FlyOver: August 2007 Archives
I'll jump in to a conversation kicked off by Bridgette last week and continued by numerous commenters and John. Bridgette wrote about how authenticity is one of the hallmarks of what Gen X arts audiences are seeking. She used a Michigan theater company as an example of a group that's pursuing a successful and artistically worthwhile strategy.
Commenter Mike Boehm and my co-blogger John raised the issue of trying to reach Gen X through their kids. Is this strategy for arts marketing advisable? Does it even work?
To be blunt, my own take is that writing off Gen X adults in favor of their kids is misguided and dispiriting. First off, the obvious: not all X-ers have kids. I'm one of 'em. So trying to reach me about the arts, a political issue, what-have-you "through my kids" is a non-starter.
Second, I think John was on to something when he stated: "Is it possible that at some point, given the intensity of arts marketing being leveled at children, that the arts will be something that's considered child's play? Something kids do, not adults?"
I don't know if things are quite that drastic (and John's not necessarily saying that they are), but I do worry about a view of art as primarily something enriching for kids, an educational nugget to be digested along with long division or something to boost ACT scores in a testing-focused climate.
Don't get me wrong: I am not knocking arts education for kids. I am all for it, both in the schools and through whatever parents may have the means to provide after school. I am a product of public schools and, although I don't recall much being available on the elementary level, I did have access to art and music in middle school and ceramics and creative writing electives in high school. Through my parents, I had ten years of private piano lessons, plus a year or two of ceramics courses at the local art museum. As a middle-class kid, I was lucky in that regard. I know how important these formative experiences can be.
Yet I believe the arts--both witnessing and doing--are equally important to adults. That is why I believe we can't write off a segment of the adult population as arts participants. One figure whose ideas guide me in that area is Wisconsin's Robert E. Gard.
Gard (1910-1992) was the author of The Arts in the Small Community, Grassroots Theater: A Search for Regional Arts in America and dozens of other books. He championed rural arts and the belief that everyone had something to contribute; all people's lives could be enriched by making art. He argued that all people had a right to create art that was an expression of themselves and their places.
Gard was the recipient of the first rural arts development grant from the NEA. His project nearly wasn't funded, but no less than Leonard Bernstein, who was sitting on the review panel, argued in favor of it and the rest is history. What Gard started in 1964, the School of the Arts at Rhinelander--a summer art school for adults in a northern Wisconsin community of about 8,000--continues to this day.
I've never understood those music fans who have an obsessive need to know their idol's favorite color or birth date. I adore Rufus Wainwright and Andrew Bird, but I don't care much about their personal lives. Their music is what matters to me. Similarly, I seldom seek out information on the personal backgrounds of writers I admire, but this profile of Whitney Gould, from the current issue of Milwaukee Magazine, caught my attention.
Gould is the architecture critic for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It feels good simply to type that because so few papers have architecture critics, and Gould is an especially fine one. A Wisconsin native, she writes with intelligence, passion and a clear point of view. First and foremost, I think of Gould as someone who demands authenticity and honesty in architecture. She doesn't despise faux-historical buildings out of some middlebrow sense that they're ticky-tacky; she objects because virtually all architecture worth its salt is, in some way, genuinely of the time and place in which it was built.
The Milwaukee Magazine profile, despite some odd word choices ("grandmotherly," anyone?), is well worth reading. Gould's family background and entry into journalism are intriguing.
And for a taste of Whitney Gould's own writing, a recent column called "We should care about good design" directly addresses why the public should be invested in the built environment surrounding them. Indirectly, it also makes a case for architecture criticism, since people in Gould's profession have a plum opportunity to raise issues and shape the debate. And through periodic online chats, Gould engages in real give-and-take with the public.
Gould closes her column with a quote from Winston Churchill ("We shape our buildings; thereafter, our buildings shape us") and this observation of her own: "[Buildings] affect the quality of life in our neighborhoods; they establish the identity of our cities; they color our work days. If we don't make it our business to care about such things, we will deserve the awful results."
I'd argue that in smaller to mid-size cities (like Madison, where I live), good architecture is even more crucial since a single major project has a bigger impact on the overall look and feel of the city.
Since Flyover (namely, John) has been in a quotin' mood lately, I'll throw out a favorite of my own, something I've had tacked near my computer for ages:
"Our culture is first of all an urban one, the city the place of our history and our social life--factors that have impressed themselves inextricably upon the face of the houses, but also in the structures of the streets and plazas." (Christoph Schreier, from the exhibition catalog "Thomas Struth: Strassen--Fotografie 1976 bis 1995)
This idea of the city as the locus of our history in a very physical way, with that history literally written upon its face, has long affected me, and it's why I share Gould's view that good architecture matters--as does thoughtful writing about architecture.
(Note: The Schreier translation from the German is mine. Here's the original for my fellow Germanophiles: "Denn unsere Kultur ist zuallererst eine städtische, die Stadt der Ort unserer Geschichte, unseres soziales Leben, Faktoren, die sich unauslöslich in das Gesicht der Häuser, aber auch in die Strukturen der Strassen and Plätze eingeprägt haben.")