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But by the end of that decade, MAEP's survival was under discussion.
Within the museum world, some feared that the democratic process of the MAEP
would let anyone in. Within the artist community, some argued that the work
of many notable artists hadn't yet been shown.
Late one wintry night in 1979, the artist panel, elected by the artist
community to select the programs exhibitions, was
debating these concerns when there came a flash of inspiration. Defying all logic (something
not uncommon for the MAEP), the panel realized that the perfect remedy was to do exactly what
was feared, open the doors and let everyone in.
Exaltation over this breakthrough was followed by this question: Would this invitation
produce more artwork than could fit into the gallery? Keen thinkers, the panel figured
a plan: limit the space given to each artist. Big enough but not too big, a square foot
of space was determined to be about right.
Next: What to name the show? What title
could simultaneously reveal an attitude of inclusiveness and a restriction of space?
The word "foot" evoked multiple perspectives. "Door" would also be fitting. The show
opens the door to all. What title would celebrate democracy and comment on how tough
it was for artists of the day to get their work into the museums? And then it came,
"The Foot in the Door Show". The meeting adjourned amid enthusiasm that something
worthwhile had been conceived.
Understandably, this exhibition brought into focus many challenging issues. If all artists
are invited, one must ask, "Who is an artist?" Consider this: Instead of asking who is an
artist, ask who is a lawyer? Imagine what could happen if anyone could call himself a
lawyer. Clearly, laws are necessary concerning who is a lawyer. No such laws yet pertain
to artists. The artist panel conjectured that if there is no law against it (yet), then
let the individual decide: You are an artist if you call yourself an artist. This freedom
to identify oneself still strikes some people (mostly lawyers) as crazy.
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