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Week of March 25-31, 2002

1. Special Interest
2. Dance
3. Media
4. Music
5. People
6. Publishing
7. Theatre
8. Visual Arts
9. Arts Issues
10. For Fun


NUMBING DOWN: If the video images of September 11 seemed unreal, perhaps we should blame it on the numbing effect of film. "It should have been a massive wake up call, because for too long cinema had been playing with reality, playing with it in such a way as to allow actions to become divorced from their consequences. For too long sensation has come to eclipse almost everything: bigger and better explosions that miraculously don't kill the most important of the protagonists, simulated plane crashes which the right people somehow survive, shootings that manage to create victims without widows or orphans." The Guardian (UK) 03/26/02

ALTERED STATES: Popular culture has always influenced the way people perceive the world around them. "But now there is a new kind of medium, which has begun to close the gap between culture and life. It is an interactive medium, or, more specifically, video games. Compare games to earlier forms of pop culture, and you'll soon realize that they are really different. The more closely games mimic life - with visual realism, emotional weight, an intuitive interface, conceptual rigor - the better they get. And most games try to do more than replicate life - they systematically probe the fantastic, the better-than-real. One senses that the best games aspire to supplant the living of life." LAWeekly 03/28/02


NEW DIRECTIONS: The English National Ballet and the Royal Ballet have new artistic directors. "In a few years, assuming they get what they want, the landscape of British ballet will have changed considerably, thanks to Ross Stretton at the Royal and Matz Skoog at ENB. But what kind of landscape is that shaping up to be?" The Times (UK) 03/29/02

AFTER THE STAR GOES IN: Sarah Wildor was one of the Royal Ballet's brightest stars when she suddenly quit the company shortly after new artistic director Ross Stretton took over the company last September. Why'd she quit? "If I'd stayed, I would have turned into a nasty, bitter person. So instead of staying and whingeing, I thought, I'm the only person who can make things happen for me, so I'll take the bull by the horns. And I resigned." The Telegraph (UK) 03/29/02

MORE FIRINGS IN BOSTON: It didn't take newly appointed artistic director Mikko Nissinen long to throw himself into the Boston Ballet's way of doing things. He's firing dancers, including a couple of very popular local stars who, even Nissinen admits, are supremely talented. There may be reasons for dismissals, but it's hard not to view the actions as just more of the melodrama that has plagued the company for the last several years. Boston Herald 03/28/02

BUILDING BEYOND BALANCHINE: Peter Martins has led New York City Ballet since 1983, having inherited one of the world's great dance companies. "Martins has been reviled and admired in equal measure. You can criticise some of his changes, but you can't deny that he has done his utmost to stir choreographic creativity and stretch his dancers with a cornucopia of ballets: 49 for the 2001-2 season, including six world premieres and four New York premieres. No other company has such a large, effervescent repertoire." The Independent (UK) 03/26/02


TV FEEDS VIOLENCE: A new study links teens watching TV with a propensity for violence later in life. "The findings show that of children who watch less an hour of television a day at the age of 14, only 5.7% turned to violence between the ages of 16 to 22. For those who watch between one and three hours, this number jumped to 22.8%. The rate went up again to 28.8% for those who watched more than three hours a day." BBC 03/29/02

  • TOWARDS A CLEANER TV: "A study released last week showed that between 1999 and 2001 the amount of sexual material on TV entertainment shows dropped 29 percent, and the amount of serious violence went down 17 percent. "Popular culture is not necessarily on a permanent and steeply downward slide, concludes the report, issued by the Center for Media and Public Affairs. Christian Science Monitor 03/29/02

OSCAR COMES TOGETHER: "After an awards campaign season universally acknowledged to be the most petty and mean-spirited in memory, the entire Academy Awards process also got a heartening, emotionally stirring Hollywood ending. With Sidney Poitier's special Oscar, Halle Berry's best actress triumph and Denzel Washington's best actor nod, the Oscar ceremony touched chords of genuine feeling you would have sworn were beyond the grasp of this often derided ceremony." Los Angeles Times 03/25/02

GOOD TIMES UNDER DARK SKIES: "The average cost of making and marketing a film fell by about 4% to $79m last year, according to the Motion Picture Association of America, which represents the major studios. And this happened while box-office takings in America were growing to $8.4 billion, as Americans made almost 1.5 billion trips to the movies—the highest number since 1959. Everything seems wonderful, darling. And yet a shadow stalks Tinseltown. Beneath the bonhomie the industry's leaders are increasingly nervous that Hollywood is about to be 'Napsterised'." The Economist 03/22/02

POOH ON YOU: The Winnie the Pooh franchise is a lucrative one, generating "somewhere between $1 billion and $6 billion a year for Disney." But "for the past 11 years, the Disney Co. has been locked in a legal slugfest with the wealthy Slesinger family, which purchased some merchandising rights to Winnie-the-Pooh back in 1930." The case is not going well for Disney. "Last summer, the judge slapped the company with a $90,000 fine for destroying relevant documents and issued a harsh set of orders that, experts say, will hamstring Disney's lawyers." New Times LA 03/23/02

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING HOLLYWOOD: A new report says that "Southern California's economy shed about 18,000 motion picture and television industry jobs last year, or nearly 12% of Hollywood's work force, largely when the rush to make movies before feared labor strikes gave way to months of relative inactivity." Backstage 03/27/02

TOWERING GIANT: Clear Channel Communications has come to dominate America's radio and concert business. "With holdings that include approximately 1,225 radio stations and 130 concert venues, the company in recent years has amassed unparalleled power in the music and entertainment industries. That power - and what it means for the music business, as well as for Clear Channel competitors - has been the topic of heated debate within the music industry for the last year." Now government regulators are paying attention. Salon 03/27/02

IF THE FEW CONTROL THE ALL... "Media conglomerates are in a merger frenzy. Telecommunications monopolies are creating a cozy cartel, dividing up access to the online world. The entertainment industry is pushing for Draconian controls on the use and dissemination of digital information. If you're not infuriated by these related trends, you should at least be worried." San Jose Mercury News 03/26/02


WHY NY CITY OPERA SHOULD LEAVE LINCOLN CENTER: "Given that there is now a $l.2-billion renovation plan on the boards, New Yorkers might want to ask how well Lincoln Center has done its job. Robert Moses conceived the complex as a shining city of the arts, taking the place of neighborhoods that he called 'dismal and decayed.' It did succeed in sprucing up the Upper West Side and placing the companies in a secure cocoon. But Lincoln Center has never been able to foster an ideal cultural populace that delights equally in opera, ballet, and symphony. In my experience, opera people, ballet people, and symphony people seldom overlap comfortably. The lumping together of such distinct art forms has made it harder for each company to define itself crisply in the public eye. Ensconced in the limestone fortress, they have become subspecies of 'the performing arts,' whose main characteristic, the curious onlooker might decide, is an edifying stuffiness. City Opera should jump at the chance to leave this rudderless ship." The New Yorker 03/25/02

DEATH BY PAY-TO-PLAY: A US copyright ruling a few weeks ago that says web radio stations must pay royalties for the music they play, threatens to put many of the stations out of business. Even though the fees are small, most stations are small shoestring operations with tiny budgets.  "In recent weeks, webcasters have started a campaign to try to amend the Digital Millennium Copyright law so they can stay on the Internet airwaves."  Salon 03/25/02

TOWARDS YOUNGER POORER AUDIENCES: Trying to fight off charges of elitism, London's Royal Opera House has released a study that says its patrons are getting younger and poorer (really). The study shows that "one fifth of opera goers were under 35 years old - and a similar proportion earn less than £15,000 per year. And more than half of opera goers have an income less than £30,000. BBC 03/28/02

BBC CANCELS NORTH AMERICAN TOUR: Hot on the heels of Leonard Slatkin's announcement that he will step down from its music directorship in 2004, the BBC Symphony has cancelled its planned tour of the U.S., scheduled for 2003. The orchestra's management is citing economics and a harsh touring schedule as reasons for the cancellation. Andante 03/27/02

MUSIC'S VOODOO ECONOMICS: Recording company EMI recently announced it is cutting 1800 jobs and a quarter of its artists. "Some interesting facts have emerged: record sales are falling internationally (down almost 10 per cent in the US); only five per cent of major label releases make a profit, and big record companies need to sell 500,000 copies of a CD just to break even." But "undeterred by paying Mariah Carey £38 million to end her contract (and dropping hundreds of other artists) they have just offered Robbie Williams £40 million to extend his." The Telegraph (UK) 03/28/02

WHAT AILS YOU: Everyone seems to agree that the music business is suffering. How did business get so bad? "The problems began with the mega-mergers of the '90s, some say. Increasingly large corporations have lost touch with consumers, they claim, alienated artists and failed to incorporate emergent technology by fighting the Napster music downloading system instead of making a deal early on. Performers, in turn, are arguing for improved conditions, including ownership of their work. They want to be free agents, like actors, who are not beholden to long-term contracts with one studio." Miami Herald 03/24/02

STREET NOISE (OR BEAUTIFUL MUSIC?): Since the mid-1980s, members of the Chicago City Council have been "waging war" on street musicians, "pushing for increasingly restrictive rules governing their behavior and branding them 'unhealthful,' 'safety hazards' and 'peddlers'." Now the city's reversed itself, putting up $1.5 million to encourage street music in a program called Music Everywhere across the Midwest. The idea is that from May 30 to Sept. 29 "the city will be awash in accordionists, organ grinders, kazoos, harmonicas and 'little bongos' that will be handed out - free of charge! - to pedestrians" along with invitations to play on the streets. Chicago Tribune 03/29/02


EVERYBODY HATES ME: Author Salman Rushdie said in a German interview that he thinks the British press is out to discredit him. "These ambush writers are probably angry that I wasn't killed. They are holding a grudge against me for surviving the fatwa and that I'm now leading a better life." BBC 03/26/02

DOROTHY DELAY, 84: Behind every great musician, there is at least one great teacher, and Dorothy DeLay was that teacher to an astonishing number of the world's top violinists for the past several decades. From Itzhak Perlman to Gil Shaham to Nigel Kennedy, DeLay was a legend among her students, and she became the closest thing the music world has to a matriarch, overseeing the progress of a studio of young musicians which can only be described as the finest in the world. Dorothy DeLay died this week, after a battle with cancer. The New York Times 03/27/02

LATIN LEGACY: It is one of the great literary paradoxes of the last century that the nations of Latin America could have been plagued by so many vicious dictators and repressive regimes, and yet still produced so many successful and widely-read novelists. Mario Vargas Llosa is one of the most prolific and well-known, and, like so many of his contemporaries, he has spent his career treading the line between writing and politics. (Llosa even ran for president in his native Peru.) But to him, the spirit of Latin American writing is a special quality that has never been duplicated. The New York Times 03/28/02


RETHINKING ARTS COVERAGE: The Los Angeles Times and the New York Times are in the midst of rethinking their arts coverage. "Should arts coverage be news or feature oriented? Should the emphasis be on 'high culture' or pop culture? To what degree should the demands of celebrity journalism be catered to? How should stories that link business to the arts be played?" Not surprisingly, many in the arts are watching with concern. Yahoo! (Reuters) 03/25/02

DUELING LIVES: Biographers are among the age's 'most successful literary realtors', as the poet Geoffrey Hill scornfully puts it, and biography continues to be an expanding genre, feeding the appetite for story left unsatisfied by so much modern fiction, addressing the whole human span, from beginnings to ends. So these tussles to dominate the market - to have a biography become, for a few years at least, the biography of the subject - will continue." London Evening Standard 03/25/02

GOOD YEAR FOR BOOKS: Sales for America's top three bookstore chains rose 3.7% to $7.51 billion, for the fiscal year ended February 2. Publishers Weekly 03/25/02

ITALY LEAVES BOOKFAIR: Italy officially withdrew from the Paris Book Show after demonstrators showed up protesting Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. The fair was to honor the culture of Italy, but Berlusconi's right-center politics and some of his comments about culture have angered many. Washington Post (AP) 03/25/02

COPYING IN PERSPECTIVE: Just mention of the dreaded "p" word can send a writer's career into a spin. But "what is 'plagiarism'? and Why is it reprobated? These are important questions. The label 'plagiarist' can ruin a writer, destroy a scholarly career, blast a politician's chances for election, and cause the expulsion of a student from a college or university." Yet not all copying or borrowing of someone else's work is bad. Indeed we want to encourage it. The Atlantic 04/02

LIBRARIANS PROTEST NEW INTERNET CENSORSHIP ROLE: Librarians are protesting a US law that requires libraries to use filtering software on computers. "They want to offer patrons a choice between filtered and unfiltered Internet access, contending that parents and children should be the ones who determine what content they find unacceptable - not the government." The New York Times (AP) 03/26/02

RICHLY RISKED: What happens when an author, discovered by a publisher and earnestly promoted, strikes it big, winning prizes and selling millions of books? Well, he writes a second novel. But the author has gotten so big, the publisher who took a risk on him is unable to afford the advance - projected to be about $5 million. Charles Frazier is the author, and his second book is about to go to bid. Grove Atlantic, which published Frazier's Cold Mountain to such acclaim, is likely out of the running because of the money involved. Fair? The New York Times 03/29/02

WHERE BOOKS GO TO DIE: What happens to books that for one reason or another fail to sell? There is, after all, a storage problem to deal with. They go to a book return company - some 25,000 a day at one firm in Essex - to be assessed. "Most are destined to be pulped. Almost 10 per cent of all newly published books end up being shredded. If your book is ever threatened with being remaindered, don't fret about it - there are worse fates." Sydney Morning Herald 03/29/02

NO-MAN'S LAND: Are book clubs a women's domain? "Every time I've tried to score a seat in a group, I've been blackballed. One of my best friends stared me and my request right in the eyes and burst out laughing. Another acquaintance invited me to join her group, which was suffering from attrition and malaise. I seemed like the perfect solution - until she learned that the club was no-man's land, literally. But the worst was the time my candidacy made it all the way to a full-group discussion and vote. I lost by a single nay. 'It was so close,' said one of my supporters. 'I think you would have gotten in if you were gay.' I'm learning to live with rejection." Salon 03/26/02


BROADWAY RETURNS MONEY: Broadway has largely recovered from its swoon after September 11. So the theatres are giving back some of the money they received from the city. "On Monday, the League of American Theatres and Producers returned $1 million of a $2.5 million stipend given last fall by the city to purchase tickets to 11 Broadway shows that were facing the prospect of a bleak winter." Newsday (AP) 03/26/02

SUPPORTING THE THEATRE VILLAGE: The Royal Shakespeare Company is picking up support for its plans to build a new "theatre village" in Stratford. "However there are some doubts that the £100m project may be too much of a financial risk." BBC 03/26/02  

CRITIC SEES HIMSELF ACCUSED ONSTAGE: Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel theatre critic Damien Jaques was surprised, sitting out in the audience of a play he was reviewing, to find his name and picture featured as part of a piece about September 11. "This piece about Sept. 11 did not include head-and-shoulder portraits of Osama bin Laden, Mohamed Atta, Mullah Omar, Rudy Guiliani, Donald Rumsfeld or George W. Bush. But I was up there on the big screen, apparently the symbol of what is wrong with this world." Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 03/26/02

LIVENT SETTLEMENT: When the mega-musical producer Livent went bankrupt in the late 90s, actors working in touring productions were stranded without paychecks owed to them. Now the Canadian actors union is distributing money finally collected from the company. "Artists covered by the settlement will receive payments ranging from CAN$20 ($12.80) to CAN$15,000 ($9,615), depending on their respective claims." Backstage 03/25/02


BRITISH MUSEUM ADMITS SALES - AN EMBARRASSMENT: The British Museum has admitted selling off valuable Benin bronzes during the 1950s and 60s. "The museum insisted that its claim to inalienable ownership of the bronzes and other artefacts such as the Parthenon (Elgin) marbles was not affected. Until now its standard response to restitution demands and any other claims has been that it is forbidden to dispose of items." The Guardian (UK) 03/28/02

IS THE BRITISH MUSEUM WHITEWASHING THE PARTHENON MARBLES CLEANING CONTROVERSY? In 1999 the British Museum participated in a conference about the controversial cleaning of the Parthenon marbles in the 1930s that damaged them. Now the BMA has published a report on the conference. But the report doesn't include contributions of Greek scholars, leading to charges of a whitewash of the issue. The Art Newspaper 03/28/02

RUNNING OUT OF ART: The world supply of art from the past is running out. "Ironically, the success of the art market is the cause of its defeat. Interest in art, and in buying art, has exploded in the last four decades. Confined until the 1960s to closely defined circles within clear-cut geographical areas in Western Europe and North America, demand for art now cuts across social strata and international borders, scattering worldwide the sum total of the works of the past." International Herald Tribune 03/26/02

EXPLOITATION OR EDUCATION? An artist who collected up "missing" posters hung everywhere in Lower Manhattan after September 11 for a touring art show intended a tribute. Instead, the "what could have been a sensitive commemoration into a jarring, tasteless presentation of some of September 11's most powerful fragments." This is the danger of using 9/11 as artistic fodder. "The artists behind exhibits and films commemorating and documenting September 11 have each had to grapple with difficult questions about what separates education from exploitation - and how to clearly mark the distinctions between history and art." American Prospect 03/20/02

TRADITIONAL CONSPIRACY LURKING? Is there a conspiracy to keep more traditional forms of contemporary art out of the press? "The coverage of visual art in newspapers does a disservice to the majority of artists while serving to keep their readership in ignorance of the true diversity of contemporary art." 03/02 

SOMETHING NEW FOR THE NATIONAL? Charles Saumarez Smith takes over as director of London's National Portrait Gallery when it  needs a rethink. "It is not elitist to explore the further reaches of art history. It is depressing, however, to see the National Gallery fall prey to the kind of clubbish pretentiousness that used to hold court when art in this country was the preserve of faux-tasteful philistines for whom Duchamp was non-U, and any 17th-century Italian painter you could mention was inherently better than anyone alive." The Guardian (UK) 03/25/02

ART HEIST: "Thieves stole five 17th century paintings valued at $2.6 million from the renowned Frans Hals museum in the western Dutch city of Haarlem, police said Monday. The paintings taken Sunday night were by Jan Steen, Cornelis Bega, Adriaan van Ostade and Cornelis Dusart, Dutch television reported." Nando Times (AP) 03/25/02

FAKES TO THE RIGHT OF ME, FRAUD TO THE LEFT... Julian Spalding, former director of the Glasgow Museums, says that Scottish museum collections are "riddled" with fakes. And that museum officials know it. "His claims were met with a mixture of anger and disgust. One union leader accused him of 'clutching at straws', while Glasgow City Council declined to comment." Glasgow Herald 03/25/02

MAN AFTER MONEY: How does the modern museum director spend his day? If you're Harry W. Parker III, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, you think about money. "Almost everything Parker does in a day concerns money - how to raise it, how to allocate it, how to spend it." San Francisco Chronicle 03/25/02

ART OF OZ: For 10 years John Furphy has been keeping track of every piece of art that sells at auction in Australia and New Zealand. "In '92, following the market's collapse, $28 million worth of paintings, prints and drawings were sold in Australia. A decade on, the auction houses were turning over more than $70 million, with Aboriginal art contributing $6 million to the total - up from a mere $157,000 10 years earlier." The Age (Melbourne) 03/27/02

AND IT COSTS LESS THAN BRIBERY! "In a campaign reminiscent of those waged by such art activists as the Guerrilla Girls, students at the Massachusetts College of Art are protesting the state Legislature's continuing cuts in the budget of the country's only freestanding public college of art and design. The MassArt students are... sending state representatives original, one-of-a-kind art in the form of eye-catching postcards. Each design is different, but the message printed on each card's border is the same: 'Public higher education is an investment in the future. Keep public schools affordable.' At the bottom of the cards is the simple declaration, 'Art is everywhere.' Even in legislative mailboxes." Boston Globe 03/27/02

CROSSING THE LINE: Artists often play with crossing the line between acceptable and not acceptable. Shock sells, after all. But how does a critic say an artist has crossed the line without sounding censorius? Perhaps Gunther von Hagens' Bodyworks grisly show of bodies crosses that line. "Walking past body after body, I can't help but feel diminished by the experience. Von Hagens has made me a voyeur upon a scene I should not have witnessed. And I feel abandoned as I move through the grizzly tableaux." London Evening Standard 03/26/02

VENICE BIENNALE CHOOSES CURATOR: Francesco Bonami, 47,  a senior curator at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art, has been chosen to curate the 2003 Venice Biennale. "The appointment puts an end to growing speculation about the future of the festival, which Italians have dubbed the 'Soap-Biennale' in recent months. It comes in the wake of a controversial attempt by Vittorio Sgarbi, Italy's outspoken undersecretary for culture, to appoint the Australian critic for Time magazine, Robert Hughes, as curator." ArtForum 03/26/02


REFORMING CONSUMERS OUT OF THE EQUATION: As digital music and video technology has boomed over the last decade, consumers have become more and more innovative in how they utilize available components. Many have "networked" together computers, stereos, televisions, and more to create a centralized home entertainment center that can be controlled at the touch of a button. But the legislation currently pending before Congress aimed at creating greater copy protection could make all such setups obsolete, and is threatening to disrupt the way in which people listen to music. Wired 03/28/02

POWER SHIFT: Covent Garden has announced next year's season, and the lineup signals the fortunes of resident companies. While the Royal Opera season - the first under new music director Anthony Pappano - looks brilliant, the Royal Ballet's presence is shrinking. "The next Royal Ballet season confirms what has been widely feared - a remorseless decline in the company as a creative organism within British culture." The Telegraph (UK) 03/28/02

ART AND PORN IN CANADA: A controversial case in Canada came to a close this week, as a judge in British Columbia ruled that the pornographic stories involving children and torture written by the defendant have artistic merit and are therefore not illegal. The issue at the heart of the case was whether or not Canadians should have the freedom to write fiction on such topics, even if there are no photographs present or real people involved. The ruling has wide-ranging implications across the country, and may have some impact in the U.S. as well, where authorities are struggling with the same issue. National Post (Canada) 03/27/02

CLEANING UP THE STREET OF STARS: For years New York's Times Square was a seedy wasteland until a 1990s cleanup that revitalized 42nd Street. Downtown Hollywood also declined seriously in the past few decades. But there are signs of a Times Square-style fix-up. "What you realize is that Hollywood has a lot of beautiful architecture, it has the potential. This is something Los Angeles really lacks, a real urban space where people are out there on the sidewalks, walking and gawking." Backstage 03/27/02

10. FOR FUN 

THE LAST LAST SUPPER? The little town of Brainerd, Minnesota (made famous by the movie Fargo) has an unusual Easter tradition: every year, some of the more Biblical-looking townsfolk grow beards, haul out a good long table, and spend some time becoming a living reenactment of da Vinci's Last Supper. But the minister who started the tradition is leaving town, meaning that the tradition could end after this Sunday. Minneapolis Star Tribune 03/28/02