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March 7, 2008

Arts Advocates?


Jen's Arts Day may be over, but I have a question: Should arts journalists be arts advocates?

If so, how should we do that -- simply by writing about the arts? Or should we do things like go easier on a theater company or art gallery that is having a hard financial time? What's our responsibility to our communities and to the arts that we cover?

What about podcasts (I like those of Jen Graves at The Stranger, Q&As (Rich is really good at this on his blog), panels and other ways for arts writers to get the news out about the arts?

Maybe this is a "duh." As in, "Duh, Suzi, if we aren't arts advocates, we won't have jobs at all." But I'd like to hear what others think about ethics, balancing reviews and previews and informational articles, mixing financial analyses with the desire for local arts groups to, well, keep on going, etc.

Posted by ssteffen at March 7, 2008 4:10 AM


Hi Suzi, Since we had e-mailed each other about this off the blog, I thought I'd copy a portion of my comments to you here:

"In general, I think anyone who writes seriously about the arts, even if it's critical, is an arts advocate in a way. Just giving something your attention, saying it matters, keeping it on people's radar, is valuable. And I definitely don't believe in going easy on a group in a review just because you know they're having financial trouble. For the purposes of a review, I think those two factors are entirely separate."

As I also mentioned to Suzi, I don't do the legislator-visit part of Arts Day since, by day, I am a state employee (I work for public television, which is part of the state university system here) and that would be considered inappropriate.

But whether you're a state employee, full-time journalist, or the city dog-catcher, you're also a private citizen on your own time and free to use that influence any way you want.

Posted by: Jennifer Smith at March 8, 2008 2:41 PM

This is certainly an issue anyone who has taken up the arts beat has wrestled with, because it is not a job most people take on unless they are genuinely interested in the arts. But a lot of the groups and people we cover tend to expect boosterism, and if we write a negative review or cover a personnel or financial travail, the quick charge is we're hurting the arts. But I am not only a big believer in the arts, I'm a big believer in fair and honest journalism, and that good journalism plays a role in making society better. Covering that financial kerfuffle may not be comfortable to the company in question. But in the long run, it holds them accountable to the community to not only put on good productions but be good stewards of their audience and donors' money. A critical review may not be the best thing for the box office, but it shows that we take the artists seriously and hold them to certain standards.
Is that advocacy? I don't know. I do think the one area that might challenge a lot of people who write about the arts is in areas such as debates about the validity of public funding for the arts and arts education. For a person who believes in the arts and believes in their importance to society, it probably takes more work to step back and cover those issues objectively. But as a journalist, that is is your job.
Jen is right. It is not appropriate for arts journalists to participate in fund-raising campaigns or advocacy events on behalf of any group we cover. If we feel an overwhelming pull to do that, we need to be seeking careers in arts administration, or something of that sort.
Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Suzi.

Posted by: Rich Copley at March 10, 2008 5:39 AM