in willful ignorance, can affect decisions about job-creating investment, business location, and tourism in this community. Such decisions will greatly affect the future of the region and its residents, including those who feel no need to distinguish Manet from Monet.

The exhibit of dozens of paintings by the 19th-century French artist Edouard Manet attracted 47,000 visitors — and much favorable attention — to the Toledo museum late last year. The local art institute organized and presented the retrospective in collaboration with the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

When the exhibit moved to London last month, the royal museum cited its partnership with Toledo on signs and in promotional materials. But museum patrons The Blade spoke to were unaware of that relationship — and of Toledo.

Reviews of the exhibit in London’s major newspapers and magazines left out the Toledo connection. (Media elsewhere in Europe did credit the Toledo museum’s role.) Even British-based publications that sell large numbers of copies in the United States, such as the Economist and the Financial Times, failed to mention Toledo in their coverage.

Sir Harold Evans, a renowned British editor and author, called the omission “rude.” Among British journalists and citizens, he told The Blade, “the knowledge of the noncoastal cities is, shall I say, minimal.” A diplomat at the British consulate in Chicago conceded that a “coastal view of the U.S.” often pervades his country’s media.

One of the critics contacted by The Blade had the grace to acknowledge that she and her colleagues were “guilty of great parochialism” in slighting Toledo. But another sneered that “most [English nationals], myself included, don’t really know where Toledo is.”

Snobbery and ignorance are a toxic combination that can harm struggling communities such as Toledo — not just its civic pride, but also its economy. Such local projects as the Toledo Brand Initiative can acquaint potential investors, residents, and employers, across the nation and around the world, with the many advantages of living and doing business in this community. The project appeared to miss an obvious opportunity to use the art exhibit to promote Toledo in Europe.

Still, the news blackout imposed by London media on one of Toledo’s most prominent civic institutions — and, by extension, on the community itself — suggests the difficulty of that task. The middle America that isn’t New York or Washington or Hollywood doesn’t deserve to be marginalized so carelessly.

We invite the British critics to visit the museum in Toledo, and its counterparts in Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Pittsburgh, and Chicago. Perhaps once they survey the great art on display here, they — and their readers — might form a different impression of America’s heartland.



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