FlyOver: May 2007 Archives

Richard Schickel's recent condemnation of bloggers as critics/reviewers (L.A. Times, May 20) has certainly been raising the hackles of arts writers in the blogosphere. While his views are passionately held, I believe they're also misguided and don't take much note of the changing media landscape. Part of the reason arts criticism is winding up on the Web is decreased space in local papers. Those who have something to say are simply finding another way to do it, and many of them (contrary to Schickel's view) are highly qualified writers.

And frankly, there are several advantages to arts writing on the Web, namely the chance to have more (and better quality) images than you'll find on newsprint, and the increased interactivity allowed by commenting. I'm frequently lamenting how seldomly readers of print publications write a letter to the editor regarding arts coverage. With blogging and other Web coverage, there is more of a chance for that immediate back-of-forth of real conversation.

The best response to Schickel I've seen so far is by Jerome Weeks, who writes the book/daddy blog on ArtsJournal.com. Rather than reiterate many of his excellent points, I'd rather direct readers there (to the entry "Just who is this guy?"). It's worth the read.

May 29, 2007 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)

Madison, Wis., is one of those places that, for better or worse (mostly worse in my jaundiced view) finds its way onto many a list. From Richard Florida's "creative class" list of the best smaller cities in which to live, to the Money magazine rankings that put Madison #1 in America in 1996 to the current Forbes magazine list that dubs us one of the best cities for empty nesters, there's a lot of Madison hype out there.

Although Madison is not my original hometown and I had lived in a bigger city immediately before coming here, it's grown on me. Having lived here a dozen years now, I can see ways in which it's grown and improved. One example: when I came here in 1995 there was a dearth of independent and foreign films, something I'd come to take for granted in Minneapolis. Since then, a top-notch film festival has been established and will celebrate its tenth year in 2008, the UW Cinematheque brings fabulous and rare finds to the community and shows them for free, and several commercial theaters are also regularly programming art-house fare, including the splashy new Sundance 608 theater.


Although I will never be a native Madisonian and there are many ways this city can be self-congratulatory and grating, I've become a bit of a Madison defender, much to my surprise.


In recent months and years, two well-known writers/consultants on workplace issues and shifting demographics have moved here: Rebecca Ryan (of the forthcoming book Live First, Work Second) and Penelope Trunk (of the Web site Brazen Careerist and the new book of the same name). Ryan is a Wisconsin (but not Madison) native; Trunk is not.


I realized I'd become a touch defensive about Madison when I read this on Trunk's blog: "I'm not going to tell you that Madison is a bastion of culture and innovation. It's not." What rubs me the wrong way is that it's the limited perspective of someone who's barely acquainted with her new city. I, too, was a little underwhelmed when I came here. But that's the catch of local culture, I think, especially in smaller cities: you've got to know what's there and--this is the crucial part, folks--GET OUT THERE AND EXPERIENCE IT.


And Madison's culture is hardly secret: we've got an alternative weekly (the paper I contribute to), plus two dailies and countless blogs and Web sites to keep one informed. Theater runs the gamut from professional companies to a funky, $8-a-seat hole in the wall (and I mean that affectionately) that only produces new, original work. There are two art museums, local galleries, restaurants from Indonesian to Nepali to Peruvian. In the sciences, we're home to Jamie Thomson (the world-renowned stem cell researcher) and Richard Davidson, who is doing groundbreaking research on the brain science of happiness. Internationally acclaimed conductor Edo de Waart lives here, and the Dalai Lama spoke here earlier this month.


I could go on, but I won't. My point is simply that, if you can't find culture and innovation here, you're not tryin' - and the same can be said of many, many small cities around the country.

May 22, 2007 6:00 AM | | Comments (3)


Wow, John. That letter is a doozy. Since you responded to something I wrote last week, I thought I'd use your post as a point of departure for mine this week.


Living hundreds of miles away from you, I have no firsthand knowledge of Savannah's theater scene, but so many things come to mind as I read this angry, impassioned letter. Perhaps what strikes me most is the underlying notion that you, as an arts writer, must somehow be a booster ("...if the local press presented us in a more... supportive light while letting the public judge the work for themselves"). While writers should never be vicious, we are in the business of journalism, not public relations. Telling you to "buy a ticket and ride the ride" also bothers me. Are you supposed to be a passive observer who just shuts up and lets an experience wash over you, with no right to your own reaction?


Decent, thoughtful critics, even when they're negative, do care about the cultural life of the community. No one I know relishes writing a harsh review. And even when you hope your words may spark local discussion, your intentions as a writer can be misconstrued. I know that you, and all of us, want the arts to be a vital part of our communities, something that people show up for and care about as passionately as people care about sports in this country.


I guess the question left for all of us is, how can we write thoughtfully and constructively about our local cultural scenes without making people feel attacked? And is there really anything we can do when people feel attacked even when there is no basis for it? I think most of us consider ourselves a part of our local cultures, not imperious outsiders, but it is clear the arts writer's role is not always welcomed.

May 15, 2007 12:40 PM |


I recently took a nationwide survey conducted by Americans for the Arts. (If you haven't taken it yet yourself, you can find it here--but responses must be submitted by Friday, May 11). Once you finish the questionnaire, you wind up in a public forum where you can comment on an issue raised by the survey, or anything else that strikes your fancy. I think that's a great idea, rather than the standard "Thanks for your feedback" page.


One comment I saw there struck me, however. It's from a longtime arts educator who laments the cuts to arts in the schools. Fair enough. But then this person notes, "The baby-boomers are currently sustaining the arts venues through philanthropy. This will stop soon. We have not trained the next generation of music and art aficionados."


I won't name the commenter here since it is basically irrelevant; I have heard this line of thinking before and I also don't want to seem as if I am harping on one person. However, as someone firmly within Generation X (I'm mid-30s), this Boomer-centric mentality gets to me. Are X-ers (and Gen Y) really contributing to the arts at a lower rate than Boomers did at a similar age? If that is true (and I haven't seen numbers one way or the other yet--if anyone has those, please reply in the comments), we must consider the larger debt load Generations X and Y are leaving college with, as well as larger factors like the instability of Social Security. Charitable giving is something most people can manage only after the essential bills have been paid. I'm stepping up my contributions this year now that I'm finally in more of a position to do so.


I think the commenter's thoughts reflect a larger fear about what will happen to the culture once Boomers are no longer in control. The generation that once distrusted anyone over 30 now seems to dismiss anyone under 40 (important caveat: I'm not saying all Boomers react this way). Change can be a little scary; I'll admit I already feel out of sync with the current crop of 20-somethings who've never truly known a pre-Internet world (I left for college with an electric typewriter!). But culture has a surprising way of regenerating itself--it's just that the new forms may look unfamiliar. Â

May 8, 2007 6:00 AM |


In this neck of the woods, Madison Repertory Theatre is currently staging Samm-Art Williams' "Home," about a rural African-American man in tiny Cross Roads, North Carolina. Much of what happens in "Home" is outside my own personal experience: I'm white, do not practice a religion and live in the North, whereas Cephus, the show's protagonist, is black, a man of deep faith and lives in the South. I'm also of a different generation than Cephus. It's a simplistic point, but part of the reason theater (or any art form) is worthwhile is to give us a taste of lives other than our own. Yet it's also refreshing to see's one's own experiences on stage now and again--something I'm not sure local audience members of color get enough of.


The audience at "Home" on a recent Sunday was more diverse than I usually see at Madison Rep, both in terms of age and ethnicity. The crowd felt a little more alive, thanks to a large contingent of teens. "Home" is being presented as part of the "African-American Artist Series," which I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it's obviously worthy to have a regular, ongoing commitment to working with playwrights, actors and directors of color. Yet on the other hand, why must this be set aside in a special series? Shouldn't this be happening more frequently, as a matter of course?


My review of this show appears later this week in Isthmus, Madison's alt weekly. I'll come back later and add a link.


In the meantime, here's some coverage of the play from Capital City Hues, a local multicultural paper (including an interview with actor Patrick Sims, who is also a professor at the University of Wisconsin).


UPDATE:Â Here's my review of "Home" from the May 4 edition of Isthmus.

May 1, 2007 10:57 AM |

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This page is a archive of recent entries written by FlyOver in May 2007.

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