The Life and Times of an Every(art)man
Over the past couple of years, I've attended two separate institutes funded by the NEA, aimed at providing small-market arts journalists with immersion in the best practices and most current theory of the arts journalism world. One institute, held at Columbia University in New York City, focused on classical music journalism. There, I sat at a table and listened as a concert review I'd written was critiqued by Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Justin Davidson, and met with people like John Rockwell of the New York Times, Alex Ross of the New Yorker, and pretty much every other important classical music critic in New York. I got a great taste of the music and the writers writing about the music of New York.
The second institute, held last winter at the USC Annenberg School of Communication, focused on theater criticism. I soaked in lectures by John Lahr, the theater critic at the New Yorker; had drinks with Michael Phillips (formerly the lead theater critic at the LA Times; now film critic at the Chicago Tribune); and generally developed a sense of what life as a full-time theater critic is like.
That is not, however, my life. Nor is it the life of any but a few writers in this country.
Here's my life, sampled from the past two weeks:
Preview a concert by a classical guitarist, a concert by a blues sax player, a concert by a south African choir, and a bunch of rock shows at local clubs (the last of which didn't seem to end up online).
Write a spot news piece about a poetry reading at a bus terminal, and a different spot news piece about a party celebrating the end of fire season in Seeley, Montana (please excuse the typo in the first sentence of that one; it was inserted by an editor).
And, finally, write two different columns (first this one, then this one) following up on a question I asked here at Flyover a couple of weeks ago, regarding why free performances draw such better crowds than ticketed performances.
All of this - yes, even the spot news stuff -- falls into my job as arts and entertainment reporter at the Missoulian, a 30,000-ish circulation daily published in Missoula, a town of 60,000-ish people. Because of the staff-size of the paper and the peculiar characteristics of our local culture scene, my job description is quite broad: I am reporter and critic of all arts visual, theatrical, musical; highbrow, lowbrow, and otherwise...And in my "spare" time, I get the occasional fire roundup or car-crash report to write.
My job description calls for me to produce upwards of 250 articles a year, chronicling the entire breadth of our local cultural scene.
In these respects, I am like most arts journalists in America. From what I've seen at those NEA institutes, we tend to be semi-specialists in a certain area of the arts (I'm a former classical percussionist), who by necessity must obtain (or feign) authority in a host of other arts that we may only know passingly, if at all.
Our jobs are not really much like John Lahr's job; but then, our local theater isn't like New York's local theater, and our local cultures aren't that culture.
Make no mistake: I'd love to be the full-time staff theater critic for the Missoulian. After all, that'd mean I'd only have to produce a maximum of 30 or so stories per year for the paper. That's how many productions we see in this town; and that's counting one-off independent productions, community theater, university shows -- pretty much everything.
Realistically though, I have to be a generalist. This fits my nature pretty well, fortunately. I get bored doing just one thing over and over again.
But I know my broad and shallow knowledge may not serve some of our local arts organizations as well as if I were devoted to their particular artistic idiom.
So it's a quandary, not just for me, but for the whole of my local arts scene: How to keep the level of dialogue high in the newspaper, while dealing with the practicalities that come with the nature of the job.
Is it even possible?
Bloggers We Love
Bridgette Redman and Lansing Theater
Drew McManus' "Neo Classical" at the Partial Observer
Marc Moss (Missoula, MT artist)
Mary Louise Schumacher's "Art City"
Other Great Sites
American Composers Orchestra
Arts & Letters Daily
Center for Arts and Culture
Cultural Policy and the Arts National Data Archive
National Arts Journalism Program
NEA Arts Journalism Institute for Dance Criticism
NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Classical Music and Opera
NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater & Musical Theater
New Music Box: American Music Center
USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Program
AJ BlogsAJBlogCentral | rss
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
David Jays on theatre and dance
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
John Rockwell on the arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Public Art, Public Space
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog