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Is there a Better Case for the Arts?
A Public Conversation Among People Who Care

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March 09, 2005

Supply and demand

New voices joining (welcome Robert Lynch) and others leaving (wish I had a chance to ask Joli to give a more tangible, practical definition of what "expressive logic" sounds like). Robert's first post lays out a good, workable three-part division of much of what has been said here. At various places, in different contexts, we have been talking about the deeply felt personal passion for the arts, strategies for getting new audiences to share that passion, and the ongoing work of convincing public officials to use public resources to make the arts accessible to everyone. Americans for the Arts does the unglamorous business of lobbying, and it's all too easy for people who are already deeply in love with art to find this sort of business a bit vulgar and dull, even anti-art in its practicality and compromise. I'm glad that this work is being done, but as someone who responds to art in an essentially erotic, sensual way, it seems a zillion miles away from anything that I know or care about music, theater, painting, dance. I need art in the same way that other people need bookies and dealers, so I 've read many of the posts in this web conversation with a sense of alienation, as if they're happening on a strange planet where all the usual laws of nature are reversed. Of course, if I can't get my fix, I'll be the first one on the barricades.
I confess I found the Rand study a crushing bore. I respect its logic, and ultimately, I agree with the basic conclusion that if we can't communicate to new audiences the essential, intrinsic pleasures of art, we're not going to have new audiences. And yes, the problem is not supply, it's demand. But I'm skeptical of the idea that we can create demand through new programs, new educational efforts, new sources of support for arts groups. All of those are worthy efforts, and I officially support them (because they keep artists busy, and put food on their tables). But a deep, ongoing, sustaining passion for art requires a personal need for it that is (from my experience) generated internally, as a reaction against ugliness in the world. Our politicians are already doing admirable work in creating that need. They deluge us with lies and hypocrisy, cliches and euphemisms. They insult our intelligence and betray our trust. From this fertile ground arises the need for art. Needless to say, popular culture is also doing admirable work on this front as well.

Posted by pkennicott at March 9, 2005 05:56 PM


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Ben Cameron
Executive director of Theatre Communications Group more

Adrian Ellis
Managing consultant of AEA Consulting more

Bill Ivey
Director of the Curb Center, Former Chair, NEA more

Joli Jensen
Professor, University of Tulsa, Author: "Is Art Good for Us?" more

Jim Kelly
Director, 4Culture, Seattle, WA more

Phil Kennicott
Culture critic, Washington Post more

Glenn Lowry
Director, Museum of Modern Art more

Robert L. Lynch
President, Americans for the Arts more

Violinist more

Andrew Taylor
Director, Bolz Center, University of Wisconsin more

Russell Willis Taylor
President, National Arts Strategies more

Doug McLennan
Editor, ArtsJournal.com

Gifts of the MuseGifts of the Muse
Free access to the full RAND study at the core of this conversation, funded by the Wallace Foundation. An executive summary is also available. Other Wallace Foundation publications and reports are available through its Knowledge Center.

Top arts researchers will come together to present and dissect the latest data at Measuring the Muse, an unprecedented National Arts Journalism Program-Alliance for the Arts conference at Columbia University.

The Values Study
A collaborative effort of 20 Connecticut arts organizations, the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism, and facilitator/author Alan S. Brown. The effort trained arts leaders to interview key members of their constituency, to discover what they valued about the creative experience -- in their own words. The process was sponsored by The Wallace Foundation's State Arts Partnerships for Cultural Participation (START) Program.

Valuing Culture
An initiative of London-based think tank, Demos. This effort brought cultural and policy leaders together to discuss the public value of culture in the UK. Resources include (with a downloadable briefing report by Adrian Ellis), a collection of speeches from the event in June 2003, and a summary report by John Holden called Capturing Cultural Value.

The Arts and Economic Prosperity
The 2002 report and related resources assessing the economic impact of America's nonprofit arts industry, based on surveys of 3,000 nonprofit arts organizations and more than 40,000 attendees at arts events in 91 cities in 33 states, plus the District of Columbia.

The Value of the Performing Arts in Ten Communities
A project of the Performing Arts Research Coalition, researched by the Urban Institute, exploring measures of value in specific cities across the United States. Reports are available for download.

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