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Is there a Better Case for the Arts?
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March 11, 2005

Doug's Request - Strategies

Doug is asking us if there are any practical strategies/actions.

From my humble point of a view, as a violinist/performer, who has started three non-profit organizations, I would like to make a few points:

1. We should re-examine larger "successful" non-profit arts organizations. If they are truly successful, what are they doing, and how can we learn from it? Are these mega-non-profits giving the rest of us a lopsided image that we are, after all, fine? Not all non-profits have a deficit, and although rare, some come out with a handsome surplus. How did they manage to do so? Is it a sign of good management, or are they attracting funding that might otherwise go to smaller organizations? In other words, is this surplus the result of "great" programs that warrant such funding? Also, how thorough is their non-profit mentality? From the top executive all the way down to the intern, is the non-profit mentality being experienced and felt? Adrian made a comment about the dilemma of the top tier museums. I think we have a similar phenomenon in the music world.

2. Now for the more practical, (and I'm speaking strictly from the point of view of a classical violinist), let's try to find a less stratified way of doing things. For example, we have different programs to attract different audiences. This is good, but we also need to be more inclusive. What about programs that bring different groups of people with different interests to share their interests with us? It seems to me that we try too hard only to give "them" but that we don't try to receive what they have to offer us. I'm not talking about only understanding audiences’ tastes in music or their opinions
about our organizations. If there were ways in which different individuals could participate non-musically, more people might start participating, perhaps not directly at first, but that could come. I think we have become too exclusive in a sense that if music is not the center piece of an activity, we don't think of it as doing us any service. This is not true. How many of us only tried something because a friend was doing it and then realized that it wasn't so bad? Human relationships must be the starting point for creating more interests. It's harder to refuse your friends.

I have experienced the success of this strategy in a project I started in 2002 (which will be repeated this coming June). There was a theme, intentionally not a musical one, which served as the common bond. In each of several locations, the activities, which all concluded with a recital, were organized exclusively by volunteers. Not all were music lovers or connoisseurs, but they were interested in the theme, and they all had a role, either as a volunteer or as a participant. The recital at the end of the project was only one component in the overall picture of the project and its theme. And, best of all, the relationships that were built in the process of the project were sustained and built upon. Many people who didn't initially have much interest in music got involved because they were interested in sharing and donating what they could, and they were not made to feel that they had to do anything musical. The important thing here is that eventually they did encounter music. Not all of them fell instantly in love with it, but they all had the satisfaction of realizing that they were partially responsible for the success of the project--and the concert--which others (their fellow citizens) enjoyed so much.

3. We must educate our future performers about the importance of outreach activities and make it possible for them to learn the knots and bolts of the art of outreach. Learning the technical skills of an instrument should not be separated from learning the methods of outreach. The young performers and top music students need to understand that outreach activity is not extracurricular. I am committed to outreach myself and think of it as one of the best and most worthwhile things I do. The time must come when involvement in outreach is a consistent given and not a sporadic exception.

4. We need to form stronger partnerships with artist managements to convince them to stop thinking of outreach as extracurricular, and with presenters and promoters, who must not think that in requesting an outreach activity of their guest artists, they are asking for a favor.

I am sure there are other strategies others have, and I look forward to learning about them.

Today is the last day of this blog. Thank you Doug, for giving me this opportunity to give the topic of arts advocacy concentrated attention, and to share my thoughts!

Posted by midori at March 11, 2005 12:38 AM


Strategies for Institutional Outreach of our Flagship Public Cultural Institutions.

Speaking of Renaissance art curators, why can't Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, and the San Francisco Performing Arts Center be more like Washington's National Gallery of Art, or Los Angeles's Getty Center, in offering free weekend cultural experiences to Americans and foreign visitors of all ages? Since tax-payer funds subsidize these institutions indirectly, if not directly, why can't major institutions offer free cultural and educational activities every Saturday, Sunday, and public holiday, to complement their ticketed programs at other times? Let's simply call these free cultural activities by their true name, "public goods", and consider them America's gift to ourselves, our children and parents, and foreign visitors to America.

Every Saturday and Sunday, the National Gallery of Art offers free Family Activity Workshops from approximately 10:30 AM to 2:30 PM. At approximately the same time, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, with its huge U.S. Department of Education funding, is offering ticketed events for families.

On Sundays, public culture at the National Gallery of Art hits its stride, week-in week-out, with a full menu of gallery talks complemented by free Lectures at 2:00 PM, Art-related Movies and Films at 4:00 PM (children's movies are in the morning), and concerts, classical or jazz, at 6:30 PM, ALL FOR FREE! This Sunday, the National Gallery of Art is even fulfilling a function that the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts fails to perform by offering a free screening of a film on hearing-challenged Scottish percussionist, Evelyn Glennie, entitled "Touch the Sound", and a free, full classical program by the National Gallery of Art Chamber Wind Players -- again, the type of regular free cultural outreach programming that the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts fails to provide. (Two weeks ago, the National Gallery's Sunday free concert featured LatinJazz with L.A. artist Bobby Rodriguez and his Quintet, and featured, as guest artist, the percussionist's 6 year-old grandson for two extended solos).

On the other hand, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after America's most idealist Presidential advocate for the role of arts in the life of all Americans (seen those inscriptions on the back wall of the Center?), largely limits its free performances to the fairly recently instated "Millennium Stage" one-hour events at 6 PM each evening. This weekend, it is an hour of Mexican Jazz on Saturday (compared to the two-hour concert, two weeks ago, at the National Gallery of Art), and a Indian tabla player, for an hour on Sunday. Where is the FREE children's activity every Sunday at 11 AM, the FREE performing arts lecture every Sunday at 2 PM, the FREE performing arts film every Sunday at 4 PM, and the FREE performing arts, full-length concert every Sunday at 6:30 PM? Nowhere to be seen, because apparently the corporate and private individual backers of the Kennedy Center, or the U.S. Department of Education, do not believe strongly in culture as a "public good", as does the National Gallery of Art, or the Getty Center in Los Angeles (to a more limited degree).

I know that this comment will bore the arts as pottery, or amateur bluegrass, or Laotian folk crafts audience, but I thought that one last mention could be made to the arts as a form of "public goods" -- like the libraries and parks which grace America (anyone seen the beautiful NEW and FREE Maritime Museum in waterfront San Francisco?).
My point is that every "overbuilt" Museum and Performing Arts Center in America, in big cities and small cities and medium size cities, could and should offer full and free weekend cultural programs -- and not limit their free offerings to inconvenient free "Target first - Mondays", or "Ford Motor first-Tuesdays". I suspect that there could even be "extrinsic" values to doing so.

And America can also revive a nationally-broadcast Saturday young persons' classical music introductory television program, perhaps hosted by Midori and her associates; as well as weekly "Introduction to Classical Music" radio programs for public radio. (Sorry, Sharon Percy Rockefeller, we may have to insist that the reruns of "Car Talk" be bumped in favor of a year-round, weekly "Introduction to Classical Music" program on the national public radio system. ... And why the hell am I having to do this hamfisted advocacy here, rather than smooth radio spokespersons such as Ted Libby?)

Lastly, I will agree with musicologist and composer William Osborne that culture in Europe (and Asia) is less "tattered" than economist and consultant Adrian Ellis states. And despite the obvious international subsidies and gifts (largely private gifts from the super-super rich), is it the Kirov Opera that tours to the U.S. every year performing its repertoire of Russian operas, or the MET that tours to Russia and Eastern Europe each year performing its
repertoire of American operas? (Can the Age of the Gates, the Waltons, and the Buffets, like the age of Pericles, Elizabeth I or the Medici's...?)

Garth Trinkl is a Librettist, Composer, and Economist.

Posted by: Garth Trinkl at March 11, 2005 08:40 AM

I caught up with this blog late, and only want to add an epigraph borrowed from the light artist Robert Irwin - "seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees." When one scans down the thread of informed experience and commentary that everyone has provided over the past days, it is still remarkable to what degree the discussion of artistic practice has been hijacked, and an awkward institutional vocabulary imposed on its bones. If we could only begin to recognize that the arts are simply one of the convertible currencies of citizenship, a tool among others for both participating in and repairing the landscape of the social contract, we might think about their values and quantitative application in a different light. We may not be able to hold up other societies (or their patronage, if they have it) as a cultural mirror to our own, but we should usefully learn from the proximity of their artists to the central, community-building concerns of daily life.

Posted by: David R. White at March 11, 2005 01:05 PM

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Director of the Curb Center, Former Chair, NEA more

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