FlyOver: June 2007 Archives

Last week, I posted up a link to a piece I wrote for Montana Journalism Review, in which I took issue with New Yorker theater critic John Lahr's assertion that, "If it's not in The New Yorker, it doesn't exist in the culture." My main point was that America is not a homogenous culture; and as such, the culture that The New Yorker documents is only some small portion of what the rest of us experience and value.

The same day that my Montana Journalism Review piece went public, I was alerted by a friend to an essay by Alex Ross in The New Yorker, documenting Ross' whirlwind sampling of a trio of orchestras that don't perform in New York: the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra; the Nashville Symphony Orchestra; and the Alabama Symphony Orchestra.

On the surface, Ross' piece demonstrates what we've been trying to say here at FlyOver: that important art happens outside of the celebrated arts scenes of major cities on the coasts. Ross himself says as much: "I learned what touring musicians have been saying for years: that lesser-known orchestras can deliver sure-footed, commanding performances, and that the notion of a stratospheric orchestral élite is something of an illusion."

Unfortunately, as one reads along, it becomes evident that Ross still suffers from the same biases his road-trip supposedly cured. He mentions in a scoffing tone that, "Orchestras at the level of the Nashville used to be described as 'regional.'" The horror! The injustice!...And yet, a mere two paragraphs later, he declares the Alabama Symphony, "one of the country's most adventurous regional orchestras." (emphasis added)


Given the short list of intriguing factoids and subjective assessments that Ross provides about the Alabama Symphony -- anticipated performances of works by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood and a host of other young, international composers, all within a concert season that's considerably shorter than that of the New York Philharmonic; and a performance of Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony that Ross declares to be "as potent a performance of Beethoven's revolutionary symphony as I've heard in several seasons" -- why isn't it simply one of the country's most adventurous orchestras, period?

The answer, it seems, is that it's still not the New York Philharmonic.

Well, no kidding.

This is the implicit bias that we outside of New York marvel at: It's not in New York, so it's not really worth the serious consideration of the New Yorker - unless, of course, some writer feels like it's time for a little junket out into the wilds of America.

Alex Ross is an open-minded music critic; I've met him and been impressed by both his studied standards and his willingness to listen. But it seems that he is still stuck in an antiquated way of thinking about culture, one that posits that a single standard should be applied to all art everywhere.

Instead of racing through town and trying to judge, on the basis of one performance, whether the Indianapolis Symphony sounds good enough to play in New York, perhaps he should have take a few extra days to get to know the local lay of the land, and to figure out: What does the orchestra do for the people of Indianapolis?

June 25, 2007 12:11 AM | | Comments (8)


Rudy Autio, 80, dies

A pioneer of the modern sculptural ceramic movement, Autio was a towering figure in western arts. "Together with Peter Voulkos, Rudy helped change what it meant to be a ceramic artist in America," said Steve Glueckert, curator of the Missoula Art Museum. "Before 1945, ceramicists were potters. They weren't considered artists. Peter and Rudy broke all the rules and transformed what it meant to do what they were doing."

What's in a Word?

Dana Oland of the Idaho Statesman dives into the deep end of the actor's craft with Idaho Shakespeare Festival actor Lynn Robert Berg, dissecting the history packed between the lines of Shakespeare's plays.

This is art?

We usually reserve this roundup for great stories about great art in the far reaches of America. But sometimes, a little public shaming is in order. Here, you can read the lead story in this week's "Arts" section of the Great Falls Tribune. It's about a rodeo. While there may be some artfulness in lassoing calves or...uh....painting the makeup on the clowns, the only mention of the word "art" comes in the section header. What gives?


County officials in Miami threaten to takeover poorly run arts center
"... an assessment of the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts found that the independent trust that manages the county-owned facility committed expensive errors in budget planning and failed to control costs, which could have stemmed an estimated $4.1 million deficit."
(Thanks to Daniel Chang of the Miami Herald and thanks to Rafael de Acha for pointing out this article to "Flyover")

The Museum Reborn
"The new Mississippi Museum of Art, set to open June 9, changes the rules on how we interact with art. When it opens its doors, it will offer the public more than just extra square footage; this is the first time in the history of the MMA that the museum's permanent collection will be on permanent display. The museum's collection, now numbering well over 4,000 pieces that have been sitting in a single, over-crowded storage room at the Arts Center for decades, will finally be accessible to the public."
(Thanks to Nientara Anderson of the Jackson Free Press)

The Power of Poo-Poo
"You can't help but stare at his giant, yellow buckteeth. There's some black hair on his upper lip, but it's the teeth that are mesmerizing. Then the camera pans out, and you see the man's entire face. He has small hazel eyes and a black goatee. His long curly hair falls out from beneath a crumpled blue cap. He furrows his brow and speaks in a thick Cajun accent. 'Man, I don't know what it is this time of year when it gets cool like dat, if my lip is too short or my teeth is too long. But man, my lips get chapped this time of year! POOO! They chap, chap! I need some Carmex. Some Blistex or sumtin'. Some Vaseline.' Meet Poo-Poo Broussard."
(Thanks to R. Reese Fuller of the The Independent in Lafayette, La.)

"Flyover" Super-Duper Extra Bonus Feature on Poo-Poo Broussard


Tragic Correspondence: Winter Harbor's Letters to the NRA

Although there may not be much of it in most communities, political theater--and new works that respond to current events barely after they've passed--still has a place on American stages. This review examines a series of short works on American gun culture that achieve mixed results.

(Thanks to Megan Grumbling of the Portland Phoenix [Maine])

Burning Issues: Global warming is the new hot subject in the art world

In another story from the Portland Phoenix that examines political art, writer Greg Cook looks at visual art addressing the theme of global warming, which he identifies as a growing trend.

(Thanks to Greg Cook of the Portland Phoenix [Maine])

Ask Bob: To MySpace or not to MySpace

I know, I know, D.C. is hardly the Outback, but I couldn't resist this: who knew that former Hüsker Dü frontman Bob Mould now has his own advice column? Not I. This piece is short but looks at a timely issue for musicians (and other artists): how to use new media tools to their advantage.

(Thanks to Bob Mould and Washington City Paper)

June 22, 2007 5:55 AM |

Every day in my work as an arts journalist in Montana, I think about the standards by which I should assess the art that I confront here. Montana theater is not the same as New York theater, for reasons not only of scale but of culture. While in Los Angeles for this year's NEA arts journalism institute in theater, listening to big-city theater journalists and critics talk about the particular challenges of their jobs, this became an even more poignant issue for me. My job is not like their jobs, because our theater is not like their theater and my culture is not their culture.

When I returned to Montana, I was asked to write an essay about my experiences at the institute for Montana Journalism Review, a publication of the University of Montana's journalism school.

I chose to use that soapbox as an opportunity to dive into the issue of what I now refer to as critical relativism. The essay was just published this week. Rather than rehash what I wrote, I thought I'd share the whole thing.

June 17, 2007 6:16 AM |
Flyover is a blog about art in the American Outback -- the people and places usually given less attention by those hopping from coast to coast.
June 11, 2007 8:04 AM |
We are arts journalists and art creators in cities (and towns) around America: Rich Copley, Dave Delcambre, Ashley Lindstrom, Joe Nickell, Bridgette Redman, Suzi Steffen, John Stoehr and Jennifer A. Smith.
June 11, 2007 7:07 AM |

On an unseasonably cool evening last week in my adopted hometown of Missoula, Montana, under dour gray skies that threatened rain, several hundred people flowed into a riverside park to hear a concert by the Oblio Joes, a local rock band.

Virtually unknown outside of Missoula, the Obes -- as they are called by their fans and friends -- have been playing together for nearly 15 years. They have recorded several fantastic albums. They have assembled the kind of local fan-base that most bands would beg for. At their shows, teens and 30-somethings stand shoulder to shoulder, shouting out requests for songs from the band's extensive catalogue of catchy, jangly rock songs, singing along with every word, raising fists in the international sign of rawk.

This show was bittersweet. A few weeks before the show, lead singer and songwriter John Brownell announced to the band and his friends that he was done playing with the Obes. This concert in the park would be the band's last gig.

It was a great show, powerful, emotional, raucous. People in the audience screamed at the top of their lungs. The band played like they were on fire, ripping through their catalogue with a hunger that hadn't been evident in their most recent shows.

Then, it was over.

Thus seals the fate of one of the finest bands this town has ever produced, a band that -- had it relocated to one of our nations capitols of commercial music, as some others have done (most notably Colin Meloy of Decemberists fame) -- surely would have been better known around the country, perhaps the world. To my ears, Obes songs like "Don't Believe," "Ginger," and "Surreal" can stand up alongside the best pop-rock tunes of the past decade. The fact that you probably haven't heard those songs is a testament to what this band was about: keeping it real, keeping it local. They really never tried to make things any different, never bellyached about "making it big." They just thrived on playing rock music for their friends in town.

There are bands like the Obes in small towns all over America. You won't read about them in Rolling Stone or Spin, but then, maybe that's part of what makes them such a beautiful part of life -- real life, not the life you read about.

That's the life that is the focus of this blog, "Flyover."

"Flyover" is, specifically, about art in the American Outback -- the people and places usually given less attention by those hopping from coast to coast. It's a place for arts journalists and artists outside the major American urban areas to celebrate, discuss, critique and share what they do. While it was established to continue a conversation begun at USC Annenberg's 2007 NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater, we hope it will ultimately grow to serve a larger community of journalists, artists and institutions involved in the arts in America.

The four journalists blogging here live in small cities tucked away in the corners of America: Missoula, Savannah, Lansing, Madison. We have in common a deep love of and commitment to the arts; and we see great art around us. Just because it doesn't show at the MOMA, or show up in Rolling Stone, doesn't make it any less valid. In fact, to us, it makes it all the more precious.

I'm Joe Nickell. By day, I serve as arts and entertainment reporter for the Missoulian newspaper. By night, I play in a rock band called Two Year Touqe (yes, I know, how ironic -- a word-man in a misspelled band), and co-produce Rox, the world's first and longest-running online TV series. I'm a drummer, and a dreamer, and who knows -- maybe more. This week I found out I won some award for arts writing; but since the circumference of my balding head is already 3.01 standard deviations above the norm, it probably can't swell anymore. I have a six-week old baby who is very cute, a wife who inspires me, and I live in a place that feels like heaven.

Over the course of this week, you'll meet the rest of the "Flyover" bloggers. I hope you'll visit us regularly and jump into the conversation. And we thank Doug McLennan for inviting us to move into his ArtsJournal world. If you care to see what we've been talking about already, there's an extensive archive of previous posts written when this blog was hosted at

June 10, 2007 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)

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.

June 6, 2007 1:17 PM |
June 1, 2007 3:08 PM |

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About this Archive

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

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