Recently by John Rockwell
A lot of this discussion has involved initiatives on a state or local level, or even a personal level, one to one. But Obama's arts platform makes reference to a possible Artists Corps, presumably modeled on the New Deal. I'm not sure how tangible this is, and whether it would be intended simply to put artists to work making art, or whether it might also involve artists teaching in the schools.
If the latter, it could be a serious resource for expanding arts education nationwide. Has anyone contacts with Obama transition people, like Bill Ivey, who could find out if this is something worth pursuing? Or has it been pursued already, in which case does anyone in this conversation know something more specifc about the proposed corps and its possible application to arts education?
In reading this discussion, I get the feeling that there is a lively back-and-forth going on among the arts-education professionals about terminology, ideals, goals, tactics, prior reports and mostly local experiments, and that thre rest of us lob in our little potshots now and then and are pretty much ignored. This may well mean that we (I) aren't taking the discussion seriously enough. Or it could mean that the professionals are living in a closed-off world, talking largely to one another.
Anyhow, I got an interesting comment on my "Glazing Over" post from Bob@music-for-all.org. He makes a number of points, most of which highlight tangible results in various local initiatives and his feeling that reaching kids when they're young is the best way to draw them in for the rest of their lives.
I appreciate the tangiblity, and he may well be right about youth. But what I really liked was his last comment: "To torture an already tortured phrase... let not the good become the victim of the pursuit of the perfect." Right on, Bob.
Congrats to Sam Hope for his eloquent description of how buzz words fade, wraithlike, into irrelevance. I have to say that for all the deep intelligence, long experience and passionate commitment of most of the professional arts-education bloggers here, I glaze over. Too much bureaucratic insider baseball (hence my earlier reference to left field), too much abstraction, not enough practicality -- because, as several of you have pointed out, no one really knows how to foster meaningful change, at least on the K-12 level. Local initiatives make sense, given the lack of realistic hope for a national transformation. The politicians would have to get all aesthetical on us, and that's not likely to happen. The arts aren't manly.
So I will move on, shifting my attention to what I actually know something about, which is arts education for adults. Actually, I know precious little about that, too, except that just as I hated being dragged to concerts as a kid, so my hackles rise at most earnest sessions of music instruction before concerts (the "music-appreciation racket," Virgil Thomson called it). Lots of adult audiences like such lectures, though, with an cheerful, earnest expert tickling the ivories and leading them through a soon-to-be-heard score.
I prefer program notes: you can read them (or not) on your own time, and they can provide helpful background. Academically, I have my doctorate in cultural history (German, speaking of dead white European males), so I like historical context for the dreaded "aesthetic experience." Good program notes give you that, along with a formal anaylsis one hopes is not condescending yet not so technical that it sails over the humble heads of a musically illiterate audience.
As a critic, whether of classical music or dance or anything else, my tactic has always been to lead, but carefully. Express my taste, try to bring an audience along to appreciate a work I love, but not venture too far out in front of troops, cowering resentfully in the trenches.
Ultimately, be it in program notes or books or print or online criticism or even music appreciation, there is plenty that is helpful out there to fan the flames of an already kindled enthusiasm for an art form or a particular piece of art. The trick is how to initially kindle that enthusiasm, that nascent passion. Me, I don't really know how to do that, and I'm not convinced, so far, that many of our bloggers know either. To write eloquently is a start.
Maybe personal is better even than local -- the arts equivalent of the Jefferson family farm as the bedrock of democracy. If you love, say, a piece of music, find a friend who doesn't know it or doesn't even think he likes that kind of music in the first place, and play it for him. Maybe you'll see a spark, and can fan it.
1. Jane Remer suggests that Americans have always been gun-shy about the high arts. It seems a little more complex than that. Look at Lawrence W. Levine's book "Highbrow Lowbrow," and in particular his long chapter on Americans' obsession with Shakespeare up until the late 19th century, for a corrective.
2. This debate seems to focus on school children, but the Rand report carries the discussion through higher education and beyond. I have long thought that one simple solution to stimulating demand for the high arts (esp. the expensive performing arts) would be cheaper tickets. All sorts of scatter-shot programs have been attempted, privately and publicly funded, at individual theaters or locally or statewide, to address this. Problem is, as I observed when I ran the Lincoln Center Festival, that simply lowering ticket prices may well attract more people, but mostly more people of the same demographic as those who buy the higher-priced seats. There have been all kinds of experiments with student seats, student rush seats, etc., many of them promising. Just now the British Arts Council is about to name theaters in Britain that will receive grants to provide one million free tickets to anyone under the age of 26.
3. Barack Obama had a fairly detailed arts plank in his platform (John McCain had none). There's a petition going around the Internet -- I have no idea what traction it is getting -- to urge Obama to appoint a cabinet-level Arts Secretary. Surely doing so would go a long way to defuse the idea of the arts as a "special interest" and to focus national attention on the subject.
Doug says we should confine ourselves to single topics and be punchy and clear. So I will mention several topics, foggily. As I look through the Rand/Wallace report, several questions arise in my grumpy mind, and Jane Remer has mentioned a few of them.
WHOSE culture? Neo-cons think there are universal standards which just happen to be epitomized by Dead White European Males, and that is the kind of cutlure that the Rand report seems to focus on. (Jazz, being hopelessly non-commercial by this point, has been tokened into the pantheon).
European countries with more or less homogeneous ethnic populations and cultural traditions can make public arts support work (despite Muslim riots in the banlieues, etc.). The U.S. is a multi-cultural society with fierce opposition to government "interference." The resistance of the non-white "minority," soon to be the majority, seems to me as much based on resistance to white high culture as to a lack of training/knowledge.
I'm very uncomfortable with the lingering, persistent commerical/non-commercial divide, and the bias toward the non-commercial inherent in the Rand report. Dismissing the "culture industry" (Adorno) derives from a curious combo of American Puritanism and latent Marxism.
When I was a child I HATED being schlepped to symphony concerts and museums. Yet I wound up deeply involved in them and all the high arts (and low ones, too). Perhaps our trips were poorly prepared when it came to the teachers providing the proper background for the "aesthetic experience." But maybe the very idea of exposing restless children to The Arts is somehow flawed.
That all said, I have to think that arts education is valuable in some important sense. Certainly it can enhance the experience for someone already susceptible to it. But perhaps the (inherent?) susceptiblity will itself inspire those so blessed to educate themselves. That's the way it worked for me.
Sam Hope, executive director, The National Office for Arts Accreditation (NOAA);
Jack Lew, Global University Relations Manager for Art Talent at EA;
Laura Zakaras, RAND;
James Cuno, Director, Art Institute of Chicago;
Richard Kessler, Executive Director, Center for Arts Education;
Eric Booth, Actor;
Bau Graves, Executive director, Old Town School of Folk Music;
Kiff Gallagher, Founder & CEO of the Music National Service Initiative and MusicianCorps
Bennett Reimer, Founder of the Center for the Study of Education and the Musical Experience, author of A Philosophy of Music Education;
Edward Pauly, the director of research and evaluation at The Wallace Foundation;
Moy Eng, Program Director of the Performing Arts Program at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation;
John Rockwell, critic;
Susan Sclafani, Managing Director, Chartwell Education Group;
Jane Remer, Author, Educator, Researcher
Michael Hinojosa, General Superintendent, Dallas Independent School District
Peter Sellars, director
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