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ARTS ISSUES - March 2001

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Friday March 30

THANKLESS JOBS: Who wants to head up an arts organization these day? Really. Do it poorly and the world dissects your mistakes. Do it well and it can be even worse. 03/30/01

ONLINE CULTURE: The British government wants to get the country's cultural institutions online and is expected to spend £150 million to fund Culture Online, a project to bring art to the people. The government conceded that with the downturn in the commercial dot.coms sector, that “venture capitalists are unlikely to fund major new internet start-ups aimed at culture and learning in the near future, and that it is up to government to take the initiative." The Art Newspaper 03/30/01

Wednesday March 28

GOVERNMENT AND THE ARTS: The British government's massive new arts funding program inserts the government into the business of culture to an unprecedented degree. "In four years, Tony Blair has gone from hosting Cool Britannia parties to investing an extra £100 million in the traditional arts." But shouldn't artists be protesting? The Telegraph (London) 03/28/01

MORE SCOTTISH OPERA: The Edinburgh Festival announces its new season - and it contains more opera productions - 10-12 - than in recent memory. Why? Festival surveys show that opera audiences make special trips for opera, and not so much for the popular music that has marked recent festivals. Glasgow Herald 03/18/01

Tuesday March 27

VILAR STRIKES AGAIN: Alberto Vilar has "pledged $20 million to New York University for an arts scholarship program that will draw students from around the world to New York City. The initiative, which is to be formally announced later this week, is to be modeled on the Rhodes scholarship program." The New York Times 03/27/01 (one-time registration required for access)

WHAT DOES POP CULTURE OWE THE ARTS? The NYTimes' Frank Rich delivers this year's Nancy Hanks address: Entertainment is stealing our best artistic directors and creative artists. "There’s nothing wrong with this per se, but you’d think some of these companies doing the raiding might want to give back—not just in terms of what they may hand out in the way of donations to cultural institutions, but in terms of how they respect, acknowledge and further America’s arts in the many cultural spaces they rule." (PDF) 03/19/01

GOING GREEK: Nearly everything these days seems to be based on Greek myth. Highbrow culture, lowbrow music videos, and even many of those new-fangled corporate names are nothing more than adaptations of some of the oldest stories on record. Why the interest, and what does it say about our society? Hartford Courant 03/27/01

Monday March 26

AUSTRALIA'S ARTS AWARDS: The Helpmann Awards - the Australian performing arts answer to the Tony Awards in New York and the Oliviers in London - are presented. The Olympic Games' opening ceremony won the Best Special Event/Performance prize. Sydney Morning Herald 03/26/01

Sunday March 25

RECONCILING THE PAST: Ever since the horrors of the Third Reich led to Germany's decimation and subsequent isolation nearly 60 years ago, German artists have found themselves in a delicate position. Prior to the rise of National Socialism (Naziism), Germans had claimed a certain cultural superiority, and, in fields like music, it was hard to debate them. But can a country that spent more than a decade destroying, stealing, and desecrating art of all kinds ever again claim to be an artistic paradise? Frankfurter Allgemaine Zeitung 03/23/01

Thursday March 22

BIG BRITISH BUDGET BOOST: The Arts Council of England has announced huge increases in funding for several of the nation's top arts organizations, including the Royal National Theatre, the English National Ballet, and the Royal Shakespeare Company, which will see a whopping £3 million increase in its budget. "Peter Hewitt, chief executive of the Arts Council of England, told BBC News Online: 'This is the best budget for the arts for a very long time. We hope the funding will energise and re-invigorate the arts.'" BBC 03/22/01

FOOT-AND-MOUTH AND THE ARTS: Arts organizations are being affected by Britain's outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. Several rural museums have closed down while the disease is not contained, and the prominent Hay Festival is considering canceling this year's edition. BBC 03/22/01

Wednesday March 21

FILTERING FREE SPEECH? A controversial new law requires public libraries to use internet filtering software (to screen for porn) or lose federal funding. The ACLU and the American Library Association is suing to overturn the law. "The law is unconstitutional because it's requiring public libraries to use blocking software that will result in constitutionally protected material being blocked." Wired 03/21/01

NEW APPROACH TO CULTURE: The British government ambitious new plan for cultural funding means to make over the country's cultural landscape. "As well as new funds to back exceptional talent, the plan includes giving every primary school pupil the chance to learn to play a musical instrument." BBC 03/20/01

  • MAKING PLANS: Plan guarantees funding for six years to selected arts groups. That way, theatres, opera companies and the like will be able to plan ahead. The Independent (London) 03/21/01
  • ALL IN FAVOR... "We're now looking five to seven years ahead so working with the government on the same timescale could give us enormous freedom - the chance to develop effective partnerships with education, business and other artists." The Guardian (London) 03/21/01
  • Previously: HERO FOR THE ARTS: Britain's Labour Party has delivered for arts and culture. "General funding for the arts - that 60 per cent increase over five years - is said to be set to increase yet further. The recent £25 million extra for more than 190 regional theatres is worth dwelling on. Not only have these theatres received a life-changing subsidy, but the money has been deployed shrewdly." The Observer (London) 03/18/01

NO CUT IN NEA FUNDS... YET: The White House budget for 2002 includes $120 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, the same as last year. "Still, no one at the NEA is gloating. Some Washington observers say that while Bush hasn't proposed immediate cuts to the NEA, it's likely that such cuts will be made down the road, particularly considering the president's tax plan." Washington Post 03/21/01

$12 MILLION FOR ARTS ED: Annenberg Foundation gives $12 million to New York schools for arts education. So far Annenberg money has helped form partnerships between 80 public schools and 135 cultural institutions. Christian Science Monitor 03/20/01

Monday March 19

AXING THE A&E SECTION: The Minnesota Daily, which boasts of being the largest college newspaper in America, recently axed its A&E coverage, which managers said was "little read" and not attracting advertisers. Yet the section had many fans and "has often rivaled the Twin Cities' newspapers as the voice of the city's arts scene. It had continued that tradition recently by being, in an increasingly conventional campus paper, a sort of all-arts Village Voice Literary Supplement." Chronicle of Higher Education 03/19/01

ENGLISH THE CONQUEROR: "If you put to any European the simple proposition that everyone should speak English, you probably would not be surprised to learn that 70 per cent of Britons and 82 per cent of Dutch people concur. You might raise an eyebrow at the 76 per cent of Italians who share this point of view. But you would be gobsmacked - dare I say bouleversé ? - to discover that in France, home of that supremely civilising international force la langue Française, an astounding 66 per cent of those questioned in a Eurobarometer poll, said it would be a good idea if the people of Europe spoke English." The Observer (London) 03/18/01

HERO FOR THE ARTS: Britain's Labour Party has delivered for arts and culture. "General funding for the arts - that 60 per cent increase over five years - is said to be set to increase yet further. The recent £25 million extra for more than 190 regional theatres is worth dwelling on. Not only have these theatres received a life-changing subsidy, but the money has been deployed shrewdly." The Observer (London) 03/18/01

Sunday March 18

AND IT'S MORE APPETIZING THAN BROCCOLI: New research has demonstrated what most of the world has always assumed to be true - exposure to art is good for you. Several recent studies have shown that children for whom art was a regular part of life developed greater cognitive skill and generally became more well-rounded individuals. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 03/18/01

A LEGACY TAKEN FOR GRANTED? Ninette de Valois's death last week was strangely under-reported, even though she had been a major figure in Britain's cultural life. Maybe, at the age of 102, she had simply outlived her fame. But "it is de Valois's misfortune to die at a time when our culture has shifted so profoundly that we are in danger of taking that legacy for granted. Access has replaced excellence as a buzzword; celebrity for its own sake is more important than fame for achievement; 'popular' is a value judgement rather than a description." The Telegraph (London) 03/17/01

BEANTOWN EXPANSION: Boston is the aristocrat of American cities, and the sheer age and history of the place have been enough to guarantee the continued existence of countless venerable arts organizations. But Boston lags far behind most other cities in the amount of space available to artists - no new theatres have been built in nearly 100 years, for instance. Now, an ambitious plan attempts to make up for lost time and space. Boston Herald 03/18/01

Friday March 16

BACK AT TOOTHLESS CRITICS: Why the thumbs up/down review has damaged critics' power to set agendas. 3/14/01

TAKING THE BBC TO TASK: Writers AS Byatt and Alan Plater have launched a public attack against the BBC for failing to respect artists’ rights and using inequitable contracts which force artists to waive all rights to their work in perpetuity. "They can't decide whether they're a public service or market-driven organisation — they're public service when they're buying and market-driven when they're selling." The Independent (London) 3/16/01

Thursday March 15

SCIENCE OVER ART: Is it true that  "the arts and humanities have always reflected the society they are part of, but over the last one hundred years, they have spoken with less and less confidence?" Author Peter Watson contends that the intellectual history of the 20th Century is that of coming to terms with the ideas of science rather than the arts... Christian Science Monitor 03/15/01

COMMON CENS(OR): "The conventional wisdom has it that American censors have always been right-wing, at least in the days before political correctness. But Conservatives and progressives have made common cause in many of the moral crusades and moral panics of the last century - and in its broad outlines, one can see the not-quite-unusual alliance taking shape even earlier." Reason 03/01

THE VALUE OF ART? Britain's creative sector, including music, design and advertising, generates more than £100 billion a year and employs more than one million people, according to an audit published by the secretary of state for culture." The Guardian (London) 03/14/01

NOT ALL EXPLANATIONS ARE CREATED EQUAL: After the Quebec minister of culture said that "there's really no such thing as an Ontario culture," people in Ontario took umbrage. The Premier of Quebec explained that what his culture minister meant was that Ontario, unlike Quebec, does not have a "national" culture, because it is not a nation. CBC 03/14/01

HOW THE MIGHTY... King David is the latest hero to fall victim to historians and archaeologists. "If David existed at all, he was little more than a tribal chieftain.... David was hardly the flawed-but-noble hero depicted in the Scriptures. He was more likely a ruthless, homicidal scoundrel whose legend was later embellished and sanitized to give a demoralized people a much needed folk hero." US News 03/19/01

AWARDING ATTENTION: Canada inaugurates a set of national arts awards with the hope of getting artists some notoriety. "What's afoot is an effort to undermine that very provincial thing that happens here - that we don't accept our own until they've been recognized elsewhere. I do think that tendency for validation is one that we should challenge." National Post (Canada) 03/15/01

Wednesday March 14

CALIFORNIA - LAND OF THE ARTS? At a time when other governments are reducing their financial support for the arts, California is making huge gains. Last year, the California Arts Council got an amazing 60 percent ($12 million) boost to its $20-million budget. In January, the stat's governmor proposed an additional $27.3 million for the coming year. "If approved, California's $59.3-million arts budget could emerge as the highest in the country, exceeding New York's current $56.7 million." Los Angeles Times 03/14/01

CRITICAL DISCONNECT: Is political correctness ruining the art of criticism? "The conventions of free speech are being narrowed in real life to the point where it is becoming impossible to describe what you see and hear with any degree of verisimilitude. What earthly point is there in attempting to describe or criticise art in any terms except nice and not-nice?" Culturekiosque 03/13/01

PORTRAIT OF POWER: A recent survey of Australian arts organizations’ boards of trustees shows that they are overwhelmingly comprised of bankers, lawyers, and advertising execs. "This web forms the power base of the arts in Australia." And the artists themselves? "More in the back circle than the front stalls." Sydney Morning Herald 3/14/01

Tuesday March 13

BALLET LAWSUIT DISMISSED: A Massachusetts judge has thrown out a lawsuit brought against the Boston Ballet by the mother of a former company dancer who died of anorexia. The suit claimed that ballet officials told the young dancer she had to lose weight to join the troupe: Heidi Guenther was 5'3", and weighed 93 pounds when she died in 1997. Nando Times (AP) 03/13/01

ARTISTS THAT PAY FOR THEMSELVES: The British government's cultural policy in the past five years expects that artists "play more functional roles in society: assisting in the improvement of public health, race relations, urban living, special education, welfare-to-work programs, and of course, economic development. Above all, the new policies require funded arts activities to show a good return on investment (ROI, as the MBAs put it). Naturally, most artists saw these functions as more appropriate to entrepreneurial social workers. The Establishment toffs, colloquially known as 'luvvies' (as in 'We just love the arts'), lost no time in vilifying Blair's cultural nepmen as ruthless philistines." ArtForum 03/12/01

WILL VACATE FOR MONEY... Performances in the Sydney Opera House will be suspended for four days later this month to permit an insurance company to rent out the building. "The move, whereby the insurance company has effectively paid the two theatre organisations not to perform, is believed to be unprecedented at the Opera House." It's part of the funding realities for Australian arts groups these days. Sydney Morning Herald 03/13/01

A JEWISH ARTIST IN BERLIN: Conductor Daniel Barenboim has been at the center of a power struggle over who will control Berlin's major opera houses. From the outside, it seems a distinctly German debate. "It is only natural to find excursions into different cultures valuable, but of course German culture is something extraordinary, and there should be no false modesty about it." New York Review of Books 03/29/01

LANGUAGE-BOUND: The de facto international language of science and ideas has become English. But "the development of entire subjects is in jeopardy because results from scientific research are being excluded from publication in international English-language journals. It would be wrong to ascribe this to incompetence on the part of the scientists who publish their results in other languages." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 03/12/01

Monday March 12

BUSH PROPOSES KEEPING NEA BUDGET SAME: Says National Endowment for the Arts chairman Bill Ivey: "Given the President's desire to reduce the growth of federal spending, we are pleased with his funding request for the arts endowment." Backstage 03/12/01

ART TRUMPS LIFE: A year ago a British artist took a grant and invested it in stock - equal shares of ART and LIFE. So now the experiment has ended. Which won? "Judged on purely commercial terms, art won. In January, a holding company called Artist Acquisitions bought her shares in ART for almost double what she paid for them. (She made a small profit on LIFE as well.) "I think it's the first art project that's ever been ended by a corporate takeover." Time 03/12/01

Sunday March 11

DOINGS AT THE NEW NEA: With a new administration in the White House, where's the National Endowment for the Arts these days. Quietly doing its thing. "Flying under the radar has helped in the evasion of enemy artillery fire. 'It looks like the White House will work with the Senate-confirmed heads of small agencies for some time,' says NEA chairman William Ivey." St. Louis Post 03/11/01

Friday March 9

BIDDING RING BUSTED: Three men were charged Thursday with conspiring to drive up prices in art auctions on eBay, including last summer’s debacle involving a fake Richard Diebenkorn painting for which they made a $135,000 sale. This is the first prosecution of so-called "shill bidding" in the online world. The indictment said the three men also drove up bids on fake works by Giacometti and Clyfford Still. "[They] allegedly came up with fake user names to make it seem as if the painters’ family members were bidding." San Francisco Chronicle (AP) 3/08/01

AIDING ARTISTS: Artists won at least a partial victory Thursday when the UK government announced it would not scrap entirely its tax code that allows artists to spread their profits over seven years to reduce their tax burden. (Artists often suffer come tax time because of their traditionally erratic earnings patterns - a sold manuscript one year, nothing the next.) "But the Chancellor has now put ‘creative artists’ in the same category as farmers so that they can average profits over two years." The Times (London) 3/09/01

Thursday March 8

TOTALITARIAN LEARNING: A look at children's education in the former East Germany reveals similarities with indoctrination efforts in Hitler's Germany. "In both states, ideological messages penetrated subjects that were specifically geared toward indoctrination, as well as those that were more generically educational." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 03/08/01

TV AND ALZHEIMER'S: Researchers have discovered that those who spend a lot of time in passive activities - like watching TV - in their middle years are more likely to develop Alzheimer's later in life. Exercising your brain by reading, on the other hand, helps delay onset of the disease. The Age (Melbourne) 03/07/01

Tuesday March 6

SCIENCE VS PHILOSOPHY: The Greek philosphers may have been the first to wonder at the nature of the world and humankind's place in it. But certainly in recent times philosophers have given way to scientists when it comes to explaining how the world works. Is there a way to tackle such questions from both ends of the intellectual map? Chronicle of Higher Education 03/05/01

LOST IN THE MIX: Britain’s Culture Minister Chris Smith has publicly refuted rampant rumors that the government plans to dismantle the Culture Ministry after the upcoming election: Welcome news to the arts world, yet some critics still warn that the arts will continue to suffer as long as they’re relegated to the department that also oversees tourism, heritage, the lottery, and sport. BBC 3/05/01

Monday March 5

REPLACING PAPER: Paper has been the medium of communication for centuries. But now scientists are trying to improve the readability of computers so they'll replace paper. "There is more at stake, however, than just the physical substitution of one medium for another; it will require a huge cultural shift as society struggles to give up its addiction to paper and embrace the ethereal nature of electronics. It also has far-reaching implications for books, magazines and newspapers, not to mention libraries and museums. Ours, after all, is a well paper-trained world." Globe & Mail (Canada) 03/05/01

REBUILDING CAMBODIA: Cambodia's culture was devastated during the Pol Pot regime. "There was no wholesale burning of manuscripts, and monuments such as Angkor - the extraordinary temple complex built under the Khmer empire between the ninth and 15th centuries - were neglected rather than smashed. But Pol Pot's destruction of Cambodian culture was as complete as if he had indeed razed Angkor to the ground." Now the country's artists try to rebuild. New Statesman 03/05/01

ARCHER TO DIRECT MELBOURNE: Robyn Archer, one of Australia's most experienced festival directors, has signed on to run the Melbourne Festival. "She emerged as favorite for the Melbourne post in early January, following her acclaim for the internationally renowned Adelaide Festivals she directed in 1998 and 2000." The Age (Melbourne) 03/05/01

Sunday March 4

THE NEW COPORATE/ARTIST MIX: A new real estate development in Orange County attempts to mix for-profit with non-profit, corporate and individual artists to pay for that which does not pay for itself. Called Seven Degrees, the building complex "comprises four Internet-wired live-work residences for artists, two exhibition galleries, a commercial kitchen, and a reception hall and terrace for corporate gatherings and events." Orange County Register 03/04/01

Thursday March 1

SOUNDS LIKE HEAVY-DUTY NUDGING: While running for Vice-President, Joseph Lieberman told Hollywood movie-makers: "We will nudge you, but we will never become censors." He lost that election, but still is a Senator. Now he wants to have the Federal Trade Commission regulate movie marketing. Movie industry spokesman Jack Valenti replies, "Congress doesn't have the power to give the FTC the authority to attack a First Amendment free speech enterprise." 02/28/01

CREATIVITY IN A TIME OF HARDSHIP: Despite its rocky political history of the past 60 years, Prague still boasts a vibrant intellectual/creative life. "The extraordinary richness of the performing arts in the city depends on skilled artists, appreciative audiences and generous funding from the public purse or from private sponsors. The sophisticated citizens of Prague are the successors of men (and their wives) who built up the city and made it flourish." Central Europe Review 02/26/01

AUCTIONEER WARY ABOUT COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT: E-Bay, the on-line auctioneer, is removing items from its site to prevent copyright infringement. Software makers and other intellectual property interests had asked for the action; E-Bay initially opposed, and was upheld in a couple of important court tests. Now, perhaps with Napster in mind, the company is policing its listings and removing about a dozen a day. San Francisco Chronicle (AP) 28/02/01