In today’s Wall Street Journal “Sightings” column, I consider the PBS Fall Arts Festival 2014. Here’s an excerpt.
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Fifty years ago, New York’s fine-arts institutions set the tone for the arts in America to an extent that is unimaginable now. One of the reasons for their collective dominance, of course, was that some of them didn’t have a whole lot of competition: Regional dance, opera and theater were still in their cradles in 1964. But even the major regional museums and symphony orchestras that already existed in abundance had yet to become truly national institutions. In fact, most of them were all but unknown outside their home cities. Why? Because the national news media largely ignored their activities. Yes, the three commercial TV networks, not to mention Time and Life and Newsweek, devoted quite a bit of time and space to the fine arts in the early ‘60s—but they all operated out of Manhattan, and so they mostly concentrated on covering the great New York-based arts organizations with which they were surrounded.
Today you can find first-rate art from coast to coast—but the national media no longer cover the fine arts other than sporadically in New York, much less elsewhere in the U.S. That’s where PBS is supposed to come in. Its mandate, President Lyndon Johnson said, was “to enrich man’s spirit,” and throughout most of its history it did so by devoting a significant part of its schedule to the fine arts.
And how does it do so today? Last week PBS announced its new Arts Fall Festival lineup. Paula Kerger, the network’s president and CEO, has been playing it ultra-safe ever since, in 2011, she launched the Fall Festival, PBS’ flagship arts-programming venture. I surveyed the first year’s shows and found them to be “a stiff dose of the usual safety-first pledge-week fare.” I hoped back then that things might improve over time, but the entries for 2014 are even blander and more predictable….
Note well what is missing from the Fall Festival lineup: It includes no ballet or modern dance, no classic theater, no real jazz, no opera save for “Porgy” and no classical music of any kind. Moreover, the nine programs barely hint at the nationwide scope of American art: Of the eight performance-based shows in the series, all but three were taped in New York….
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Read the whole thing here.
To read the official press release announcing the PBS Fall Arts Festival 2014, go here.