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October 5, 2007

Thank you to the sports owners

Bridgette Redman

Given the recent posts about state money and Jennifer's post on sports, I was intrigued by this blog entry by a Michigan blogger, dedicated arts lover, and talented critic.

He points out that every theater person ought to be writing thank-you letters to the owners of the Detroit Pistons and the Detroit Red Wings. It was due to their lobbying efforts that the expanded sales tax on services was not extended to entertainment services such as athletic games and the theater.

Given a recent comment that theater belonged to the wealthy elite (despite the fact that a ticket to an athletic event is typically far more expensive than a theater ticket), I found this paragraph interesting:

State House officials tried to paint their efforts to expand the sales tax as an effort to tax "luxuries." But since when is attending a theater performance or a sporting event a luxury? I don't know how often our state elected policitians attend a professional theater performance, but looking at the audiences last Friday night at The Zeitgeist and Saturday night at the Marygrove Theatre, I saw primarily working class people, young people and members of the sought-after creative class. (In fact, the leader of a large group of students from Wayne County Community College Saturday night explained to me that he chose that show in part because of the affordable ticket price.)

Nowhere did I see the snooty rich, the people who fit the image our politicians were trying to create in order to get the public to buy in to their budget plan.

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September 27, 2007

Making art without the big budgets

Bridgette Redman

There is always a danger in embarking on a discussion of generations that one will fall into stereotypes. After all, broad generalizations are just that--they describe common traits that apply to many, but never all the people they describe. It's also why I usually embrace labels for myself--because I appreciate the dry humor and delicious irony in how they can lead to assumptions that are totally false.

So it is with some trepidation that I return to an earlier discussion on generational differences. I know that exceptions could be found for everything that I set forth; however, if such concerns were barriers to theory, we'd never be able to have any conversation because we'd spend all day on the disclaimers (something my friends will tell you I'm prone to do anyway).

I was once told that the reason there is so much tension between parent and teenager is because they have conflicting jobs. It is the job of the teenager to become more independent and to pull away from the control and direction of the adults in their life. They're becoming adults and have to find their way. The parent, meanwhile, has the job of continuing to hold on tight while imparting those final life lessons and making sure the child survives his or her boundary testing.

It's that tension that you'll often see among generations as well. The older generation has gained its wisdom by traversing the world and making its mistakes. It would, if it could, spare the next generation its errors. It also wants to protect what it worked so hard to create. Meanwhile, the newer generation is charging off into what it is certain is new ground and grows frustrated at what it perceives to be roadblocks thrown up by those lacking their perspective and enthusiasm.

I recognize that I'm writing from the perspective of one who is pretty enthusiastic about where my generation is headed and who has made the choice to be optimistic and hopeful in the face of plenty of potential evidence to the contrary. I'm a firm believer that hope will always be found in every box that Pandora opens, even as she unleashes newfound horrors and terrors.

So when I wrote about "It's not the product, it's the connection," I was fascinated by some of the responses to mine and the subsequent entries. One of the questions that seemed to be asked in a couple different ways is when and whether Generation X was going to get on board with the proper model and start coughing up money the way the Boomers have.

My gut response was, "Why should we follow that model? Why shouldn't we form our own?"

I do think that you're going to have a much harder time getting Gen X'rs to write checks for organizations that they are involved in only peripherally. I don't think it is necessary for them to have to be a founder of the organization, but they have to believe that they can be involved--that they can be a co-creator today.

There may also start to be a new economic model for developing shows. I experienced a bit of culture shock while in Los Angeles at the NEA Institute when an artistic director shared the price tag for developing a single new show. It was a price tag that would have encompassed the entire annual budget of the thirteen most active groups in Lansing.

Why must the development of a new work carry with it such a high price tag? It's nice when that money is available, but is it really essential?

Let me bring up another Lansing theater company, Icarus Falling (IF). I've had several long conversations and debates with their artistic director. This is a group that consistently puts on brand-new works. Typically two shows every season are new works--one from a company member and the other from an outside playwright who submits his or her script.

The artistic director firmly believes that an artist has no right to demand financing for a work that the marketplace won't support. His group receives no public money and they do very little soliciting for donations. Myself being the good liberal Democrat argues that our tax dollars should support the arts because there is a communal benefit to art that accrues to more than just the art consumer. He feels it is disrespectful and arrogant for an artist to demand support for something that people don't value enough to pay for.

More importantly, he insists that it doesn't take a lot of money to create art and that it is disingenuous to demand it. In fact, he's even gone so far as to say that someone who is truly an artist will find a way to make their art regardless of whether there is money available. What this means for them is that they must plough a far more difficult path and that their actors get paid too little to allow them to give up their day jobs. However, they have shown that they can put up fascinating new work. The work doesn't always go further than their stage, but even that has its own value.

Other scripts are launched into far wider production. This past summer they did a workshop production of Love Person, a new script with a fair amount of technical demands as it mixes American Sign Language, Sanskrit, English, and electronic text messaging. It's a play that will be premiered at Mixed Blood Theater next February. One of their company member's plays, Trunk, was recently performed in Chicago, a few years after IF first staged it.

One of the things that he's said is that if someone has millions of dollars to pour into a production, it damn well better be good, but that you can do a good production without all that money. How do you do it? You rely a lot on donated labor and donated or loaned items. Collaboration becomes the name of the game because you can't simply purchase what you need. You have to find a way to either do it yourself or provide other people with reason to care enough to participate.

It's a frightening thought, but why does art need so much money? The more money that gets poured into a show, the more an organization has to charge for tickets. The more you charge for tickets, the less accessible your art becomes.

Mind, I'm not being completely naïve here. As the wife of an actor, I can say it would be nice if it were possible to make more money in theater. However, I'd rather do with less than to have him not practice his art. We can do without a second car. We can do without a television and the associated cable bills. We can do without new clothes. We can't do without art, regardless of how much or little money is there.

When I look around my community, I see many others who have made the same choice. We have theater and art thriving in small communities around the country because no one is expecting to make millions--or even tens of thousands. Rather, they're concentrating on making enough money to let them make art.

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September 5, 2007

Quality of life will revitalize economy

Bridgette Redman

Lansing's mayor declared today "Lansing Symphony Orchestra Day." There was a dedication at City Hall in the morning and ensembles from the orchestra performed in locations throughout the city, including credit unions, the Capitol, the airport, the hospitals, the library, and the law school.

It's a fitting tribute to a professional orchestra that continues to thrive and is well-loved in the community. Last year, their long-time conductor and music director Gustav Meier retired and was replaced by Timothy Muffitt, who is also the music director of the Baton Rouge Symphony. I spoke with him last week about the upcoming season, a season they've dubbed "Feel the Power."

While we spent most of the conversation talking about music and the symphony, we also touched on arts and arts funding. He said something that struck a chord with me because of an earlier entry written here. A month or so ago, I questioned whether art could replace Oldsmobile as a pillar of the economy. I had my doubts--even while knowing that art was vital to the economy and that we have a strong, vibrant arts community here. What he said clarified something in my mind.
Muffitt said:

Michigan as a state tends to be a progressive group of people. Most people recognize that if we're going to jump start this economy, if we're going to revitalize the economy of Michigan, it has to start with a quality of life. Quality of life has a lot to do with how strong the arts scene is in any given community. When you look at all those lists of the places that are the most attractive life, they all have a great arts scene. I'm not just talking about the Symphony. I'm talking about Boarshead, our galleries, the things happening in the little cafes, the whole picture. For any state and any city to really revitalize itself from an economic perspective, we have to take care of the quality of life, which means a great and well-supported arts scene. Without that, there will be no revitalization of the economy. I think the people of Michigan know that. We do need to translate that support into dollars coming in the door, but I think we're moving in the right direction. I do believe this is a progressive group of people in our state and in our community.

While art isn't likely to be the income generator that Oldsmobile, state government, or education is, it can be the driving force that makes other industries profitable.


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August 30, 2007

Partying with Artists

Bridgette Redman

I'm going to depart from both of the two planned entries that I have in partial draft for today's post.

Instead of talking about weightier issues, I'm going to tell you about a party I went to last night. And if you'll bear with me, you'll see that it's not totally off subject for Flyover as the party had to do with both art and journalism.

The soiree took place at the historic Gem Theatre in downtown Detroit, in a beautiful section of the city near the new field for the Lions. More than 200 people packed into the cabaret-seating style theater enjoying a cocktail reception, a show, and then a dessert reception.

The show was the Oscar Wilde Award Night, sponsored and produced by a Detroit weekly, Between the Lines, to recognize excellence in local professional theater. The newspaper puts on an excellent party and representatives from the theater community from Detroit, Ann Arbor, Jackson, and Lansing turn out to celebrate.

The three reviewers from the newspaper reviewed 96 productions from 31 different professional companies. When announcing the nominations, Don Calamia, staff arts critic wrote:

For despite the second worst economy in the nation that seemingly kept a noticeable number of paying customers out of the seats and a governor who reneged on several million dollars of previously promised grant money, not one theater that Curtain Calls reviewed over the past few seasons shut its doors for financial reasons - despite numerous rumors to the contrary.

Instead, the Williamston Theatre set up shop in a sleepy little town near Lansing, and Who Wants Cake? snuck into Fabulous Ferndale with The Ringwald, a renovated home all its own. And StarBright Presents Dinner Theatre doubled its venues, one in southern Oakland County and another in northern Macomb County.

Call them crazy - and you wouldn't be the first - but these brave souls reflect the attitude of ALL Michigan thespians who believe the mitten state is a great place to live, work and raise a family - despite some major obstacles. So they stay and struggle - oftentimes for little money and even less recognition.

The staff at this newspaper understand their community and the environment it works in. More than one person expressed genuine surprise at receiving an award because, as they said, they didn't know anyone knew them. There was an amazement and gratitude that someone saw them and recognized their work.

For any in the journalism world who might wonder whether the arts community has noticed the cutback in arts coverage, let me share a moment with you. The master of ceremonies asked the newspaper's publishers to come to the stage to give out the publisher's award of excellence. Before the two women arrived at the lectern, the audience was on its feet, giving them a standing ovation. They recognized the commitment this newspaper has made to its art coverage and were eager to express their appreciation for it.

Earlier in the evening when I was talking to those same publishers about how thorough their arts coverage is, one of them said, "We're gay, we have to cover theater." A nearby actor came back with, "No, you don't have to, that's why it's great that you do."

Between the Lines is a newspaper that recognizes how vibrant the theater community is and how much coverage matters. Earlier this year, Calamia went to the publishers and said, "We need to do more." This from the critic who reviewed more than 70 shows, outstripping the two Detroit dailies and every other newspaper in that town. The publishers agreed with him. So they're soon launching Encore Michigan, a Website that will contain daily updates with new reviews every Monday morning.

Between the Lines is a shining beacon lighting the way to what is possible for newspapers to do. They demonstrate how to be part of the community while providing outstanding arts coverage. They understand their role in the ecosystem. While the artists may not always like what they say, they're grateful that someone is out there talking about their art, letting them know that they were heard, and telling others what is happening.

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July 26, 2007

Art as a community pillar

Bridgette Redman

I live in a community that is in the process of transforming itself with several visions competing with each other for what the future will look like.

Lansing had always prided its stability on its three-pronged economy. We had the state government, the university, and Oldsmobile. When one suffered, another usually thrived, keeping things in balance until adjustments could be made. Well, Oldsmobile is now gone and there is little of the auto industry left here.

So the question is asked--as it is in many places around the country--what will we look like now?

Some that I've talked to over the past few months want the arts to become a central pillar of the economy. There is a dream that if the many existing organizations were to collaborate and obtain civic support, the arts could start generating the money lost by the auto industry.

It's a tough argument.

On one hand, there is some pretty hard data that the arts do generate money. There is also no lack for artistically talented individuals. On the other hand, there are very few artistic venues that could be called commercially successful. The majority of art organizations survive because they have passionate individuals working for them that are willing to sacrifice to create art. They labor with little expectation of a financial return.

There has also been uneasy partnerships between businesses and arts organizations. I've read John's entries about the Savannah Symphony Orchestra with increasing uneasiness. It feels like I'm looking into a mirror and seeing one of our local organizations. An organization that was once considered a cornerstone of the local arts community has been struggling for years in large part because it has a board with influential members who do not support its artistic vision. It is a board that is filled with people who have been successful in commercial undertakings but who have not been active members of the arts community. Rather than joining in the struggle to find solutions to the challenges the organization faces, they issue threats about closing the organization and demand that people are cut from staff--even those people who are bringing in grant monies that far surpass their salaries.

While I love the vision of a community that considers art one of its prime characteristics, I have to question what a commercialization would do to the life of art in the community. Would it continue to be art? Or would it become just another form of entertainment?

Business must value its bottom line. Art must value struggle.

For myself, I'm going to pursue more reading on the concept of the gift economy versus the market economy and how those economies can happily marry each other.

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June 20, 2007

Why the Savannah Symphony Orchestra is gone

John Stoehr

It was during a recital by super-diva Isabel Bayrakdarian, perhaps one of the best known voices in the world thanks to her soaring soprano contributions to the soundtrack of "The Lord of the Rings" and to a recent dance club hit called "Angelicus," that I learned what might have gone wrong with the Savannah Symphony Orchestra.

By the time Bayrakdarian performed at the Savannah Music Festival this past spring, the orchestra, then the most important cultural institution in this historic city for almost half a century, had been bankrupt with no sign of re-forming for almost five years.

During intermission, I found myself engaged in a conversation with a former member of the symphony's board of directors. At the time, she knew me, but I didn't know this woman personally. I knew her by reputation only. She is a prominent figure in Savannah's cultural and philanthropic circles. I'll call her Linda.

As Linda and I gabbed about festival performances past, present and future, the topic of conversation turned to the lost symphony, as these conversations often do in the wake of the its 2003 Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which required complete liquidation of assets, with no chance of reorganization under legal protection. At one point, Linda made a comment that illuminated one of the key reasons for its collapse.

"My social life was ruined," Linda said.

Continue reading "Why the Savannah Symphony Orchestra is gone"

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June 15, 2007

Art in the American Outback: News Roundup

Bridgette Redman

THE MIDWEST

Sicko starts small
All right, so movies aren't the usual fare for Flyover, but this news item was so fitting our theme of the American Outback that it just had to be mentioned. Michael Moore's latest film is having its North American premiere not in New York or L.A., but in a small northern Michigan town of Bellaire. Tickets are $40 a piece and being sold in this town of fewer than 1,000 people.
(Thanks to Kevin Wright of the Traverse City Record-Eagle)

Promoting Wisconsin works
Three groups have joined forces to help encourage Wisconsin playwrights. They're hosting a Wisconsin Wrights New Play Project that will perform three premieres. " After weeks of intensive workshops, Normal Human Beings by Bruce Murphy, The Queen of Janesville by Greg Lawless and Recovering the Real Me by Kurt McGinnis Brown will receive staged readings in UW Vilas Hall's Hemsley Theatre from June 7 to 9, with 7:30 p.m. performances each night. Selected from a pool of more than 40 entries, these three finalists were scored by a team of expert readers, evaluated by a panel of judges, and finally ranked by lead judge and Madison native Bradley Whitford, the Emmy-winning actor of West Wing fame.

"Besides a public reading, Wisconsin Wrights finalists are awarded a week's stay at Madison's Edenfred Mansion and provided with professional dramaturges and directors to assist in their works' development. Once scripts are finalized, one of the three plays will be selected for inclusion in the Madison Repertory Theatre's 2007 New Play Festival."
(Thanks to Jacqueline West of Isthmus)

THE SOUTH

The troubled legacy of Rufus Thomas at Stax
"It's late February, and things are buzzing inside the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.
On the floor of Studio A, two dozen or so familiar figures are greeting each other with hugs and handshakes. Among them are Stax artists Isaac Hayes, Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper, songwriters Mack Rice and Bettye Crutcher, and label executive Al Bell. They've assembled for a press conference for European journalists who've flown in on a junket to cover the 50th anniversary of Stax."
(Thanks to Bob Mehr of the Memphis Commercial Appeal)

Atlanta's breakdancing scene attracts attention, but at what cost?
"Breakdancing surged into the mainstream the first time in 1983 when Jennifer Beals' artful exotic dancer (and welder) in Flashdance gave her Julliard audition some street cred. Her moves were ripped from the Rock Steady Crew, whose members appeared in the movie, breakdancing in alleyways and on sidewalks. ... But by 1985, breakdancing had all but become a joke. Witness Don Ameche backspinning at a nightclub in the 'Seniors Gone Wild' antics of 1985's 'Cocoon.' By then, the pop music audience had decided that headbanging was more dignified, and I started stealing David Lee Roth moves from 'Just a Gigolo.'"
(Thanks to Thomas Bell of Atlanta Creative Loafing)

THE NORTHEAST

Mysteries of patronage: The gift that keeps on taking
"If corroboration were necessary for F. Scott Fitzgerald's assured cliché that 'the very rich are different from you and me,' it is conspicuously available in the current exhibit at the Yale Center for British Art. The philanthropist and notable Yale benefactor Paul Mellon financed the Center's Louis Kahn building, and then he filled it. 'A Passion for British Art' constitutes a recreation of the opening of the museum thirty years ago, with almost everything on view acquired by him, or guided by the standards he applied."
(Thanks to Stephen Vincent Kobasa of the New Haven Advocate, New Haven, Conn.)


Talkin' Tags: An (Ex) Graffitti Artist Goes Public

"Compared with other small American cities, Burlington has a reputation for being hip and artsy. But when it comes to public perceptions of graffiti, that hip-hop-inflected, spray-paint-intensive artistic subculture -- fuhgeddaboudit. At least, that's the word from a former 'tagger.' He reports that average Burlingtonians don't have a clue about all the graffiti in their midst -- where it's done and who's doing it, let alone what those bubble letters mean. Then again, he doesn't really want them to find out."
(Thanks to Mike Ives of Seven Days, Burlington, Vermont)

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June 6, 2007

More of the Same -- Which is Good...Perhaps

Joe Nickell

Today, Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Americans for the Arts released detailed data from the third in a series of studies on the economic impact of the arts. Titled "Arts and Economic Prosperity III," the survey compiled data on the impact of non-profit arts organizations in 116 cities and counties, 35 multi-county regions, and five states across the nation during 2005.

The study is the third produced by Americans for the Arts; previous studies were published in 1994 and 2002.

This new one shows, essentially, the same thing that the previous two showed: that non-profit arts organizations contribute significantly to local economies. To quote the summary of the results:

"Nationally, the nonprofit arts and culture industry generates $166.2 billion in economic activity annually--a 24 percent increase in just the past five years. That amount is greater than the Gross Domestic Product of most countries. This spending supports 5.7 million full-time jobs right here in the U.S.--an increase of 850,000 jobs since our 2002 study. What's more, because arts and culture organizations are strongly rooted in their community, these are jobs that necessarily remain local and cannot be shipped overseas.

Our industry also generates nearly $30 billion in revenue to local, state, and federal governments every year. By comparison, the three levels of government collectively spend less than $4 billion annually to support arts and culture--a spectacular 7:1 return on investment that would even thrill Wall Street veterans."

Here in Missoula, MT, the results released today are particularly -- perhaps suspiciously -- promising. In the past five years, if we are to trust the results of the previous 2002 study and the current one, non-profit arts and culture organizations and their patrons have more than doubled their contribution to the local economy, from somewhere around $16 million per year to over $34 million.

I've lived here all that time, and things have indeed been good. But that good?

Maybe. Maybe not. A 2001 study by the RAND Corporation found that past attempts to quantify the economic impact of the arts (including the Americans for the Arts surveys) suffered from "noteworthy weaknesses" and "holes in the evidence."

Only time will tell whether this new study will stand up to the analysis of the stat-geeks among us.

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May 30, 2007

Art in the American Outback: the Southeast

John Stoehr

Moog is still vogue
"The Asheville Symphony Orchestra will honor the late Moog synthesizer creator (and Asheville resident) Robert Moog in a performance Saturday of Gustav Holst's 'The Planets.' In the orchestra's final Masterworks concert of the season, music director Daniel Meyer will lead a performance that features six Moog 'Little Phatty' synthesizers, which will execute the choral harmonies in 'Neptune, the Mystic' typically performed by a six-woman choir."
Thanks to Paul Clark of the Asheville Citizen-Times)

A beautiful eulogy to a guitar god no one's heard of
"Some prayers never reach the sky. Some wounds never heal. Sometime Friday night, maybe early Saturday morning, the World's Fading Man, proudly unreconstructed, got caught in life's fading twilight. There was nothing left in his field of vision, no curtain to block out the storm that had been raging for years. He could no longer see the exceptionally long shadow that he cast. He had done his job for 40 years. He did it better than most, indeed, a master of his craft. And he had served well, a natural-born man of merit and cool, the quintessential desperado under the eaves. But he was tired. It was time to retire. A sunnier clime beckoned. Sam Moss, 54, died on the couch in his living room. He was surrounded by books, music, memorabilia, guitars - all the personal treasures and manifestos of an extraordinary life led with passion and taste."
(Special thanks to Ed Bumgardner of the Winston-Salem Journal)

Piercing the veil of bling-bling
"Who is Daniel Johnson? His MySpace bio reveals a 28-year-old Florence label owner and prolific rapper heavy on intelligence and light on frills. But Johnson's identity is more complicated than that. The intricately woven tales on 'In the Face of Danger,' Johnson's latest CD, invite listeners into the minds of dueling personalities, one -- called Danger -- acutely maniacal, the other -- Dan Johns -- as cool as a beach breeze. On the CD, which will be released Thursday with a show at Group Therapy, it seems Danger and Johns have shaken hands and agreed to co-exist. Because he's away from the chain popping, champagne drinking and arrests of mainstream hip-hop, all Johnson has is his identity. Let the introductions begin."
(Thanks to Otis R. Taylor Jr. of The State)

Spend a day with a bunch of harpists and learn something
"Since the (American Youth Harp Ensemble in Richmond, Va.) formed as a nonprofit entity in late 1999, these young musicians have seen the world. The list of venues in which they've played includes Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center and European equivalents in London, Paris and Rome. A trip to Japan is tentatively scheduled for next year. Graduates of the program have attended Peabody, Oberlin and Shenandoah conservatories, among other schools. Still, the harp? Isn't that what Harpo Marx would play during those musical interludes in Marx Brothers movies? 'It has the potential to be more expressive than people would think,' Ediger-Kordzaia says. 'It's a surprising instrument. People don't realize how powerful it is. They're not sweet and pretty.'"
(Thanks to Dean Hoffmeyer of the Richmond Times-Dispatch)

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May 23, 2007

Art in the American Outback: the Southeast

John Stoehr

The underbelly of an opera house
A writer finds there's more to this venue than music. "The Wortham Theater Center in Houston has a few quirks . . . The three-hour opera ("Aida"), featuring sets and costumes by British fashion designer Zandra Rhodes, was riveting. But it can be a little seat-numbing. So midway through the first act, I removed the thick wallet from my back pocket, placed it on the floor of the center's Brown Theater and settled in for the rest of the performance. At intermission, I reached down to retrieve the wallet and accidentally pushed it through an air vent in the floor. While it was a stupid thing to do, it helped to discover I'm not alone."
(Thanks to Clifford Pugh who wrote this for the Houston Chronicle)

Avant-garde opera is popular in Augusta, Ga.?
Innovative productions of familiar operas are fueling an uptick in attendance, said Les Reagan, artistic director of the Augusta Opera, before a performance of "La Boheme." "The National Endowment for the Arts most recent survey of public participation said that opera audiences grew by 46.6 percent between 1982 and 2002. That's 20 years of growth, and Les credits innovators in the field. Theater and opera companies aren't modernizing the productions, like producers did when they based the hit Broadway musical 'Rent' on the centuries-old storyline and music. They're simply presenting them in new ways or making them more accessible for modern audiences."
(Thanks to Stacey Hudson of the Augusta Metro Spirit)

The case for negative thinking
A psychologist debunks the so-called law of attraction recently embraced by the likes of Oprah Winfrey. "According to this made-up law, your thoughts attract whatever they focus on - literally. Focus on Britney Spears' thong, feel what it would be like to have it tied around your face, prepare to receive it - and it will soon be smothering you! . . . Indeed, one could reasonably argue that it was George Bush's blind optimism and reliance on his 'gut' that allowed him to invade Iraq without listening to those who anticipated failure. The refusal to consider the negative has mired us more deeply than ever in the negative."
(Thanks to Cliff Bostock, columnist for Creative Loafing Atlanta)

What audiences really think
The Birmingham News conducted a poll of regular attendees to the Alabama Symphony Orchestra to see how its new maestro, Justin Brown, fared by the end of his debut season. "Superlatives being relative, it's safe to say that a mutual admiration society has sprung up between Brown and our panelists, all of whom are regular concertgoers and none of whom have a stake in the ASO as staff or board members."
(Thanks to Michael Huebner of the Birmingham News)

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May 16, 2007

Art in the American Outback: the Southeast

John Stoehr

How to (righteously) piss off a certain kind of Southerner
One day artist John Sims decided to create a work of art in which he dangled a Confederate flag from a noose swinging from a gallows. He called it "The Proper Way to Hang a Confederate Flag." It got some attention. The Sons of the Confederate Veterans demanded the work be removed from the Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science in Tallahassee. The museum demurred. The story doesn't end there, though. Flushed with confidence, Sims has invited performance artist Karen Finley to put on a seance to evoke the voices of the past to comment on the ole Stars and Bars. "I told her she should call up some African slaves and see what they have to say," Sims said. "I'm excited to see what happens and who turns out for this."
(Thanks to Mark Hinson of the Tallahassee Democrat)

More than framed posters of flowers and trees
A new hotel is downtown Memphis is using original artwork to enhance its decor. "The people at Westin thought about art from the very beginning," said Mark Weaver, an architect with Hnedak Bobo Group and lead designer for the project, as he showed a reporter through the building that bustled with activity. "They want a hotel that addresses all the senses, and art is a big component."
(Thanks to Fredric Koeppel of the Memphis Commercial Appeal)

Yet more attempts to seduce those elusive 'younger people'
Hoping to nurture a new crop of concert-goers, the San Antonio Symphony has launched an advertising campaign, along with programs and events, catered to teens and young adults. "Successfully appealing to young people could mean survival for the nation's orchestras. With that in mind, local symphony leaders have launched the rock 'n' roll-style ad campaign this season and, among other efforts, added audio clips to their Web site and started a 'Future Stars Competition' that will culminate today with three students joining the orchestra."
(Thanks to Michelle Koidin Jaffee of the San Antonio Express-News)

It's never too late to start
"At 25, Walter Kovshik reached a crossroads: Would his career be in music or business? He chose business. He faced a similar choice at 50. Did he want to continue his work as a fundraising consultant or revisit the world of classical music? This time, music won out -- at least temporarily. At the end of May, Kovshik will fly from Orlando to Fort Worth, Texas, to compete in the Fifth International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs, sponsored by the Van Cliburn Foundation. He will be competing against 74 other pianists from around the world."
(Thanks to Jean Patteson of the Orlando Sentinel)

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May 12, 2007

Art News from the Outback: The Midwest

Bridgette Redman

Putting it on the line in high school
Talk about kids taking risks: For an end-of-year fundraiser, they're doing a talent show fund-raiser featuring Broadway songs about teenagers. The audience gets to vote on the winners.
(Thanks to Lori Holcomb of the Battle Creek Enquirer)

Finding New Spaces
After the owner of their performance space was murdered in February (during a run of the ironically named world premiere, "Fatal Error"), Icarus Falling needed to find a new space for the rest of their season. They landed in a conference room of a local Internet services provider. It somehow seems apropros for a group whose season was themed "dot human."
(Thanks to Mike Hughes of the Lansing State Journal)

Sometimes it takes a person
Perhaps it is the nature of art itself that arts communities so often thrive on the work of individuals. It is usually the passion of individuals rather than the corporate underwriting or governmental support that makes the arts scene flourish or wither. In Aurora, one person with that sort of passion is gallery owner Dan Hites. "Hites believes Aurora already has a vibrant arts scene, and it just needs some nurturing. He sees himself as a facilitator -- that's what he did with Dreamerz in Wicker Park, he said, by giving away second floor space to theater groups and poets, and featuring local bands on his stage; that's what he hopes to do with River Breeze."
(Thanks to Andre Salles of The Beacon News)

Inflatable Theater
Don't sit in the front row for this performance. At least, don't sit there unless you're OK with being the target of inflatable people and flaming torches. "The show is unique in its dizzying combination of magic, ballet, juggling, bad jokes, physical comedy and the inflatables. At one point, Garbo -- a Maine native who has performed this show for 17 years -- climbs inside a large orange inflatable box and moves around on stage, oozing into the audience every chance he gets."
(Thanks to Benjamin Ray of Hillsdale Daily News)

Ballet Company turns 20
In a city currently obsessed with its returning American Idol finalist, the local newspaper hasn't forgotten its local ballet troupe, a company that turned 20 this year. It's a story in which dancers share some of their fond memories as they celebrate their anniversary with their spring concert.
(Thanks to Carol Azizian of The Flint Journal)

Reaching Out to Smaller Towns
Lansing is far from a metropolis, but its Wharton Center for the Performing Arts is certainly one of the largest performing arts venues in Michigan and in the top ten centers (at least as far as box office is concerned) in the country. According to this Traverse City article, they're now reaching out to bring their programs into communities around the state.
(Thanks to Traverse City Record Eagle)

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Theatre News - Criticism Archive



March 28, 2007

What makes a classic a classic?

Bridgette Redman

There are as many answers to that question as there are classics themselves. However, a textbook answer is that it has themes that are universal and endure beyond the moment of the play's first staging. Arthur Miller's The Crucible falls into the category, even when it is sometimes pigeonholed into being "about" the Salem Witch Trials or McCarthyism.

Mike Hughes of the Lansing State Journal asked the performers in Lansing Community College's production of the show why it is relevant today--making for an interesting read about a well-known play.

The director of The Crucible is also Artistic Director for the Peppermint Creek Players, a group that also opened Hedwig and the Angry Inch last weekend. It was a show that also had new relevancy for area theater-goers. In recent weeks, Michigan has had a hate crime killing of a gay man, a business that supported the LBGT community forced to close down, and a transsexual professor fired from Spring Arbor College. Perhaps sometimes we could wish that art didn't need to be so relevant.

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Music News - Criticism Archive



March 23, 2007

Opera in the Outback

Bridgette Redman

While interviewing the director of an upcoming opera at Michigan State University, we got sidetracked into a conversation about how exciting cultural events are constantly taking place outside of the major cultural centers. Next weekend, MSU is performing the university premiere of a Spanish-language opera, Florencia en el Amazonas.

It's a show that has created a lot of buzz for them within the opera community all around the world. In addition to several performances with preview lectures by the composer, Daniel Catán, they will be webcasting live the April 1 performance. They've also opened up a blog that all cast and crew members were invited to contribute to throughout the process.

Director Melanie Helton has had several conversations with the composer in the weeks leading up to the performance. One of the things that he told her was that the New York Metropolitan Opera already has plans to program this opera in the next couple years--after they find the perfect soprano. Helton pointed out that Lansing audience can leave "with the idea that they've got a little bit of a jump on the Met."

Not that I need to tell the audience of this blog that exciting cultural events are taking place outside of New York.

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Theatre News - Criticism Archive



March 19, 2007

Savannah Actor's Theatre

John Stoehr

I wanted to add this clip of a local theater troupe, because I could. Technology is wonderful. Seriously, this is a case in which young actors newly graduated from an art school taking the risk of creating theater that's challenging and sometimes downright weird. And it's working. High schoolers are being drawn to the theater. High schoolers! Something is right.

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Arts News Archive



March 9, 2007

Arts News from the Outback 03.09.07

John Stoehr

Critical ethics?
A Seattle art critic accused of trading reviews for art: An ethics lesson for all of us, and a sign of a greater need for transparency, accountability and trust -- even from critics.

"In the last 20 years, daily-newspaper editors have lost interest in critical reviews, asking writers for more trend pieces, profiles, and investigative reports. Last year, when [Matthew] Kangas wrote 20 reviews of regional exhibitions in the Seattle Times, the staff art critic Sheila Farr wrote only five, according to the paper's online archives--she wrote other kinds of stories, such as a three-day series about Dale Chihuly, which she worked on with another reporter and a team of researchers. Given this disparity, Kangas can be seen as a friend to the art community in Seattle.

"The emphasis on reporting instead of criticism, or in addition to criticism, has dragged critics into the same spotlight reporters work under, where lapses of judgment are firing offenses. Today, being embedded is looked at with suspicion, and being detached is more in vogue. Each position certainly has its merits. But the industry is still struggling to combine the two approaches in a way that keeps critics passionate, engaged, and knowledgeable, without allowing their biases to be, or to appear to be, personal or financial.
(Thanks to Jen Graves of the Seattle Stranger)

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Arts Issues for Journalists Archive



March 8, 2007

Newspapers as ecosystem

Bridgette Redman

Throughout the NEA Institute, we constantly heard how theater is an ecosystem, not a hierarchy.

I'm coming to believe the same of newspapers, especially when it comes to arts coverage. In Lansing for the past week and a half, arts coverage has focused on the murder of Robert Busby, a beloved artist, businessman, and community leader. His memorial service this past Tuesday drew more than 1,100 people on a cold afternoon in the middle of a workday.

The coverage of the events from the finding of his body to his memorial was truly outstanding. At the daily paper, there were numerous stories (more than 35 in a 7-day period) written from several different departments--feature stories, crime, entertainment, columnists, and the editorial page. There were videos posted on the Website and several mid-day updates each day. Nearly every single story had reader response to it. In letters to the editor, readers described the coverage as giving them solace.

Most importantly, the coverage focused on Busby himself, with only minimal coverage being given to his killer. Instead, the newspaper covered his death, the impact he had on the community, and what his loss is going to mean to Old Town, to jazz musicians, to visual artists, and to theaters. The coverage showed a deep understanding of the community and why this quiet man who was rarely in the headlines before his death meant so much to so many people.

Eight days after his death, the weekly newspaper that used to have its office two doors down from Robert's apartment and gallery came out with its dedication to him. His picture adorned their front cover and I picked it up wondering what more could possibly be written that hadn't already been said. What I found was coverage of a different sort. They printed a lengthy biography of the man, a historical retrospective on his life. They emphasized his role as an artist and patron of the arts.

Yes, the Lansing State Journal and the Pulse are competitors, but in this case, both of them had something valuable to contribute to the biggest and most heart-rending arts story of the year in Lansing. The community would have been worse off without either of them.

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Arts News Archive



Arts News from the Outback 03.08.07

John Stoehr

Art and the Patriot Act collide
"The legal battle with the Department of Justice that artist Steve Kurtz is embroiled in has implications not only for artists but, by extension, for anyone engaged in outside-the-box public discourse that challenges established convention. ... In May 2004, Kurtz's wife died in their Buffalo home. Police who responded to his 911 call noticed scientific materials, including petri dishes, in the house and notified the FBI, who confiscated Kurtz's computer, books and components of CAE projects under the Patriot Act. Analysis showed that his wife died of natural causes, and that the microorganisms impounded were harmless and readily available from biological supply houses. Lacking bioterrorism evidence, the FBI charged Kurtz with mail fraud and wire fraud -- based on his alleged receipt of the bacteria from University of Pittsburgh scientist Robert Ferrell -- and each of them faces a possible 20-year sentence."
(Thanks to Mary Thomas of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

What an individual can mean to a community
The philanthropist, politician and newspaper publisher of the Riverton Ranger in Wyoming, Bob Peck, is honored by educators, state legislators and journalists.
(Thanks to Joan Barron of the Star-Tribune in Casper, Wyoming)

Finding the personalities in a national celebration
"James Nowlan had never played the bagpipes or any other instrument when he joined the Territorial Irish Army, which is similar to the National Guard in the United States. He was 16 when he joined -- not unusual then for a lad from rural Ireland -- and by the time he turned 18, he was skilled enough to play at a wedding or funeral. By age 19, he was good enough to be appointed as pipe major of the Irish Army Pipe Band. Now 76, the Lancaster resident is one of the region's most renowned pipers and is the founder and pipe major of the General Michael Collins Memorial Pipe Band. ... For years, Nowlan has been a star in the annual Lexington St. Patrick's Day parade."
(Thanks to Margaret Buranen of the Lexington Herald-Leader)

New conductor to take orchestra into the future
"Andreas Delfs, conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, will become principal conductor of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra next season. He takes over a program that has been without a permanent conductor since Samuel Wong stepped down two years ago. Delfs will take the podium for half of the Halekulani Masterworks series this fall. Delfs is known for pulling orchestras into the technological present and performing future, for example, by placing the Milwaukee symphony on iTunes."
(Thanks to Burl Burlingame of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin)

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Arts News Archive



March 6, 2007

Arts News from the Outback 03.06.07

Bridgette Redman

Something more than stand-up
The one-man show "The Male Intellect: An Oxymoron?" manages to reach beyond the superficiality of stand-up with its storytelling. It's a show that riffs on female logic and macho instincts.
(Thanks to Michael Morain of the Des Moines Register)

Quick writing
Also from Des Moines, a group has formed the 711 Theater Project, an endeavor in which playwrights have seven days to write and produce an 11-minute play. It's part of a trend where more and more groups are holding what amounts to speedwrighting contests.
(Thanks again to Michael Morain of the Des Moines Register)

She swashes buckles with the best of them
It's not surprising that the Society of American Fight Directors has given a woman status as a Fight Master. What is surprising is that it took them until 2006 and they have only one.
(Thanks to Jackie Demaline of the Cincinnati Enquirer)

Fringe depends on where you are
When discussing the Fringe Festival in Cincinnati, the artistic director shows that he understands cultural relativism, "We are the fringe of Cincinnati arts. That's our definition. It's different for every city."
(Thanks to Jackie Demaline of the Cincinnati Enquirer)

Fairies and food fights
Kalamazoo artists plan to make mischief with a performance that combines fairy tales and food fights. The artists? The Ballet Arts Ensemble and the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra. They've definitely found a way to present something different to draw new audiences.
(Thanks to Nicolas Stephenson of Kalamazoo Gazette)

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Arts News Archive



March 5, 2007

Arts News from the Outback

John Stoehr

Anna Nicole isn't alone
"A lawyer for James Brown's partner says an agreement has been reached over obtaining DNA samples from the late soul singer's body. Brown's trustees wanted DNA samples to help sort out several paternity claims made against the singer since he died two months ago."
(Thanks to The State, the daily of Columbia, S.C.)

Remembering a local legend
"[Lewis Anderson] Muse was black, the rest of the Tides were white. Although he appeared with the Tides only a few times -- never on television -- Muse was a popular entertainer who sang, played the ukulele, danced and told tall tales for two generations of fans of all colors. His mix of blues, country and pop standards made him a radio and festival favorite for six decades. This year marks the 25th anniversary of his death, but his voice and music can still be heard on CD and on the Internet."
(Thanks to Ralph Berrier Jr. of the Roanoke Times)

The (literally) crumbling state of arts education
"The Cleveland School of the Arts needs help from Halle Berry, Paul Newman and, especially, you. After all, the kids there are among the best and most talented attending the city's public schools. I can't think of a reason anyone would deny them firstrate classrooms and performance spaces. Every morning, some 630 students journey from every corner of the city to enter a 97-year-old building that is falling down around them. Literally. It's one of the worst school buildings in the region."
(Thanks to Sam Fulwood, columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Work by former columnist for altweekly made into major play
"'Your Negro Tour Guide,' the one-woman play adapted from the personal archives of University of Cincinnati professor and former CityBeat columnist, Kathy Y. Wilson, is scheduled to be performed Monday night at Playhouse in the Park. The play is adapted from her anthology, 'Your Negro Tour Guide: Truths in Black and White,' a collection of columns tackling the issues of race, class and gender in and beyond Cincinnati."
(Thanks to Ryan McLendon of the University of Cincinnati student newspaper The News Record)

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Theatre News - Criticism Archive



March 2, 2007

After the Storm

Bridgette Redman

In one of the NEA Arts Journalism Insitute sessions, Ben Cameron expounded on how the original vision for theater non-profits is that shows would begin on Broadway and then make their way out to the non-profits. Instead, the opposite has happened. Shows are now being created in regional theaters and then make their way to Broadway, a place where only the safe, money-makers appear.

So it's not too surprising that people who for many years made their careers in New York are heading back to their hometowns. Mark Ruhala, an artist who choreographed some of NEA Chairman Dan Gioia's poetry has returned to his hometown where he is bringing experimental dance and minimalist theater to young people. This weekend they open the critically acclaimed Once On This Island, a musical the town has yet to see.

Earlier this week, the composers Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty hosted a benefit for Katrina victims and the documentary "After the Storm," a film version about how Katrina survivors produced their musical one year after the hurricane:

After The Storm is a non-profit Film/Theater project designed to bring hope and financial aid to children and young adults of New Orleans. A feature documentary follows a company of young, non-professional actors from New Orleans as they stage a musical play one year after the levees broke and changed their lives. The film will then be used as a springboard to launch a nationwide program encouraging high school drama clubs and community theaters to raise money for the established 501(c)3. All proceeds from both the play and the film will go to After The Storm Foundation.

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Arts News Archive



March 1, 2007

Arts News from the Outback

John Stoehr

Is Welser-Most headed home?
"The announcement [last week] that Ioan Holender will step down as head of the Vienna State Opera in 2010 has revved the rumor mill about his successor. The two earliest, and likeliest, names being tossed in the air are Franz Welser-Most, the Austrian music director of the Cleveland Orchestra, and Neil Shicoff, the American tenor who appears often at the Staatsoper, as the opera house is called."
(Thanks to Donald Rosenberg, classical music critic of the Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Norman Rockwell goes to Roanoke
"The Art Museum of Western Virginia took the wraps off a whole bin full of previously undisclosed pictures and paintings Monday, including one by someone almost everyone has heard of: Norman Rockwell. The famed illustrator, who painted hundreds of covers for the Saturday Evening Post, has become increasingly prized by serious art collectors in recent years. The humorous, tables-turning "Framed," which depicts museum portraits gazing at an unsuspecting museum worker, is one of several Rockwell did on museum subjects. It was purchased for the museum, apparently in 2002, by the Horace G. Fralin Charitable Trust. The trust has bought dozens of paintings for the museum in recent years."
(Thanks to Kevin Kittredge, arts reporter for the Roanoke Times and a 2006 fellow of the NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Classical Music)

Critic bemoans samey season of orchestral music in Dallas
"One doesn't want to belabor political correctness, but in a city that's a gateway to and from Latin America, shouldn't the DSO feel a little guilty about not programming a single composer from south of the Rio Grande? And can it really be going a whole season without a single work composed by a woman?"
(Thanks to Scott Cantrell, classical music critic for the Dallas Morning News)

Still no laurels for Chicks in the South
"Yes, the Dixie Chicks got a big publicity boost and a show of support from their peers when they picked up five Grammys this month, but their controversial Bush-bashing remarks in 2003 still leave them on the outs when it comes to radio airplay. It's a kind of perpetual banishment that leaves Chicks fans questioning the consequences of free speech, although at least one fan doesn't place the blame on radio stations. "It's not the radio stations. It's the listeners. If they (stations) play the Dixie Chicks they get all these people who complain. It's just crazy," says veterinary pathologist and Chicks fan Dr. Kelly Boyd. Boyd said the pressure tactics are like a form of domestic terrorism. "They're terrorizing these people for exercising their freedom of speech -- all in the name of patriotism. If you're patriotic, you should be able to say anything you want."
(Thanks to Michael Lollar of the Memphis Commercial Appeal)

Bart Cook, right-hand-man to Jerome Robbins, speaks freely
"Robbins died in 1998, and Cook -- in Houston last week to set The Concert at Houston Ballet -- still bristles when he remembers Robbins' studio methods. 'Many roles were done on me and given to other men, which was not very nice," Cook said. "He was a complicated man. ... He could be explosive and make people cry.'"
(Thanks to Molly Glentzer of the Houston Chronicle)

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Arts News Archive



February 28, 2007

Breaking News: NH orchestra cancels season

John Stoehr

Scott Brooks of the New Hampshire Union Leader reports today that "the New Hampshire Symphony Orchestra is cancelling all of its upcoming performances this season and may not play next year, either, if new revenues don't emerge, its trustees say."
(Thanks to Doug McLennan of artsjournal.com)

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Arts News Archive



February 27, 2007

Arts News from the Outback

John Stoehr

Buffalo News weighs in on Albright-Knox sell-off
"The bottom line is this: The Albright-Knox Art Gallery has a worldwide reputation for its collection of modern art, and it can either polish that reputation or stagnate and watch its luster fade and its international visitor drawing power erode. Polishing requires money, and the gallery board has decided rightly to focus on its core mission of exhibiting, preserving and collecting modern and contemporary art - and to find the money for that by auctioning off parts of the collection that don't tightly fit the core mission."
(Thanks to the Buffalo News, in which this editorial appeared Saturday)

Fisk University poised to sell prized O'Keeffe amids calls for higher bids
"The cash-strapped university is seeking to sell this painting ['Radiator Building -- Night, New York'] and Marsden Hartley's 1913 'Painting No. 3' from the Alfred Stieglitz Collection donated to the school by O'Keeffe in 1949. In a deal announced last week, the O'Keeffe Museum would ... buy the O'Keeffe work for $7 million. But the art market is surging right now, with some works selling for record prices -- including one Willem de Kooning painting, 'Woman III,' that sold for a staggering $137.5 million last fall. This has led some observers to wonder if Fisk might not be letting go of 'Radiator Building' at a price that amounts to a fire sale."
(Thanks to Jonathan Marx, staff writer for the Tennessean)

Lexington, like many midsized cities, exploring ways culture boosts prestige
"As cooperation among Lexington museums picks up for the 2010 World Equestrian Games and the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial celebration, their relationships could come to change the cultural life of Lexington. Many midsize cities that compete with larger, better-known neighbors are exploring ways to make themselves stand out to visitors from far away and to residents who could be tempted to drive elsewhere. Consider Dayton -- a city just a few hours from Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland -- where some arts and cultural groups have grown stronger by combining or by partnering with businesses and schools."
(Thanks to Jamie Gumbrecht, culture writer for the Lexington Herald-Leader)

Joe Boyd, underground rock's invisible man
"It's an odd query coming from the Harvard-educated muso who cut Pink Floyd's first record, produced Nick Drake, made the definitive documentary about Jimi Hendrix and helmed R.E.M.'s best album. But Boyd's varied tastes and easy manner have served him well over the course of a nearly five-decade career. From leading the blues revival to capturing the zeitgeist of Swinging London, helping midwife the English Folk boom to prowling the frontiers of world music, Boyd has been a significant if relatively unknown figure in the history of modern music, serving as a promoter, producer, label owner, filmmaker and self-described 'eminence grise.'"
(Thanks to Bob Mehr of the Memphis Commercial Appeal)

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Uncategorized Archive



February 23, 2007

Hamsters and the Internet

Bridgette Redman

There are so many ways to create art and artists are constantly exploring in every medium.

Two Lansing, Michigan playwrights are premiering a show this evening that grew out of an e-mail conversation. They began riffing on the banalities of overheard office conversation and from there, a play grew. What it has to do with tormented hamsters remains to be seen. When asked what he'd like the audience to leave with, Playwright and Icarus Falling Artistic Director Jeff Croff responded with, "I would like them to leave with less money ... er, actually, I'd prefer they leave with the need to talk about the show with friends over coffee. I'd like them to leave with a bit of exhaustion and wonder. I'd like them to leave that poor little hamster alone."

On another related note, the interview for this story ended up being a lot of fun. Since the play had its genesis in e-mail, we decided to do the interview as a three-way chat between myself and the two playwrights. It was a medium we were all comfortable with and it fostered a great deal of banter and perhaps more spontaneity than we might have had in a more traditional format. As a journalist, it also helped to have all their responses typed and saved and be able to concentrate during the interview on asking questions and talking with both people.

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Arts News Archive



Update: Group filing suit to stop Buffalo sale

John Stoehr

But gallery president defends right to sell
"Through a series of petitions and e-mail campaigns, the group Buffalo Art Keepers has been asking gallery members to request a meeting with the Albright-Knox leaders. The group also plans to file a petition in State Supreme Court early next week to force the gallery to stop the sale, according to Carl Dennis, Art Keepers leader and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet."
(Thanks to Colin Dabkowski, arts writer for the Buffalo News, and to Lee Rosenbaum's CultureGrrl blog on artsjournal.com)

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Arts News Archive



Arts News from the Outback

John Stoehr

Trucking art out of Buffalo
"The Albright-Knox Art Gallery released a list of 196 items that will be sold this spring at Sotheby's New York City auction house. In addition to antiquities, the auctions will include artworks from Africa, China, Southeast Asia, India and pre-Columbian North America, as well as 19 master paintings and European works of art from the 14th through 16th centuries. The works extend from the 13th century B.C. to the early 20th century. Highlights of the list were published by Sotheby's in November, and included the classical sculpture "Artemis and the Stag," valued at $5 million to $7 million, and a collection of Chinese porcelain."
(Thanks to By Colin Dabkowski, arts writer for the Buffalo News)

Buffalo sale exemplifies corporatization of art in America
"The message is, once again, that those entrusted with the sacred task of safeguarding our public patrimony have become as irresponsible as the money-grubbing executives who have given corporate America such a bad name. The works of art in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery don't belong to the directors or curators, who move in and out of communities as job opportunities present themselves. Nor are they the property of the trustees, who are meant to hold them in trust for the people of Buffalo, but who now show that they cannot be trusted.
(Thanks to Tom L. Freudenheim, who wrote this for the Wall Street Journal)

The link between culture, business and civic character
Here is an excellent example of cultural journalism that lays out for the reader why culture is important. Instead of just examining the quality of a museum exhibit, it examines what it means to a community. Lexington, Ky., will be the home of the World Games in 2010, an international horse competition and exhibition. Instead of just opening their doors and expecting people to come, culture writer Jamie Gumbrecht reports that museum administrators are being proactive in their pursuit of compelling exhibitions, economic impact and impacting how the world sees Lexington. This is the first part of a two-part series.
(Thanks to Jamie Gumbrecht, culture writer for the Lexington Herald-Leader)

All arts is local
As finalists for "American Idol" were selected, hometown newspapers began coverage of locals trying to became America's next celebrity. In San Antonio, columnist Jeanne Jackle writes about Haley Scarato's bid for the spotlight in the San Antonio Express-News. Here in Savannah, my colleague Amy Morris wrote a frontpage story for the Savannah Morning News on how Stephanie Edwards fought her way onto one of TV's most popular shows.

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Arts News Archive



February 21, 2007

Arts News from the Outback

John Stoehr

Utilizing an already artful community
The University of Kentucky is using its outreach infrastructure to create centers throughout the state that focus on the arts. It's the first program of its kind in the U.S. The reasoning behind the initiative, headed by Stephanie Richards, who receives Governor's Award in the Arts today, is the that arts are good for the economy and good for a community's quality of life. Moreover, the program aims to identify and bring forth artistic endeavors already happening in communities. "Art, for generations, has been in the mechanics of the culture and day-to-day life, so the quilting was just part of the mechanics to survive when they needed heat," Richards says. "They didn't consider it art. Painting, oral historians and storytellers. ... When we first started doing our story gatherings, people said to be careful because people will be afraid to tell their stories.
(Thanks to Rich Copley, culture writer for the Lexington Herald-Leader)

Gordon Wright (1934-2007), maestro, antiquarian and mountainman, took classical music to corners of the earth
"The body of Gordon Wright was found by friends Wednesday night on the front porch of his cabin in Rainbow Valley near Indian south of Anchorage. The longtime conductor of the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra appeared to have died from natural causes, state troopers said. He was 72. Wright lived alone in a one-room cabin off the power grid that was inaccessible by road. Friends, including this writer, brought the body out to the community parking area by sled, a quirky and utterly Alaska exit for a quirky Alaska character, a musician and a wit who, friends say, would surely have smiled at the antics and affection that accompanied his grand finale."
(Thanks to Mike Dunham, arts editor of the Anchorage Daily News)

Can public art really reflect a city's identity?
"One danger in pursuing public art that authentically reflects who we are, even assuming we can figure that out, is that it can easily become a public art by which we inauthentically imitate ourselves -- or a stereotype of ourselves."
(Thanks to Mike Greenburg, a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News)

Composers live outside New York?
"Composer-critic Virgil Thomson once wrote that to be an 'American composer,' one simply had to be an American and write any kind of music you like. By that standard, at least, Atlanta is a hotbed of contemporary classical sounds. While there's no reliable estimate of how many composers operate in the metro area, at least 120 people have added their names to lists kept by the two most prominent Web sites for local composers. It's a scene that seems perpetually ready to blast off."
(Thanks to Pierre Ruhe, staff writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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Arts Issues for Journalists Archive



February 20, 2007

Removing the NEA from the Culture Wars

John Stoehr

We here at Art.Rox wouldn't normally post a story from the LA Times about a federal agency in Washington, D.C. But given this whole venture into the blogosphere was inspired by our time at the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at the University of Southern California, we figured an article looking back at Dana Gioia's (highly successful) first term as chairman of the NEA would be appropriate.

Remaking the National Endowment for the Arts: " ... (Dana) Gioia has had a profound effect on the NEA, converting the once-beleaguered federal program into the nation's main engine for integrating arts and education. It's a remarkable turnaround for an agency whose mere name was once enough to get Newt Gingrich and other social conservatives foaming at the mouth. Controversial exhibits, including Robert Mapplethorpe's homoerotic photographs and Andres Serrano's picture of a plastic crucified Christ in a jar of urine, made the NEA the central battleground in the 1990s culture wars."
(Thanks to Scott Martelle, staff writer for the Los Angeles Times)

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Visual Art News - Criticism Archive



Madison museum gets major gift from donor with no ties to city. Foreshadowing a future trend?

John Stoehr

Art reflecting local culture: A collector of post-1960s American prints told the Capital Times in Madison, Wisc., that Madison's sophisticated counter-cultural character is more suited to his collection than a city like Atlanta, whose museums chafed at the word "stoned" being used in the art.

The result is a gift to the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art of three prints: Andy Warhol's 1982 portfolio of six colorful silk-screened dollar signs called "$1"; Robert Rauschenberg's 1989 color photogravure entitled "Soviet/American Array III"; and James Rosenquist's 1987 black-and-white aquatint and etching called "The Prickly Dark."

The benefactor is Stephen Dull (pronounced DOOL), a high-powered corporate executive for the VF Corp., a company based in Greensboro, N.C., whose brand names include Wrangler and Lee blue jeans, North Face outerwear and Nautica clothing. Dull is looking for an institution to give his entire collection to in future years. His collection includes works by Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Jim Dine, Claes Oldenburg and Kiki Smith. Will this gift inspire others to donate large collections to musueums in the American Outback?

"Absolutely," Dull told the newspaper. "I've been attracted to what the museum is doing for a long time. I've seen many other museums, and this is a really tremendous institution. The new building is just a manifestation of the commitment to and support from the community to contemporary art. To me, this is about finding a place where art has the place in other people's lives that it has had in mine."

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Visual Art News - Criticism Archive



February 19, 2007

Good reads

Joe Nickell

Call it the curse of topicality. The week that North Carolina's Council of State is forced to vote on changes in lethal injection protocols, a regional company stages Dead Man Walking. Read about how this all came together, here.

There's a fun interview with poet Andrei Codrescu at the Idaho Statesman site; check it out here.

Apparently Monet plays well in the outback: the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors bureau announced that "the Monet in Normandy exhibition at the North Carolina Museum of Art injected almost $24.3 million dollars in tourism revenue into the Wake County economy - more than double the initial projection." Just think....with all that money, maybe they could buy a Monet of their own! Anyway, read about it here.

Arts advocates in Kansas were relieved to learn that Gov. Matt Blunt has included money for the arts -- a little over $8 million -- in his annual budget recommendation. Though it's a pitance, some had feared the gov was going to stiff the arts completely. Read more here.

Floridians, apparently, love Florida -- Richard Florida, that is: "The Miami-based John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has picked Tallahassee and two other communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers, Charlotte, N.C., and Duluth, Minn./Superior, Wisc., as the launch sites of the new Knight Creative Communities Initiative. It's a partnership with social theorist Richard Florida, author of 'The Rise of the Creative Class,' and Leon County's business, education and government leaders to enhance the area's economic base beyond government and education." Read more about it here.

Finally, at risk of self-promo, here is a review I wrote of the most recent performance by the Missoula Symphony Orchestra. I've gotten notes of thanks and praise from members of the chorus and the audience; I've also gotten angry letters telling me I need to show "fealty" (!?!?) to the orchestra and that reviews like this "will shut down this valued institution." So I guess a mixed-bag performance inspired a mixed-bag review which resulted in mixed responses!

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