FlyOver: April 2008 Archives
Note: This article discusses an event in Charleston, S.C., called Kulture Klash 2, a kind of art party that I argue could be a model for "authentic" branding as posited by Bill Breen in a 2007 article in Fast Company. Inspiration for this piece comes from Andrew Taylor's hugely insightful blog on arts and the business of the arts and my fellow Flyoverstani Bridgette Redman's August post about authenticity and audience connection.
Song of Experience
Kulture Klash 2 and the authenticity of an emerging arts brand
By John Stoehr, Charleston City Paper
One way of explaining the astounding popularity of the iPod, YouTube, and Facebook is that they feel authentic.
We, the consumers, are in control. We pick the songs we want to hear, the videos we want to see, and the people we want to befriend.
In a consumerist country saturated by corporate rhetoric, marketing hype, and the commercialization of you-name-it, these devices might offer respite from the out-of-control anxieties of a seemingly out-of-control marketplace. They can provide a comforting break from a heavy psychic burden -- the knowledge that someone, somewhere at any given time is willing to say anything to sell you something.
For those of us in GenX or GenY (if those are still useful terms), this is old news.
We were raised on TV. We've become intimately familiar with the verisimilitudes of bullshit.
We grew up wanting to know that there's more out there than commercials for toys, games, and breakfast cereals interspersed with Saturday morning cartoons. We eventually found ourselves searching -- for what, we weren't really sure. Whatever it was, though, it had to be something we could trust and believe in. It had to be something, as a sage songwriter once put it, that's "really, really real."
When it comes to the arts -- and when I say "arts," I mean all of them, from classical ballet to parkour, from Greek tragedy to krumping -- it's no surprise to see people of this younger generation being put off by the standard strategies of arts marketing.
Marketers typically tout the product -- good actors, good singers, good whatever. A classic case in point concerns the symphony orchestra, which has, since the postwar era, used the term "masterworks" to describe endless performances of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.
Hyping the best still sounds like hype, and unfortunately for symphony orchestras, that hype is increasingly falling on deaf ears. For young patrons (i.e., those born after 1964, the last year of the Baby Boomer generation), sensibility, quality, and taste are for the consumers, not producers, to judge. The more arts groups adopt the superlative rhetoric of toothpaste commercials and all-weather tires, the less young people are likely to listen.
I know, I know. Generalizing is a fool's errand, especially when it comes to the ambiguities of generational difference.
But I can't help wondering about these things in the days running up to the second Kulture Klash.
Kulture Klash is a one-night event that might be best described as a semi-annual party featuring visual artists, dancers, musicians, and performers gathered in one place at one time. Organizers Scott Debus (artist and art dealer) and Olivia Pool (editor of ART Magazine) were aiming to invite their friends, and the friends of their friends, to participate in a single night of camaraderie, interaction, and conversation -- oh, and partying.
"We wanted to bring this group together to encourage community and dialogue between artists," Debus says. "We want the graffiti kids to know about the palm tree artists and the palm tree artists to know about the graffiti kids.
"Usually, they clash," he continues, "but this is about collaboration."
After the jump, read about how Kulture Klash 2 might be a model of "authentic" branding.
When TV emerged in the 1950s, the death knell was tolling.
When VHS ascended in the '70s, Gabriel was calling.
When DVDs triumphed in the '90s, theaters were knocking on heaven's door.
But death? Not yet.
This time, though, things are different. Movie theaters are facing a perfect storm of cultural, economic, and technological change that's been brewing for the past half decade.
International piracy (bootlegs popping up on the Shanghai black market), advancements in home entertainment systems (56-inch high-definition TV, DVRs), and improvements in broadband and the Internet (cable on demand, streaming video from Hulu and Netflix) -- these have conspired to undermine the value of going to the movies.
But movies aren't going away. You could even say it's a great time to own a theater, says Mike Furlinger of the Terrace Theatre in Charleston, S.C.
The same technological advancements that have come to threaten theater venues are the very advancements that will make them more relevant and profitable, he says.Along with mainstream movies, theaters everywhere are trying to make themselves unique by subscribing to live broadcasts of special timely events, like sports and opera, as well as films made for niche-market demographics, such as fashion-obsessed teenage girls, pro-wrestling freaks, NASCAR fans, or Japanimation aficionados.
After the jump, read more about movie theaters taking steps to use high-tech to attract viewers, plus other companies enticing audiences with fashionable amenities and plain old-fashioned aggressive business tactics in order to break into the Charleston market.
Even since Gian Carlo Menotti severed ties in the early 1990s between The Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, and its American counterpart, Spoleto Festival USA, based in Charleston, S.C., there has been speculation about how to get the two back together.
After Menotti's death at the age of 95 on Feb. 1, 2007, speculation has grown. Last Monday, it swelled to its highest pitch yet.
That's when the mayor of Spoleto, Italy, and the new director of The Festival of Two Worlds Foundation (it recently changed names) arrived in the Lowcountry to meet Mayor Joe Riley and tourism officials at the Convention and Visitors Bureau to discuss ways of boosting commerce between the two cities.
The meeting was also seen as the latest step in "reunifying" the two festivals. The next day's Post and Courier announced that "Spoleto may rejoin with Italian roots" and "Officials with Umbrian festival visit Charleston, discuss reunion."
Strange thing, though. No one from Spoleto Festival USA was there.
And even if someone from the American organization had been present, what does "reunification" really mean? Beyond the obvious and so far largely symbolic, sentimental, and romantic appeal of re-establishing cultural ties with the Old World, that remains unclear.
[. . . ]In an interview Thursday, Nigel Redden [executive director of Spoleto Festival USA] said the whole notion of reunification is something of a misnomer. The festivals have always been separate organizations, with different administrators, boards, fund-raising strategies, and so on. In the past, they did indeed share artists -- chamber musicians, the Westminster Choir, and even some operas. That may recommence, but a merging of the two organizations has never been a part of their history.
"They have always been quite different organizations," he said.
Read the rest of this article at Charleston City Paper.
A report in yesterday's Post and Courier implied that the new director of the Festival of Two Worlds Foundation, the Italian sister of Charleston's Spoleto Festival USA, was going to scour the Holy City's theaters searching for a good place for an opera in the 2008 festival:
He [Giorgio Ferrara] said there are also plans to produce an opera at Spoleto, which will be held May 23 to June 8. "I will visit all the theaters in Charleston to see what will fit and how we can collaborate," Ferrara said.
Strange thing, though. The article doesn't reference anyone from Spoleto Festival USA, not Nigel Redden, the executive director, not even one of the public relations people.
So I called Spoleto to see if there's anything to this. Paula Edwards, director of marketing and PR, told me yesterday that she didn't know anything about it, but would get back with me today. When she did, nothing had changed. There will not be any collaboration with the Italian festival this year. Perhaps in the future, Edwards said, in an effort -- really -- to say who knows? Hell might freeze over, too.
The P&C article reported on Mayor Joe Riley's efforts to reach out to the Festival of Two Worlds Foundation after the death of Maestro Gian Carlo Menotti and his son Chip Menotti, who was given the heave-ho by the Italian government after running the Umbrian arts festival into the ground financially.
Riley seems to be making highly visible overtures to that city's mayor and Ferrara, but what it means in terms of material gain for the American festival and for the city of Charleston and its art lover seems unclear at this point.
Maybe Ferrara was talking about putting on an opera with Piccolo Spoleto in 2008. That's something Riley can make happen. And that would be very interesting indeed for everyone, even Spoleto.
See update below for more on Piccolo Spoleto
Todd Smith shocked everyone last week when he resigned as executive director of the Gibbes Museum of Art (in Charleston, S.C.).
The sudden and unexpected decision became effective Tuesday. Until June 30, Smith will serve as director of special projects while an interim replacement is found and a new director search is launched. An official press release said what we already knew: Smith was resigning. It didn't elaborate much further except to list his accomplishments.
Since March 2006, Smith led an effort to rebrand the museum's identity, he shepherded its re-accreditation with the American Association of Museums (a long, complicated process), and he brought back fiscal discipline.
Smith was hired to usher the Gibbes into the thick of the 21st century. That meant overseeing a new brand, an assertive outreach program, a renewed network of development, imaginative and culturally relevant exhibitions, and a collection refreshed by new work.
That also meant building a new facility to replace or augment the current Gibbes Museum. Building, Smith told me in an interview last January, was a major reason he took the job. The board was eager to expand and grow. He was ready to build. It was a good match all around. Now he's leaving. Why?
The official line did little to stop speculation (including my own) that Smith was pushed out. My hunch was that he'd locked horns with the wrong board member over how, when, and how much it would take to build a new museum. I wasn't alone. Others were skeptical, too.
The Post and Courier surmised in a March 25 report that Smith was fired, either because he presented too much contemporary art or because he didn't present enough (the article seems to contradict itself in guessing that the reasons were both). Other rumors spread that Smith wasn't doing the job he was hired to do.
These are barely plausible theories. By all accounts, Smith and the board agreed, for the most part, on the role of contemporary art. As for job performance, most measures indicate at least modest gains -- membership grew by 7.5 percent and large donations by 6 percent during his brief tenure. What bothered me was that Smith was the second executive director in six years to step down. It was starting to look like an institutionally unhealthy pattern.
But after several conversations with board members, museum staffers, and former employees (most of whom were granted anonymity because they did not want to be identified commenting on his imminent departure), it appears there is little more behind Smith's resignation than a change of heart.
The meeting will cover the development of the collaboration between the two cities and the two Festivals, with the Spoleto Festival USA which has been taking place in Charleston for 32 years, founded by late Maestro Gian Carlo Menotti in 1976. Menotti chose this city for the beauty, the importance in history and the special atmosphere. [. . .] The presence of Maestro Giorgio Ferrara will be particularly significant, because the reactivation of the collaboration that in the past used to distinguish the two Spoleto Festivals is strongly wished for, for the mutual advantage and satisfaction of both Charleston and Spoleto.From *[Charleston City Paper](http://arts.ccpblogs.com/2008/03/28/one-step-closer-to-reunifying-the-spoleto-festivals/)*