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Week of June 24-30, 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


BEST WHAT? As a measure of success, bestseller lists are also powerful marketing tools. To be a bestseller is to guarantee that thousands more potential customers will read your book. But. What exactly is a bestseller? "That may seem like an easy enough question to answer - it's the book that sold the most copies in the past week, a matter of simple, quantitative fact. In reality, though, the actual process of calculating a bestseller list from week to week often involves as much interpretation on the part of list-compilers as it does actual sales figures. And many observers despise the lists, claiming that they spotlight books for dubious or purely commercial reasons." Salon 06/25/02


MISSING INGREDIENTS? In the old days of New York City Ballet, it was a joy to watch talented young dancers come into the company and grow into artists right before your eyes. The stream of promising dancers continues. But somehow these dancers aren't developing in the ways they once were. "Presumably, part of what is holding the dancers back is their new repertory." The New Yorker 06/24/02

THE GREAT AMERICAN DANCER: "Anyone with eyes can tell why Fred Astaire was considered the great American dancer. He was the first with the most — the pioneer who was also the supreme refiner. On the high end, Mikhail Baryshnikov hailed him as the dancer of the century, and Jerome Robbins created a ballet in tribute to Astaire's I'm Old Fashioned dance with Rita Hayworth. Starchy Teutonic theorist Siegfried Kracauer praised him for injecting realism in Hollywood films by 'dancing over table tops and down garden paths into the real world'." Time 06/22/02

BACK ON TRACK IN BOSTON? The Boston Ballet has had something of a tumultuous few years, with executives and dancers alike departing the company unexpectedly and under less than ideal circumstances. But this week, the company's artistic director announced that the ballet will soon be hiring 16 new dancers and four new administrative staff. It's probably too soon to declare a turnaround, but it's the first positive sign in what the company hopes will be an eventual reestablishment of its national reputation. Boston Herald 06/29/02

DANCING TO VICTORY: The games have been fun. But this year's World Cup has set a new standard for celebratory dances. "As every anthropologist knows, dance is one of the oldest, most potent ingredients in human ritual. If dance can function as the language of mating, prayer, supplication and commemoration, what more proper way for a team to mark its amazing progress in the World Cup?" The Guardian (UK) 06/27/02


BBC EXPANDS ARTS PROGRAMMING: In response to charges it has been dumbing down its arts programming, the BBC is expanding its arts coverage. "Perhaps stung by the criticism, BBC1 plans to spend more than £3.3m on arts programmes in the autumn schedules, which will be announced in the next few weeks. This is £1.5m more than last year. The number of hours dedicated to the arts will rise by 40 per cent." The Independent (UK) 06/24/02

HAVE MONEY WILL PLAY: Is Clear Channel Communications - with 1200 radio stations across America, the country's largest broadcaster - giving airtime to record labels in return for money? Well, maybe not directly, but some of the company's new services sure look suspicious. Salon 06/25/02

  • PAY-TO-PLAY: Music payola is becoming a hot topic, with the US Congress threatening to hold hearings and make new laws. Payola is the deal where recording labels pay radio station to play their music. For some large radio conglomerates, it's become a big income producer. But the system essentially shuts out artists and labels that don't have the money to get their music played. Salon 06/25/02

YOUR AD HERE: Product placement is an old story in Hollywood movies. But the new Tom Cruise/Stephen Spielberg movie Minority Report is breaking records. "Twentieth Century Fox and DreamWorks, which co-produced and are distributing the picture, peg its final budget at $102 million U.S. According to product placement reps, the brands could have contributed $25 million to the final shooting budget, offsetting costs handsomely — and guaranteeing a healthy future for the marriage of Hollywood and Madison Avenue." Toronto Star (Variety) 06/24/02

BACKING AWAY SLOWLY: National Public Radio has reconsidered its much-criticized policy of requiring webmasters to go through a lengthy 'permission' process before posting a link to any part of the public broadcaster's site. In a statement, NPR acknowledged that vociferous objection from the online world had played a role in the change, but claimed that it had been looking at changing the policy for some time. Wired 06/28/02

WHITHER PACIFICA? After the better part of a decade spent in epic battles between network execs and volunteer programmers, the Pacifica network is now squarely in the hands of the dissident broadcasters who appear on its air. The question is, can the inmates really run the asylum, and does Pacifica's grass-roots, left-wing, and (let's be honest) brutally unpolished style still have a place in today's radio landscape? Salon 06/20/02


WHAT HAPPENED TO THE COMPOSERS? We have celebrity architects, celebrity artists, authors and playwrights. But where are the composers? "For one reason or other, composers in this celebrity era have fallen off the face of the globe. While paint splashers live like kings and Sunday scribblers walk out with film stars on their arms, men and (increasingly) women who spend arid days hunched over giant staves struggling to resolve a stubborn chord are no longer part of the cultured person's conversational portfolio." London Evening Standard 06/26/02

BYE-BYE TO THE 3T: The Three Tenors - that mega-selling phenom of the arena concert world, will come to an end with a concert at this week's World Cup. 3T began with a performance at the World Cup 12 years ago and has been one of the great cash franchises in the history of tenordom. The announcement comes a day after Pavarottis announced he'll retire on his 70th birthday in 2005 (leaving plenty of time for what are likely to be innumerable lucrative "farewell" tours). BBC 06/27/02

IF YOU CAN'T BEAT 'EM... "In a move that contrasts with the hard stance in the United States, Australian music industry officials are gauging a plan to endorse CD-copying vending machines... An Australian maker of CD burners asked the Australian Record Industry Association and the Australian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society to let the machines be operated in public places in return for a small royalty fee for every CD copied." Wired (AP) 06/28/02

RECORD LABELS GUILTY OF PRICE FIXING: A Washington, D.C. judge has found Universal Music Group and Warner Communications guilty of price-fixing in a scandal involving several recordings of the Three Tenors. The ruling was not a big surprise, seeing as Warner had already reached a settlement with trade regulators. Universal, which is appealing the ruling, is mounting a defense predicated on the idea that it only fixed prices a little bit, and that the whole thing just wasn't any big deal. Andante (AP) 06/29/02

PULLING THE PLUG ON ONLINE RADIO: Online music broadcasters are describing last week's royalty fee decision by the Librarian of Congress as a knockout blow. "Online broadcasters will have to pay almost three years' worth of back royalties in mid-October, coughing up about $260 per listener. For some Webcasters, the amount is so daunting that they said they'll fold unless Congress intervenes or the labels and artists agree to a smaller payment." Los Angeles Times 06/24/02

LET'S TRY SOMETHING ELSE: With recording companies declaring war on their consumers for music swapping and music fans angry at producers for high CD prices, maybe it's time to take a breath and try something new. Critic Tom Moon suspects there are plenty of fans out there willing - even eager - to support the artists whose music they like. But a new business model has to evolve. "Where the present industry model discourages anything but the purchase of a full CD, the new, enlightened one would offer free online singles and EPs, loss-leaders that give fans the chance to make an informed purchase." Philadelphia Inquirer 06/25/02

FOR ATLANTA'S NEW SYMPHONY HALL... The Atlanta Symphony picks Santiago Calatrava to design its new $240 million concert hall. "If the orchestra's pick is brave by Atlanta standards, it is also canny. Calatrava's status and star quality ensure media attention, and his iconic, sculptural buildings are the kind that can galvanize a community." That'll be important - the orchestra still has to raise all that money... Atlanta Journal-Constitution 06/23/02

WITH SECONDS TO SPARE: The Toronto Symphony Orchestra has done it. Under the leadership of former Ontario premier Bob Rae, the financially beleagured TSO has succeeded in raising the $1 million necessary to activate a second $1 million in matching money offered up by Heritage Canada. The influx of cash means that the orchestra is near to reaching financial stability less than a year after fiscal problems nearly caused its shutdown. Toronto Star 06/28/02

NEWS FLASH - BABIES HAVE EARS AND BRAINS: In a finding that will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever raised a bilingual child or taught Suzuki piano to a 4-year-old, a Canadian research team has announced that babies and young children are excellent listeners. In addition the "researchers say babies can remember complex classical music, even after a two week delay." CNN 06/27/02


WHAT, NO MILITARY TRIBUNAL? British actor Steven Berkoff may not exactly be Ben Affleck on the International Fame chart, but he has several high-profile film roles to his credit, and is well regarded in the acting world. So imagine his surprise when, upon arriving in Michigan to speak at a festival, he was grilled by a low-level immigration official who promptly packed him back off to the UK. The reason: Berkoff overstayed his last US travel visa, in 1997, by one day. BBC 06/28/02

WORST-KEPT SECRET: Less than two months after skipping out on his Metropolitan Opera finale, Luciano Pavarotti has announced his retirement from the stage. Speaking with CNN's Connie Chung, Pavarotti struck back at critics who suggested that illness was not the reason for his Met cancellation, and set an end date, (his 70th birthday in 2005,) for his long career as the world's most famous tenor. CNN 06/25/02

THE PATH MOST LONELY: Chicago composer Ralph Shapey, who died last week at the age of 81, was a loner. "Someday when I'm dead and buried, some musicologist will start comparing my music with that of other composers of my generation. He will say, `Shapey was ahead of everybody - Carter, Babbitt, all the rest. They are nothing but imitations of what he did all along.' I wish I could come back to hear that, I really do." Chicago Tribune 06/25/02

REMEMBERING J. CARTER BROWN: "Brown epitomised the American impresario art museum director. He was the first to hold a masters degree in business administration. His diplomatic skills pulled foreign loans to Washington by the planeload. Ever the pitch-man for his institution, he urged benefactors to donate art “for the nation.” The pitch worked, and paintings by Cezanne, van Gogh, Picasso and Veronese flowed in." The Art Newspaper 06/21/02


A GOOD YEAR FOR LIBRARIANS: Almost 21,000 American librarians gathered in Atlanta last week for the American Library Association Annual Conference. The mood was congratulatory. In recent months librarians successfully lobbied to remove requiredments they use software filters on library computers. And Michael Moore was there to thank librarians for lobbying his publisher to release his current book. Publishers Weekly 06/24/02

READING - JUST AN ILLUSION? "Are Americans reading more, or do they just want you to think they are? Sales have been flat in recent years, but praise of books both good and great is on the rise. Since TV host Oprah Winfrey announced she was cutting back on her picks, at least four new clubs have been formed, with literary novels such as Empire Falls among the beneficiaries." Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (AP) 06/23/02

DON'T MESS WITH TEXAS: "Textbook battles are legendary in Texas, where conservative critics frequently complain of liberal bias, and liberals counter with charges of censorship. The latest round, on July 17, when the board begins public hearings on which history and social studies books to adopt, promises to be particularly fierce. Nine conservative organizations have formed a coalition, recruiting 250 volunteers to vet more than 150 books." The New York Times 06/29/02

THE CURSE OF THE REWRITE: For those who create stories for a living, the prospect of spending days, weeks, or even months on a character or plotline that just doesn't end up going anywhere is constantly in the back of the mind. So how do the bestselling authors know when they've taken a wrong turn, and what do they do about it? The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 06/29/02

CLOSED BORDERS: A collection of leftist intellectuals is taking on the giant Borders bookstore chain over a little-known company policy known as 'category management,' which looks an awful lot like 'dumbing down the product' to book lovers. Borders claims that their market research supports the policy, but opponents insist that "there is a difference between books and Pop-Tarts," and that they should not be marketed in similar fashion. The Plain Dealer (AP) 06/29/02


DOES GOOD THEATRE TRAVEL? The Bonn Biennale of international theatre is a good idea in theory. But onme quickly understands that not all theatre travels well. "Theater is an art that is tied to locality, and the strength of those ties does not automatically correspond to aesthetic quality. A kind of dramatic theory of relativity has made itself felt in Bonn and has, broadly speaking, produced three categories of play: those that can be understood and conveyed without much trouble; those whose significance in their place of origin can at least be deduced; and those that fall flat and, torn from their originating context, come across as bizarre." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 06/25/02

HIP-HOP AND THE THEATRE: There are signs that hip-hop is becoming more mainstream. And, in the process, starting to have an influence on mainstream theatre. "The message is reasonable enough: that the contemporary theater has abdicated its role in addressing contemporary life, turning a blind eye to emerging generations of artists with new and different stories to tell and a new and different way of telling them." The New York Times 06/25/02

BACK IN PUBLIC: Playwright Tom Stoppard is back in public. He's working at the National, and a rather thick new book about him has hit bookstores. "The fizzing cogency for which his plays are famed is hard won. He works long hours, shuns dinner parties because they conflict with his preferred working time, and has no concept of leisure, except that time devoted to his four sons (aged 27 to 36) and two grandchildren." London Evening Standard 06/21/02

REMAKING A THEATRE INSTITUTION: The annual summer Charlottetown Festival in Prince Edward Island is a cash cow with the tourist appeal of its Anne of Green Gables franchise. But in recent years artistic standards have not been high. Now Duncan McIntosh, who previously ran Edmonton's Citadel Theatre for five years is "the latest fair-haired boy to be parachuted in to save the Festival. This time, however, it may actually work." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 06/24/02

REPLACING GORDON: With the news that Gordon Davidson, the dean of Los Angeles theatre, will be leaving his post at the Mark Taper Forum, the city's theatrical community has been thrown into a bout of "institutional soul-searching." It's not that anyone thinks that won't go on without the influential Davidson - it's just that no one seems to be sure what the future will look like, and whether they'll like it when they get there. Los Angeles Times 06/29/02

PUBLIC THEATRE CUTS BACK: New York's Public Theatre had an artistically satisfying season. But the theatre's carrying a big debt, it laid off staff in November, and is producing only one show in Central Park this year rather than two. "Like every other cultural institution in the city, we're dealing with the realities. Instead of two shows it's one show, but it can run longer and more people can see it." The New York Times 06/24/02

TALL ORDER: "In the latest attempt to establish effective two-pronged leadership at [New York's] Joseph Papp Public Theater, the board has named Mara Manus executive director to share the helm with the producer, George C. Wolfe... Ms. Manus, who starts her new post in August, has her work cut out for her; the Public has spent the last year trying to get its house in order after two costly Broadway flops, projected budget deficits and the departure of two key donors from the board in protest over management. In addition, the theater has started a $50 million building-improvement plan, which may include the construction of a new 499-seat theater at its East Village home." The New York Times 06/27/02

THE BILLION-DOLLAR CIRQUE: Cirque du Soleil generates about $325 million with its eight troupes. The company is on a big expansion track, growing at a rate of about 25 percent a year, "rapidly expanding its film, TV, and recording operations. It already has deals with a number of big partners, including the major Canadian TV networks, Bravo in the U.S., Fuji in Japan, and Televisa in Mexico." By 2007 the company expects to top $1 billion in revenues. Businessweek 06/26/02

WHERE'S BILL MAHER WHEN YOU NEED HIM? What's a theatre company to do when the title of a classic old production risks offending the sensibilities of a modern audience? Why, change it, of course, and tradition be damned. Accordingly, a regional company in the UK will shortly be presenting a lavish production of The Bellringer of Notre Dame so as not to offend theatre-goers with scoliosis. BBC 06/28/02


OVERREACHING AT THE GUGGENHEIM: The Guggenheim, that beacon of expansionist artistic fervor, is in trouble. Staff layoffs, cancelled exhibitions, and general fiscal chaos have combined to tarnish the reputation of director Thomas Krens, who has been considered an essential innovator for years. With some in the arts world calling for Krens's resignation, where is the Guggenheim going, and how will it get there with no apparent cash flow? The New York Times 06/30/02

LIBESKIND'S LEGACY: "Daniel Libeskind has been a leading light in architecture for 30 years, yet he didn't build a thing until 1999. But the Jewish Museum in Berlin was both a professional challenge and a personal test: his parents had fled the Nazis. As his Imperial War Musuem North opens in Manchester, he tells [The Guardian] how buildings help us make sense of history." The Guardian (UK) 06/29/02

A RIVER AWAY: The Museum of Modern Art is opening its new temporary home in Queens this weekend. "The Modern's galleries are efficient and airless, like the inside of a storage center, which is exactly what this building is. On the other hand, there is something touching and apt about seeing priceless Cézannes, Seurats and Braques in a makeshift, unadorned setting: they look fresh and by contrast seem to pop off the walls even more than usual." The New York Times 06/28/02

AND THERE'S LESS DUST THAN A MILL, TOO: Is it really possible to rebuild a town in decline around the arts? The residents of one old mill town in western Massachusetts would say so: since the MASS MoCA museum opened in North Adams in 1999, tourists have flocked to it, complimentary events have sprung up regularly, and the gallery has become as much a pillar of the community as the old mills used to be. Boston Globe 06/28/02

TO PLUG THE HOLES: The British Museum needs an extra £10 million a year to fix its budget woes. "We still receive 30% less than we did in 1992 due to government cuts. We've had to cut back and slim down over the last decade but now the point has been reached where we simply can't do that any more." BBC 06/28/02

THE NEW ALTERNATIVES: "Just when we all assumed that the alternative space movement had met a noble death, laid low by the double-fisted blows of the culture wars and the New York real estate market, a host of new outfits have sprung up, offering an alternative not only to the gallery system, but to our traditional view of an alternative space." Village Voice 06/26/02

BLOWING UP BOLOGNA? Police apparently intercepted a plan by terrorists affiliated with al-Qa 'eda to blow up Bologna's "most important church to erase the offence of a 15th-century Gothic fresco showing Mohammed being tormented by devils in hell. The Milan daily Corriere della Sera reported that in a telephone call intercepted by police in February, one of the suspect's alleged associates discussed plans for an attack on the Church of San Petronio, which has a large fresco by Giovanni da Modena showing the founder of the Islamic religion in hell." The Guardian (UK) 06/24/02

REINVENTING THE MFA: The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is reinventing itself. A decade ago it was deep in debt and on the decline. Now it's hired star architect Norman Foster to reimagine what one of America's great museums might become. "To pay for this expansion, and for additions to its endowment and budget, the museum has embarked on a drive to raise a daunting $425 million. Officials here say this is the largest fund-raising effort ever undertaken by an art institution outside New York City. The new building is expected to cost $180 million and be completed in 2007." The New York Times 06/25/02

eBAY AS ART CANVAS: With 50 million users, eBay has become fodder for artists. "Recently, a Canadian artist did an eBay search for the word 'malaria', bought everything connected with it and put an eclectic array of memorabilia on display in an exhibition in London. And an impoverished Newcastle graduate sold his soul on eBay for £11. The so-called 'item' was bought by a man from Oklahoma who had lost his own soul in a bet." The Scotsman 06/26/02

STOLEN ART RECOVERED: Nineteen works of art valued at £20 million that were stolen last year have been recovered by police in Madrid. "Among the paintings taken in August last year were two by Spanish artist Francisco de Goya - The Donkey's Fall and The Swing - and a work by French impressionist Camille Pisarro, called Eragny Landscape." BBC 06/25/02

HOW NOT TO OBSERVE: In trying to decide what kind of memorial should be chosen for the World Trade Center, it's a good idea to look at the Oklahoma bombing memorial (for an example of what not to do). "There are so many symbols here as to obliterate the poetry of any one of them. There are so many faces on televisions inside the museum describing their pain to you that you feel wrung out like a rag. Worst of all, the memorial has nothing to say about the important historical issues that triggered Timothy McVeigh’s madness. The problem is obvious." New York Observer 06/26/02

MUSEUMS AS PARTY ANIMALS: "Over the past 25 years a new balance - seesaw might be a better term - has been established in national museums between public and private money. In many ways, this is a positive change. Museums are far more responsive to their public now than they used to be. Permanent collections are often more interestingly displayed. Temporary exhibitions are more frequent. The fierce, old, military-style warders have been replaced by friendlier staff. Information about the collections is available on-line." On the other hand, the amount of energy required to court favor with the giving classes threatens to overwhelm the business of seeing to art. London Evening Standard 06/24/02

ON THE TRAIL OF STOLEN TREASURE: "Theft of historic artifacts is massive worldwide. "Interpol, the international police network, says it is impossible to track the volume of trade in stolen antiquities because so much of it is so far underground. Some pieces disappear straight from digs, before anyone can catalogue them, and into the hands of collectors who never risk showing them publicly. But many involved in the study and preservation - and the buying and selling - of ancient art say that although the change is likely to be slow and fitful, it has begun." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 06/24/02

ONE MAN'S SURPLUS IS... Britain's Labour government has a policy of selling off items that are deemed to be surplus. "While few would quarrel with the Ministry of Defence selling off a disused Army base or the Highways Agency disposing of some surplus road maintenance equipment, the flaws in the policy are becoming clear." As the policy tags items of artistic or historical importance, critics worry about a sell-off of the nation's important heritage. The Telegraph (UK) 06/24/02


THE FUTURE OF INNOVATION: Should people have the right to control intellectual property? Should corporations? Is it good for society? For innovation? Author Lawrence Lessig proposes that for innovation to continue, a "creative commons" ought to allow for the free flow of ideas. Reason 06/02

A BETTER WAY TO SUPPORT THE ARTS? "When I contemplate the Canada Council, which isn't often, I wonder: What if it didn't exist? What would life in Canada be like? Would people not write poems and novels? Would painters not paint, would dancers not dance? For their part, would Canadians not take an interest in other Canadians? Would CanCult itself not exist? Just for fun, contemplate for a moment what might happen if we switched from an arts grant system to an arts credit system: a situation in which public support went, not to the producer, but to the consumer of Canadian arts." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 06/25/02

10. FOR FUN 

ORIGINAL SILENCE: British composer Mike Batt included a blank one-minute track on a recent CD and listed it as a one-minute silent piece. He playfully attributed it to Cage/Batt, his lighthearted tribute to the late John Cage. The group that collects copyright royalties duly billed Batt for rights to the Cage contribution. Says a rueful Batt: "My silence is original silence, not a quotation from his silence." Andante 06/25/02

WRONG NUMBER: Few things get audiences (or performers) more ticked off than cell phones ringing during performances. Now Japanese scientists have come up with a possible solution. "They have developed a wood that is filled with magnetic particles which can block phone signals and could be used to make theatre doors and walls. The magnetic wood effectively blocks the microwave signals, rendering the phones useless and stopping almost any chance of ringtones ruining the performance." London Evening Standard 06/25/02

I JUST CALLED... On the other hand, young pop music fans consider cell phones standard equipment at concerts. "Mobile phones have quickly become a popular concert accessory. Fans call friends to brag about the show and hold up their phones so others can hear a favorite song." Nando Times (AP) 06/28/02


IN AMERICA WE'D FINE THE ARTIST: The mayor of Ankara, Turkey, decided that a statue of a nude in one of the city's parks was obscene and anti-Islamic, and ordered it taken down. That was in 1994. This week, an Ankara court ordered the mayor to pay 4 billion Turkish lira for damage to the statue incurred during its removal, plus other damages, plus interest. BBC 06/27/02