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ARTS ISSUES - May 2001

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Thursday May 31

THEY JUST DON'T BURY THEM LIKE THEY USED TO: It used to be that Hollywood funerals were as splashy and well-attended as major movie premieres. Not so lately. "There seems to be a feeling among families of celebrities who have died that they don't want to see pictures of the funeral on television that evening." Nando Times (AP) 05/30/01

Wednesday May 30

GIVING TO THE ARTS: Americans donated $11.5 billion to the arts last year, an almost 4 percent increase over the previous year. The number of major mega-gifts has increased too. The reason? The economic boom of the 90s, and a slew of dot-com billionaires. "Arts institutions haven't seen anything like this since the robber barons of the 19th century poured money into museums and libraries." Washington Post 05/30/01

BERLIN BASHING: Doesn't matter how you want to describe the state of Berlin these days - it's bad, and no solutions are in sight. "The capital is impoverished and deindustrialized, completely denuded of the economic basis it once possessed, the motor of all those metropolitan dreams. Since the fall of the Wall, Berlin has forfeited almost 300,000 industrial jobs. It is the seat of a mere five corporations listed in the major stock market indexes." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 05/29/01

  • Previously: BERLIN ON THE BRINK: Only a few years ago, Berlin was talking of turning itself into "the capital of Europe." But these days, the city is mired in a financial crisis of a magnitude unseen since World War II. In the rush to cut costs, Berlin's cultural treasures have been among the first to feel the pinch. The Guardian (London) 05/28/01

ANCIENT BRITS RIVALED GREEKS? In classic histories, the Greeks and Mediterranean peoples were portrayed as advanced, washing over the uncivilized backward northern Europeans. But one scholar says it isn't so, and that northerners were as advanced. "The view of Stone Age Britain as backward has been skewed by our historical reliance on Greek and Roman classical texts, which were thick with prejudice and ignorant of almost anything beyond the Pillars of Hercules (Gibraltar)." The Guardian (UK) 05/30/01

Tuesday May 29

DEFENDING THE TRADITIONAL FESTIVAL: Is the traditional model of the big Australian arts festival outmoded, as some critics charge? Not at all, says one festival veteran. "Unless Australian audiences repeatedly travel across the world, and are in the right place at the right time, they will never have these artistic experiences. That is, unless they are presented with them by their local festival." Sydney Morning Herald 05/29/01

SAYING IT RIGHT... "I must tell you how to pronounce the name of our most famous painter, the one the English call 'Van Goff' or 'Van Go'. That is not how we say it and it is not how he said it either. The correct Dutch way to say it is..." The Independent (UK) 05/28/01

Monday May 28

BERLIN ON THE BRINK: Only a few years ago, Berlin was talking of turning itself into "the capital of Europe." But these days, the city is mired in a financial crisis of a magnitude unseen since World War II. In the rush to cut costs, Berlin's cultural treasures have been among the first to feel the pinch. The Guardian (London) 05/28/01

ISN'T IT IRONIC? In the last few years, somel pundits have declared excessive irony to be one of the elements contributing to the decline of American culture and pride. Playing the role of America's savior is... (drum roll)... earnestness. The resulting feud is "a cultural war pitting crusaders of Truth and Beauty versus the dark forces of Deconstruction and Moral Relativism." The New Republic 05/28/01

THE 1950s - AMERICA'S MOST MULTICULTURAL? "In the funhouse mirror of official history, the ’50s are seen as our most xenophobic decade. That is exactly wrong: then, the seemingly alien cultures of Europe and Asia held endless fascination for Americans who were either back from war service abroad, their aesthetic tastes spiced a bit, or simply tired of bland domestic fare." Movies, books, plays, music - art from abroad was more popular then than now. Time 05/18/01

Sunday May 27

MOVING FORWARD IN PHILLY: Philadelphia's ambitious Regional Performing Arts Center is the most-anticipated new concert hall of the last two decades, but the project has been plagued by management turnover, financial questions, and conflict between RPAC's planners and its primary tenant, the Philadelphia Orchestra. Now, with everyone concerned facing the deadline of this fall's planned opening, things are finally starting to run smoother, but many issues remain unresolved. Philadelphia Inquirer 05/27/01

Friday May 25

QUESTIONING THE FESTIVAL MODEL: Contrary to a previous announcement that the 2000 Adelaide Festival met its box office goals and covered its expenses, it's now revealed that the festival lost $1 million. "The old model isn't working," says Peter Sellars, the festival's current director. "The losses are endemic and it's nobody's fault. It's the cultural model that needs to change." The Age (Melbourne) 05/25/01

Thursday May 24

THE POWER OF ART: Politically, Zimbabwe is a mess. But a recent arts celebration brought out the country to participate. "Poor children from the townships came to learn photography with disposable cameras. Opera fans came for a night of arias, theatre-lovers came for Shakespeare and fringe works, and just about everyone came to hear Zimbabwe's most popular singer Oliver Mtukudzi perform on the closing night." Daily Mail & Guardian (South Africa) 05/23/01

REFORMS FOR ITALIAN MINISTRY OF CULTURE: "Italy’s new Prime Minister, will appoint a Culture Minister... who will preside over a ministry that has just emerged from a four-year process of reform.... The shake-up goes right to the top with the creation of a new position of secretary general." The Art Newspaper 05/24/01

Wednesday May 23

REDRAWING THE ARTS MAP: Margaret Seares is leaving as the chairperson of the Australia Arts Council. She leaves four years in which the arts funding map has been redrawn and the council and its clients have begun to think more strategically about their operations. Sydney Morning Herald 05/23/01

Tuesday May 22

IDEAS IN PICTURES: Philosophers have traditionally dwelled in the universe of words. But a new book proposes that "philosophical themes can also be represented as artistic images, not just in texts, as has traditionally been the case. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 05/22/01

Monday May 21

PHONE RAGE: Readers of the Cleveland Plain Dealer are fed up with cell phones and pagers chirping in their concert halls and theatres. Readers wrote to the paper after a story on the subject to suggest solutions: "One reader pointed out that most states - but not Ohio - have laws prohibiting concealed weapons, so why not pass laws banning concealed cell phones? 'If someone is caught with one and it goes off during a concert, ban 'em for the rest of the season'." The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 05/21/01

Sunday May 20

LEARNING TO BE CREATIVE: What's wrong with today's artists? No discipline. We've come to believe that the discipline of rote learning and structure is anathema to creativity. But creativity without background and knowledge and skill flops around incoherently. How about a return to traditional rigors? Mozart wouldn't have been Mozart without it. Sunday Times (UK) 05/20/01

CONTEMPO LEAD: Vienna is about to open a new £100 million contemporary arts center - the world's largest. It's "the biggest investment in culture that Austria has made in more than a century. When the Museums Quartier centre for contemporary arts opens next month it will cover 60,000 square yards and turn Vienna, whose best-known cultural offspring include Gustav Klimt and Mozart, into a world centre for modern art." The Telegraph (UK) 05/20/01

REDEMPTION THROUGH THE ARTS: Pawtucket, Rhode Island, has long been a collection of abandoned industrial buildings. But two years ago the city started an arts district to encourage the arts and revitalization of the city's downtown. "The district comprises more than 60 blocks. Artists can waive the sales tax on art they sell there. Those who live and work in the district are also eligible for a state income-tax exclusion on any money their art generates. The city has lured two longstanding cultural institutions from Providence." Boston Globe 05/20/01

Friday May 18

BROKE BERLIN: Berlin has major cultural ambitions, expensive cultural ambitions. But paying for them is quite another thing. Fact is Berlin doesn't have the cash. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 05/18/01

GREEK LOVE: What is it about our ongoing fascination with things Greek? "How has the ancient Greek legacy gone through such dizzying changes since anSiquarians began digging up classical trophies for their collections half a millennium ago? The thing we call 'classical Greece' has been as fiercely fought over as the battlefield of Marathon. Look at all the ways it's been used to reflect what we need to see of ourselves." Financial Times 05/18/01

THOSE UNRULY CHESS CROWDS: Playing chess had become popular at the Minneapolis Public Library. But last week the library banned the game after spectators became unruly. Nando Times (AP) 05/16/01

Thursday May 17

WHEN ART MATTERED: "The volcano-like eruption of modernism seems distant, now that the Revolution has become a TV show, as the Renaissance. Its doctrines are exhausted, its once nerve-wracking fragments ensconced in museums, and the whole thing made sleepily irrelevant by the rise of mass media. But it was the Biggest Bang in the last 500 years of our cultural history, and if you lean over its crater you can still hear and feel it, the molten craziness and hurtling euphoria of that uncanny moment when for the last time High Art still mattered enough to hate." Salon 05/16/01

THE NEXT ADELAIDE: Only a couple of days before the program for the next Adelaide Arts Festival is to be announced, the festival chooses its artistic director for the 2004 festival (one of the plum jobs in Australian arts). It's 35-year-old Stephen Page: "My sacred religion is being indigenous and my responsibility now is to be a visionary and bring this smorgasbord of art around to this sacred ground here." The Age (Melbourne) 05/17/01

Wednesday May 16

NO TAKEBACKS ALLOWED: In 1997 the mayor and city council of San Antonio decided to take back a grant to a controversial arts group. Now a federal judge has ruled against the city and says the grant cannot be revoked. "Once a governing body chooses to fund art, the Constitution requires that it be funded in a viewpoint-neutral manner, that is, without discriminating among recipients on the basis of their ideology." The New York Times 05/16/01 (one-time registration required for access)

FOLK ARTS FOR PROFIT: "Efforts are being made to revive the crafts of Kyrgyzstan and the other countries along the ancient Silk Road that spans Central Asia. The impetus is part reverence for tradition and part recognition that a thriving folk art industry will bring economic benefits, no small matter in former Soviet republics where half the people live below the poverty line." The New York Times 05/16/01 (one-time registration required for access)

Tuesday May 15

"THE ERA OF HIGH-PRICED EGO AWARDS IS OVER," said Joan Chalmers, in announcing a major change in the prestigious Chalmers Awards. For 29 years the awards - $25,000 each to thirteen winners - kept Canadian singers, playwrights, painters, poets, and other artists afloat. From now on, newly-minted Chalmers Grants will go in smaller amounts to a larger number of individuals. Toronto Star 05/15/01

Monday May 14

A LID FOR LINCOLN CENTER? New York's Lincoln Center is planning a ten-year $1.5 million makeover. So what's in the works? Rumors are flying that a dome to cover the central plaza is being considered, among other ideas. The New York Times 05/14/01 (one-time registration required for access)

ALL IN THE PLANNING: "Today, everybody needs to establish a business plan: universities, schools, theatres, orchestras, opera and dance companies. Since businesses run everything, it was felt that it would generally make for smoother sailing if everything were run like a business." So what happens to the art? Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/14/01

Thursday May 10

BEIJING CRACKDOWN: China has issued new regulations governing what is and is not permissible for the republic's artists. Any work deemed "bloody, violent, or erotic" by Chinese censors could result in a lengthy jail term for the artist who creates it. BBC 05/10/01

IN-COUNTRY - THE BATTLE FOR NATIONAL CULTURES: Canadian support for their own culture may seem impressive from the outside, but take away the loaded deck and what's left? Are cultural subsidies the only way to preserve national cultures? 05/09/01

GOING CORPORATE: Art school graduates are finding themselves increasingly in demand, and not just in the waitering trade. "In a field once stigmatized as impractical, graduates in fine arts, communication design, photography, animation and interior design no longer have to worry about life as a 'starving artist.'" Detroit Free Press 05/09/01

Wednesday May 9

POLITICAL PUZZLE: Hollywood loved Bill Clinton and Al Gore and gave Gore much money for his campaign. In return Gore attacked Hollywood for its portrayal of violence. By contrast, though Hollywood doesn't like Bush and doesn't support him, Bush has refrained from taking up a moralistic tone against the entertainment industry, even when his staunchest supporters would like him to. Los Angeles Times 05/06/01

FRANCHISING FOR FUN AND PROFIT: From the Guggenheim to the Bolshoi, arts groups are cloning or "franchising" their brands to grow their influence (and get cash). The Age (Melbourne) 04/09/01

Tuesday May 8

SMITHSONIAN FUROR ABATES, SOMEWHAT: The new head of the Smithsonian provoked a flurry of complaints when he announced plans to shut down some parts of the vast institution. Those complaints - from his staff, from independent scientists, and from the public - worked. The shut-down plans have been scrapped, at least for now. Washington Post 05/07/01

Sunday May 6

PROTECTING NATIONAL CULTURES: France has asked Canada to join in "the battle against the homogenizing of national cultures. The idea is that Canada, along with other G7 nations and the countries of the European Union, will move closer to the strict rules which France has already adopted to protect its film, television and book industries against U.S. pop culture. Proud France has realized that it can't win the fight alone." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/05/01

A TALE OF TWO TOWNS: The strength of a city's arts community has long been an important measure of quality of life. But small towns often have to scrabble for artistic leftovers, and struggle to develop a real arts scene. Two towns in New England are bucking the trend, however, and the results have been pleasantly surprising. Hartford Courant 05/06/01

Friday May 4

MET REJOINS LINCOLN CENTER: In January the Metropolitan Opera shocked its sister organizations at Lincoln Center when it declared it would pull out of a massive rebuilding effort for the multi-theatre complex. Now the Met has joined back up on the project. The New York Times 05/04/01 (one-time registration required for access)

ALL IS FORGIVEN? The Canadian government's largesse of $560 million support for the arts doesn't hide the fact that in the past decade Canadian artists have become "a community of beggars. Even as arts leaders and politicians paid lip service to the importance of the arts, governments mercilessly slashed subsidies." Toronto Star 05/03/01

IN THE MONEY: The Readers Digest Fund agrees to turn over $1.7 billion in assets to 13 arts institutions so they can invest the money themselves. The Met Museum alone gets $424 million. The New York Times 05/04/01 (one-time registration required for access)

DOESN'T COMPUTE: Every school in the world seems to be on the technology hunt, trying to get as many students as possible in front of computers. But one expert wonders why. "They've been around for so long that we should be seeing the benefit but the results just don't seem to be there." Sydney Morning Herald 05/04/01

FREE FRENCH MUSEUMS: Strikes by workers protesting working hours blocked Parisian museums from selling tickets Thursday, so museums let visitors in free. "A spokeswoman for the Louvre, said the strikes had already forced the museum to lose $822,000 in ticket sales. Last week alone, 250 pre-reserved group tours had to be canceled." NJ Online (AP) 05/03/01

THE NEW CENSORSHIP: Australian censors are having a difficult time rating new entertainment forms because the amount of embedded multimedia material has ballooned. A DVD movie release, for example, can have 900 minutes worth of linked materials. How do you rate it? The Age (Melbourne) 05/04/01

THE COST OF THE FUTURE: The head of the Smithsonian has defended his controversial proposals to reorganize the institution. He says cutting programs and shifting priorities are necessary to "bring its programs into the modern day." Washington Post 05/04/01

Thursday May 3

MORE MONEY FOR CANADIAN ARTS: "Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, carrying out a campaign pledge, announced on Wednesday an infusion of more than half a billion Canadian dollars to boost the country's cash-strapped arts and cultural sectors.... Chretien said it was the biggest new investment in the arts in Canada in 40 years." Not everyone is happy with the idea, however. Some arts groups think the funding is badly distributed, and some tax experts complain that it's "welfare for cultural industries, and they question where the money is coming from in the absence of a federal budget." (Reuters) and National Post (Candada) 05/03/01

  • RESTORING PREVIOUS CUTS: The increase in support is welcome, of course, but it must be pointed out that the extra money is something of a giveback to the arts. "Between 1990-1991 and 1997-1998, budgetary cutbacks in government spending reduced culture-related spending at the federal and provincial levels by nearly 7.8 per cent and 2.9 per cent, respectively." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/03/01

TIRED OF GIVING: A new poll in Scotland says people are fed up with bailing out the country's cash-hungry arts groups. The poll shows "74 per cent of people are opposed to subsidising opera and ballet using taxpayers’ money, including 70 per cent of the middle class. Four out of five Scots also want the BBC television license fee abolished completely." The Scotsman 05/03/01

THOSE DELICATE NEW YORKERS: So in sensitive New York, the mayor needs to protect residents from the big bad influence of controversial art. In London, we'd look, smile, and walk on to the next shocking thing. The Times (London) 05/03/01

  • INDECENT PROPOSAL: A member of New York mayor Rudy Giuliani's Cultural Commission says he won't join the mayor's new "decency panel" because he "doesn't believe in censorship." New York Post 05/02/01

ART AT THE LOCAL LEVEL: Last month the British government did away with regional arts boards. A blow against the arts? Maybe not. "The regional arts boards were created in the dog days of the Thatcher cultural revolution to make it as difficult as possible for undeserving arty types to get their hands on taxpayers' money." The Guardian (UK) 05/02/01

THE NEXT BILBAO? Officials of Philadelphia's Regional Performing Arts Center planned a New York "coming out" for their project last night, inviting critics from around the country to see a presentation on the center. "The New York event, which was months in the making, had been designed to position the city as the new Bilbao and the concert hall as its Guggenheim Museum," and despite the resignation of the project's director a couple days before, the Philadelphians stayed on message. Philadelphia Inquirer 05/03/01

  • DIFFICULT LABOR: The new arts center is plagued with problems. Money, of course, is problematic. And none of the major arts groups - the Philadelphia Orchestra included - has signed leases to perform in the hall. "Fees, of course, have been a major issue - although most groups have now accepted the fact that the arts center has reneged on its promise that rents in the two new halls would be no higher than rents paid by the groups in their current facilities." Philadelphia Inquirer 05/03/01

Wednesday May 2

ARTS CZAR QUITS: The president of Philadelphia's $265 million Regional Performing Arts Center currently under construction, has abruptly resigned 7 1/2 months before Philly's answer to Lincoln Center is scheduled to open. Stephanie Naidoff is praised for bringing a lot of money into the project, but has been criticized by arts leaders for her inexperience in non-profic management. Philadelphia Inquirer 05/02/01

EASY TARGETS: Threats by US senators and the Federal Trade Commission to regulate distribution of music it deems unsuitable for young listeners has free speech advocates steaming. Why is this regulatory issue so popular when there's no hard evidence supporting a clampdown? Village Voice 05/02/01

  • A HISTORY OF MUSIC CONTROVERSY: From Peter Paul and Mary to Stairway to Heaven to Louie Louie, politicians and parents have found something to get uptight about. Today's "threat to society" is tomorrow's classic - a chronology. Village Voice 05/02/01

THE FUTURE OF COPYRIGHT: Does the US Digital Millennium Copyright Law violate the First Amendment by excessively curbing the 'fair uses' people can make of copyrighted works? Critics say yes, and federal judges in New York seem interested in hearing arguments. The outcome of the case will have enormous implications in the trade of intellectual property. 05/02/01

FUNDRAISING DOWNTURN? How will the current economic downturn affect arts institutions? "What happens to all the ambitious capital campaigns under way? The planned exhibitions? The expansions? Fortunately, museums say, they got while the getting was good, starting their major capital campaigns while plenty of money was floating around so that now they are nearing those goals rather than just beginning to set them." The New York Times 05/02/01 (one-time registration required for access)