Hassam safe, for now: Online activism a "significant factor"

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011 at 4:30 PM
Hassam safe, for now: Online activism a significant factor by Cory Vaillancourt

The sale of the "Summer Afternoon, Isle of Shoals" painting by American impressionist Childe Hassam has been "tabled indefinitely," Erie County Executive Barry Grossman told me last week. As you may recall, several County Council members initially supported selling the painting, but have since cooled on the idea.

So why did the winds change?

Grossman believes online activism was a significant factor.

Apparently, Facebook isn't just for shooting the breeze with your friends - online activism, at least in this case, works.

"Oh, it does work," said Grossman. "The art community stepped up."

The Facebook group "Save the Hassam" was, and is, a prominent and vocal online opponent to the sale. Tempestuous discussions transpired all over our community, but members of this group memorialized them online - vetting the pros and the cons, spreading their message by garnering new group members, and mobilizing a blustery talking campaign. Apparently some members of the Council caught wind, and got "cold feet," Grossman admitted.

"People should understand that in a democracy, their voice does matter, and it is heard. Even when those voices disagree with my position, I'm glad people participate," Grossman said. "I think it's wonderful that people pay attention to the issues, I think it's wonderful that they voice their opinion on issues, and I think it's wonderful that their elected representatives listen to them."

If you remember my aside at the end of the faerie tale that appeared in Upfront a few months back, I noted that there was, and is, no Facebook group supporting the sale of the Hassam painting. While Grossman continues to make good points in support of a sale?namely, the Blasco Library?s collections are suffering and the library continues to lack an endowment that would ensure its future?I can only wonder what might have happened had those points been aired more fully online or on Facebook; sometimes, it is not about which way the winds blow, it is about which winds blow strongest.

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