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Thursday February 28

DON'T PICK ON THE ARTS: The Atlanta City Council, facing budget shortfalls, proposed cutting funding for arts groups. But after a spirited council meeting at which arts supporters rallied to speak against the cuts, funding restored almost to 2001 levels. Atlanta Journal-Constitution 02/27/02

LEARNING THROUGH POP CULTURE: Does "teaching" popular culture dumb down education? Maybe not. "Getting our students to 'read' popular cultural critically may well become our task as teachers in an age increasingly dominated by the mass media. If students can learn to reflect on what they view in movies or on television, the process may eventually make them better readers of literature. The many critics of popular culture, who adamantly oppose its inclusion in the college curriculum, fear that studying it inevitably involves dragging what has traditionally been regarded as high culture down to the same level. But that is not to say that no embrace is possible. By being selective and rigorously analytical, one may be able to lift popular culture up to the level of high culture, or at least pull it in that direction." Wilson Quarterly 01/02

THE ART OF GLASS AND BODIES: Surprised researchers have discovered that "the cells that make up the heart, lungs, and many other organs in the body display glasslike properties, according to a report in the October Physical Review Letters." They conjecture that "just as heat can turn an apparently solid champagne glass into liquid, cells are made more fluid - and therefore able to contract, crawl, and divide - by internal jostlings within the cell, what is called noise temperature." Harvard Focus 11/01

Wednesday February 27

EVEN TOUGHER COPYRIGHT LAWS: The World Intellectual Property Organization, an international body of government representatives that globalizes laws, has announced new guidelines to crack down on digital piracy. The WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performance and Phonograms Treaty, which go into effect over the next three months, extend copyright protection to computer programs, movies and music." Wired 02/26/02

MIGHT AS WELL HAVE ASKED JAMIE SALE TO DESIGN IT: One sure way to get a hostile reaction from the Russian press is to allow a foreigner, particularly an American, to design a building in St. Petersburg. It works even better if the American is chosen over a prominent home-grown architect. So when a commission chose Eric Owen Moss to head up the massive renovation needed for the Mariinsky Theatre, it was a good bet that many people were not going to be happy. Andante 02/27/02

SUBVERTING THE TEST: From kindergarten on, Korea's education system is geared towards teaching students how to pass the exam any student wanting to go to college must take at the age of 18. "There are no alternatives for less academically minded students interested in subjects like art or music, or who don't want to go to college at all. The result is a system designed to produce cookie-cutter test-takers." But Korea's students - many of whom are expected to study 18 hours a day - are demoralized by the test, and drop-out rates have soared. So why is the government trying to shut down an alternative school that seems to be finding success? Far East Economic Review 02/28/02

MAKING STRIDES IN ST. PAUL: Long in the shadow of its larger sister city, Minneapolis, St. Paul has in the last decade begun to come alive again. Now, a new mayor is making the arts an emphasis, meeting with the city's existing theater and music execs as well as looking for ways to draw new blood into the St. Paul arts scene. "Where new Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak plans to eliminate that city's Office of Cultural Affairs, [St. Paul Mayor Randy] Kelly says he hopes to be able to direct more city resources toward the development of arts and culture." Saint Paul Pioneer Press 02/24/02

Tuesday February 26

NEW YORK'S NEW CULTURE CZAR: New York City has a new culture czar. Cultural affairs commissioner Kate D. Levin "inherits a department many arts professionals describe as in need of serious reinvigoration. Even as Rudolph W. Giuliani poured an unprecedented amount of city money into cultural building projects and became known for his love of opera, the agency charged with promoting the interests of New York's arts institutions quietly but steadily diminished in size and influence amid years of budgetary ups and downs." The New York Times 02/26/02

SELLING OUT SELLARS: The end, when it came, was swift. Director Peter Sellars had promised something completely different for this year's Adelaide Festival. Within a few days of revealing what that was, though, Sellars had resigned. Why? Interviews with Adelaide City Messenger editors reveal the increasing skepticism Sellars plans had provoked. The Idler 02/26/02

SELLING OUT ABORIGINAL: Australian Aboriginal art is very popular these days. But is it being over-promoted? "When we talk to old people in this country and they ... tell us their stories, and then when we go somewhere like Germany and see that story told on a tea-towel ... or we see a woman playing the didgeridoo, that is a total abuse of what we are giving the world." The Age (Melbourne) 02/26/02

Monday February 25

MESSING WITH THE CLASSICS: Why do critics get so upset by resettings of classic works? Okay, maybe dance gets away with some updating, but play Verdi "with a line of men sitting on the loo," and throw in "midget devils and gang rape" and everyone's screaming. "What's in operation is an artistic dress-code in which we believe that old stories should be told in the old way even though the artists who are now the beloveds of cultural conservatives - Shakespeare, Mozart, Bach - told old stories in a new way." The Guardian (UK) 02/23/02 

BUT HE THROWS A GOOD PARTY... London "arts celebrities" have mounted a campaign to pressure Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi not to remove Mario Fortunato, the Italian cultural envoy to London. "A letter to Mr Berlusconi, published last week in Italian and British newspapers, praised Dr Fortunato's tenure as a roaring commercial and artistic success which turned the Belgravia institute into one of London's hippest cultural spots." The Guardian (UK) 02/25/02

Sunday February 24

DRAWING THE LINE: A man in British Columbia is on trial for distribution of child pornography, in the form of a story he wrote. The accused claims that the story is literature, not porn, and as such is protected speech. Not a new debate, of course, but still a brutally difficult one to participate in. Does the quality of the work determine whether it is art? Or the content? Or the inclusion of non-pornographic material beside the offensive stuff? One thing's for sure: no one envies the judge. Toronto Star 02/23/02

WHO NEEDS LONDON? "The decision as to which UK city will be appointed European Capital of Culture in 2008 will be made in March," and at least one British writer is pitching an unlikely candidate. "To argue against Belfast winning the honour because it has no opera or ballet and has not produced a Belfast Ulysses is to deny the aspirations of present and future generations - culture pitches itself endlessly forward; culture is a debate, an argument." The Guardian (UK) 02/23/02

BBC4 - ARTS HAVEN OR CLEVER DODGE? For years now, Brits have complained that the BBC has been dumbing down the level of its arts programming, and bemoaning the recent lack of much in the way of live concerts or truly informative arts documentaries. The public broadcaster's response has been to launch BBC4, a cable channel supposedly dedicated to the arts. But critics are howling still, saying that the arts should not be relegated to "niche" programming, but distributed throughout the BBC schedule as they once were. Sunday Times of London 02/24/02

Friday February 22

BUSH'S ARTS COUNCIL APPOINTMENTS SEND "MIXED MESSAGES": President George Bush has appointed six new members of the National Council on the Arts. The Council advises the National Endowment for the Arts. "However, the nominations to serve on this Council, which oversees the selection of grants for all American artists, send mixed messages about the President's support of diverse art forms and of the Arts Endowment itself." One of the appointees, for example, belongs to an organization that advocates abolishment of the NEA. Artswire Current 02/21/02

JAPAN STAYS AT HOME: Yes travel is down worldwide since September 11. But in Japan travel has shrunk to almost nothing. Companies specializing in Japanese cultural tours to New York say business is about 10 percent of usual levels. Why? "The herd mentality appears responsible for a chain reaction involving Japanese tourists avoiding overseas travel, particularly to the United States, with one Japanese company after another canceling its employees' overseas travel for training or other purposes, simply for the reason that other companies also have canceled." Daily Yomiuri 02/22/02

THE DEATH OF CITY LIFE? "James Howard Kunstler's 1993 book The Geography of Nowhere was an impassioned rant against suburbia, shopping malls, cheap disposable architecture and the fragmentation of communities fostered by an increasingly mobile, car-oriented culture. His latest book, The City in Mind, is a sort of companion to that earlier volume, a jeremiad against poor urban planning and the decline of the American city. His outlook is pessimistic, to say the least." The New York Times 02/22/02

Wednesday February 20

A COPYRIGHT TOO FAR? The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that will review whether Congress' 1998 copyright law went too far in protecting the rights of those who create intellectual property. Plaintiffs "argue that Congress sided too heavily with writers and other creators when it passed a law in 1998 retroactively extending copyright terms by 20 years." Wired 02/19/02

HOLDING ON TO WHAT YOU'VE GOT: Give credit where its due: American arts organizations have come a long way in the lobbying game in the last decade or so. With most states facing crushing budget deficits this year, and almost everything on the chopping block, theatres, orchestras, and galleries are fighting desperately to keep the pittances they've managed to squeeze from their elected representatives. Of course, this works better in some states than others. Minneapolis Star Tribune 02/20/02

SAYING NO TO CIVIC ART SINCE 1911: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is a textbook example of a city risen from the ashes of a bleak, post-industrial malaise that many thought it could never dig out from. But although many aspects of Pittsburgh life are much improved, the realm of public art is still a difficult area. The city's Art Commission, when it is mentioned at all, is usual cited as a bunch of folks determined to put a stop to civic art projects for one reason or another, rather than a group encouraging new and diverse public art. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 02/20/02

Tuesday February 19

THE INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY PROBLEM: "There is a growing catalogue of worries about intellectual property issues—from the emergence of overly broad 'business method' patents to heated charges that proprietary claims on pharmaceuticals stifle affordable access to medicine in the Third World. A day hardly goes by without a high-profile intellectual-property battle heading to court. Meanwhile, university researchers are griping that open, collegial dialogue is being eroded by proprietary interests and secrecy as professors vie to create startups and get rich. These issues are interwoven because they all involve balancing similar kinds of private and public needs in a knowledge-based economy." Technology Review 02/18/02

HOLLICK TAKE OVER SOUTH BANK: Lord Clive Hollick, a Labour Party friend and media tycoon, takes over as chairman of the South Bank Board. "His most pressing task will be to raise the money necessary to upgrade the centre." Criticisms of the appointment were immediate. "This does show total insensitivity to the concerns of the public about cronyism." BBC 02/19/0

  • CRONIES R US:  Yet another political crony has been put in charge of an English cultural institution, writes Norman Lebrecht. Lord Clive Hollick might think he has the political clout to make a success of his new job as chairman of London's South Bank, but he doesn't have the experience to succeed, and besides, "Tony Blair does not want to be bothered with culture - or with building schemes, for that matter, since the Millennium Dome fiasco." The Telegraph (UK) 02/19/02

SELLARS RETURNS TO ADELAIDE: Director Peter Sellars showed up for the Adelaide Festival this week promising to explain after the festival why he had been removed as director of the festival. "My mistakes here - I will give you a very impressive list of them mid-March," he said, breaking into peals of laughter. "I have a very impressive list. I have looked it over pretty carefully and I see things that, of course, I didn't see when I came here. Next time out ..." Sydney Morning Herald 02/19/02

Monday February 18

PUBLISHING DEFENSIVELY: Want to protect your great idea from being stolen by others? Tell the world. "Such disclosure, known as defensive publishing, is an increasingly common tactic for protecting intellectual property. Publishing an innovation means that competitors have access to it, of course. But many companies say the competitive risk is outweighed by the benefit of making it difficult for someone else to win a patent — a patent that could give the holder the right to demand licensing fees from all other users of the technology or technique." The New York Times 02/18/02

A CHAIRMAN FOR SOUTH BANK CENTRE: There's a new man in charge at London's South Bank Centre, which includes the Royal Festival Hall and the Hayward Gallery - Clive Hollick, one of Labour's biggest business supporters and former owner of Express newspapers. "The job is unpaid and arguably thankless as the centre has been involved in years of dramatic attempts at redevelopment that have been repeatedly stalled." The Independent (UK) 02/18/02

PURELY PURITAN: Oh, let's all dump on the Puritans, shall we? Those odd folk of 17th Century England weren't appealing? "A puritan is a censor, a prude, an enemy of the arts." And yet, the Puritans "were certainly united in their belief that works of art were necessary adjuncts of political greatness." The Guardian (UK) 02/17/02

Sunday February 17

CHANGING THE SYSTEM: New York City's new commissioner of cultural affairs has swept into office with a plan to reform what she sees as a broken system. Specifically, Kate Levin wants to provide for a more open and equitable distribution of the city's resources allocated for support of the arts. Under the current system, "85 percent of the city's arts financing is given to the Cultural Institutions Group, a group of 35 prominent cultural institutions, while the rest of the city's arts groups are left to apply for remaining 15 percent." The New York Times 02/16/02

HOORAY FOR ELITISM! "These days, to be called elitist is to have one's character defamed, like being called racist or sexist. Unfortunately for arts organizations, fear of the label can have a worse outcome than wearing it proudly -- especially when it leads to mundane programming and favors diversity over quality." Minneapolis Star Tribune 02/17/02

Thursday February 14

HELPING OUT AFTER 9-11: An anonymous arts-loving donor gave the Carnegie Corporation $10 million to give to New York arts groups hurting after September 11. The money - as much as $100,000 each will go to 137 arts organizations. The New York Times 02/14/02

WHERE NO ONE KNOWS YOUR NAME: "So what do you do?" "I'm a conceptual artist." "How interesting. What project are you working on at the moment?" "I only have one project. I change my name by deed poll every six months." The Guardian (UK) 02/13/02

Wednesday February 13

ROYAL OPERA HOUSE TO GO MULTIMEDIA: London's Royal Opera House is going multimedia. Under new director Tony Hall (who knows something about electronic media after his years at the BBC) the ROH will broadcast performances on large screens. A test is planned for London, and the idea will be tried elsewhere if the initial broadcasts are a success. There are also plans to offer broadcasts of live performances in cinemas and "the opportunity to have online chats with stars including Placido Domingo and Darcey Bussell." The Independent (UK) 02/13/02

Tuesday February 12

INSITEFUL: "Site-specific work has developed out of a gradual loss of faith, or interest, in traditional purpose-built venues - the gilt-and-velvet theatre in which the curtain rises on a play, the gallery where flat paintings hang on white walls, or those dreary municipal 'centres' such as the Barbican, that sprang up in the Sixties and Seventies." For 10 years one of the most ambitious presenters of site-specific work in the UK is a group called Artangel. "Many such Artangel projects involve what is known as 'the community'. But we don't tick politically correct boxes, or set out to be accessible and non-elitist. It's the artist who leads, and we follow." The Telegraph (UK) 02/12/02

SHIFTING SEAT OF LEARNING: For a long time, New England has been considered home to America's most prestigious universities. "But these days, the region's dominant hold on the higher-education market is fading. The nation's population center is shifting to the South and West, where a handful of public and private colleges have emerged as real competitors in selectivity, quality, and, most of all, price." Chronicle of Higher Education 02/11/02

Sunday February 10

COPYWRONG: Last week a judge ruled that the new Austin Powers movie couldn't use the name "Goldmember" because it infringes on MGM's James Bond copyright. "The Goldmember affair - which riled MGM because it parodies the 1964 Bond film Goldfinger in which Sean Connery uncovers a plot to contaminate the Fort Knox gold reserve - is just one in a long line of copyright battles that continue to erupt over the ownership of everything from book and movie titles to acronyms, initials, images, even single words or catch phrases." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 02/09/02

Friday February 8

AN END TO DECENCY: Ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's "Decency Commission," set up after the mayor objected to an art exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, finally came up with a report. But that report will likely never see the light of day now that Giuliani is out as mayor and Michael Bloomberg is running the city. Says Bloomberg: "I am opposed to government censorship of any kind. I don't think government should be in the business of telling museums what is art or what they should exhibit." Nando Times (UPI) 02/08/02

TAKEBACKS: On Monday Catherine Reynolds canceled her $38 million gift to the Smithsonian. The money had been controversial because Reynolds had wanted the museum to build a paean to individual accomplishment with the cash, and even suggested who might be included. But Washington's big arts donors are philosophical about the debacle. Says Reynolds: "I think we really hit a nerve. We've gotten so many calls from museums in the past two days." Washington Post 02/07/02

ALL ABOUT THE ENTROPY: A group of mathematicians has been analyzing documents using the "file-ZIPping" programs that computers use to conserve space, and some interesting linguistic results have emerged. The patterns, or entropy, of the language in the text being analyzed is unique to the point that, after being fed multiple documents of varying styles, the computer was able to identify different languages, and even anonymous authors, based solely on the sequence of the text. The Economist 02/07/02

GRASS WON'T KEEP OFF THE TABOOS: "German novelist Guenter Grass has broken two national taboos this week, calling for the publication of Hitler's Mein Kampf, and raising the delicate subject of German wartime refugees fleeing from the Red Army. He called for basic information on National Socialism to be made available, and for public discussion of the phenomenon. He said that would help young people who may be fascinated with Nazism, but do not understand the reality behind it." BBC 02/08/02

Thursday February 7

RESTORING AFGHANISTAN'S CULTURE: UNESCO has made the reconstruction and preservation of Afghan heritage the focus of "International Year of Cultural Heritage - 2002." "The immediate priority is the formation of a cultural policy by the Afghan government, revival of Kabul museum and the reconstruction of Islamic cultural heritage in Herat city." Asia Times 02/06/02

THE BEST WE CAN BE: For a long time we humans have believed that humankind would always continue to evolve, to get better and better. Look at all the improvements in our species in the past few hundred years. But a scientist says we may have peaked - that this is the best it gets, that it's all downhill from here... The Observer (UK) 02/03/02

PENNSYLVANIA TO CUT ARTS FUNDING? After increases in its budget for most of the 1990s, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts would see a 9 percent reduction in its budget - from $15.4 million to $14 million - if a proposal by the state's governor. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 02/07/02

Wednesday February 6

CHICAGO'S NEW THEATRE: A new Music and Dance Theatre has started construction in Chicago. "The venue, which will serve as the performance space for a dozen local arts groups, including Chicago Opera Theater, Music of the Baroque, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, will carry $53 million in design and construction costs. The theater's board also hopes to raise between $9.5 million and $10 million for an endowment fund that will subsidize the cost of operating the space for the arts groups." Chicago Business 02/04/02

Tuesday February 5

BUSH ASKS FOR MORE ARTS/HUMANITIES MONEY: "As part of its fiscal 2003 budget proposal, the Bush administration yesterday requested an increase of $9 million for the Smithsonian for a total of $528 million, an all-time high in its federal appropriation." Bush also asked for $2 million increases for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. This would be the fifth year in a row the NEA has had a budget boost. Washington Post 02/05/02

INDEPENDENT ANALYSIS OR LAZINESS? Some critics decline to do independent research into the subject they are reviewing, claiming some invisible line between critic and journalist. But the "rigid segregation of the critic and the work has always seemed both precious and limiting to me. It suggests both a haughty distance from the thinking, breathing creator and a fear that the critic's pristine sensors might be blunted or corrupted by deigning to talk with artists about their work. Being able to engage in spirited discourse, rather than unthinking boosterism or jealous sniping, is the first sign of a mature cultural society." The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 02/05/02

THE TROUBLE WITH TOYS: A toy exhibition in Nuremberg showcases the latest in kids' toys. "Many new products try to reconcile children's needs and parents' concerns. The solution is to separate form from content, the first offering children fun, the second soothing adult consciences. However enjoyable and colorful the many new toys are, seeing them all at the same time is rather depressing. Many of them talk, dance, react and simulate so perfectly that they look more like playmates or caregivers than toys. They are aimed at annoying the lonely, unimaginative child so that he or she annoys no one else." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 02/05/02

Monday February 4

STANDARD-ISSUE TASTE? The tastemakers of yesteryear helped blaze a way through art. But have the special feelings for art these people had become too commonplace? "Does there inevitably come a point, when more and more individuals have a feeling for art, at which all those feelings become standard-issue feelings? There are certainly a good many people working in our museums and arts organizations who seem to believe that this is the case. They regard the public not as a group of individuals but as a monstrous abstraction - as a mirage. The very idea of the tastemaker may now be a paradox. We may be entering a time when what we must celebrate is the individuality, the privacy, even the loneliness of taste. To affirm the solitariness of taste may be the best way, right now, to celebrate the things we love." The New Republic 02/01/02

CHOOSING TO WALK OUT: Unlike politicians or bores at dinner parties, it's pretty easy to discard art. "Whether you care about opera, or books, or music, or theatre, or whether you couldn't give two hoots about them, whether your occasional displeasure with them is an expression of sound critical judgment or bias or merely a bad mood, you have to admit that compared with most other things in life, they are easy to get rid of. You can say goodbye to them abruptly, frankly, unequivocally, completely -- either because you're bored to tears with the whole idea of them, or else because you know there are too many good operas, good books, good plays, good musical compositions to waste time on bad ones." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 02/04/02

Sunday February 3

STORYBORED: "It is one of the most notable features of this age of artistic over-production that just as the quantity of fiction produced has grown so alarmingly, so too has the number of observers ready lazily to declare that all life has gone out of the activity. We no sooner open the cultural pages of a newspaper than some commentator tells us that the novel, the theatre, the television play, the poem or the movie has died, but that somehow nobody else has noticed." The Guardian (UK) 02/02/02

WHERE ARE WE GOING? When you're right in the middle of consuming contemporary art, it's difficult to see where its going. "Certainly, in the free-for-all that is contemporary art, the challenge is to find any connection within the chaos of its styles, influences, cross-influences and impulses. As art critics, we're largely dancing in the dark." Hartford Advocate 02/01/02

Friday February 1

BEWARE - THE ARTISTS AT THE GATES: In the UK, enrollment is down in university science courses, and up in arts and humanities. Whether that's good news or bad depends upon your outlook: the information was presented to Members of Parliament as warning; it indicates, said one MP, a "slide toward the cheap end" of academia." The Guardian (UK) 01/31/02