Art Within Bounds: When Is It Censorship, and When Is It Simply Saying “No Thanks?”


In September, in advance of an Americans for the Arts training at the Sundance resort in Utah, I visited Salt Lake City for the first time and met with Caryn Bradshaw of Visit Salt Lake and Karen Krieger from the Salt Lake City Arts Council.  We toured the city a bit, and what we saw forced me to confront a bias that I didn’t realize I was harboring—I thought that Mormons must be anti-art. My relationship to the Mormon Church is at once one of long distance and of great personal … [Read more...]

Carrying Forward, Clumsily


A week or so ago, I was in a cab from Chicago O’Hare into the city to speak at the National Alliance of Musical Theatre conference.  The traffic was heavy and the cabbie was chatty, and at one point he ended up asking me whether I was married, and I said yes.  He then, logically but erroneously, assumed that I was married to a woman, and with that assumption he then carried on the conversation, asking me first just generally what she did and whether she minded me traveling so much, and then—as … [Read more...]

Standing Up for the Charitable Tax Deduction Is Standing Up for a Healthy Society; or Reframing away from giving a tax break to the rich


In a comment on my post from last week about framing, John Carnwath honed in on a comment I sort of tossed off about the threat to the charitable deduction posed by the fiscal cliff.  Take a look at his comment, which is very well laid out—he notes that while the tax deduction for charitable giving is surely and important driver for the arts, he’s not convinced that, given the topic of the post, a frame that suggests favoring the wealthy with a “tax break” is the best idea.  He notes that, … [Read more...]

Nothing New Under the (Ever-Closer, Ready to Incinerate Us) Sun


On his way out the door, Rocco Landesman lobbed one final, wonderful bomb out there in a conversation with his counterpart in France (who, by the way, receives $9 billion-with-a-B in annual funding whereas the NEA has about $150 million).  He was speaking at the World Arts Forum, and spoke about a “fundamental, visceral distrust of the arts” by the American public.  He called the NEA funding level “pathetic,” and who can disagree, and his blunt honesty about what he called the arts’ “cowboy … [Read more...]

First the Seed: Embracing Arts as a Means to and End


As I head to TCG to moderate a panel with Diane Ragsdale, Diane Paulus and Chad Bauman on how to better integrate art and artists into a conversation about audience engagement, I feel a little like I'm walking into the set up for a joke and I don't know the end of it.  "An arts marketer and advocate walks into a bar full of artists and says, 'Maybe art is really a means to an end...'"  Then what? I've been thinking about this shift, from a mindset where the making of art is the center of the … [Read more...]

Fiddling with the Believing Machine

flying-spiderman-653948 -

I have had some trouble getting up the energy to be upset about the Mike Daisey problem otherwise known as #DaiseyGate.  This became obvious to me as I sat at lunch at one of my stops on the Counting New Beans tour with a bunch of mid-twenties junior staffers at major theatres and heard them rail against Daisey and his lying lies, voicing the betrayal they felt as staffers who are sometimes put in the position of lying to an audience, either knowingly or unknowingly, in the service of the art … [Read more...]

On (in)Appropriate Cultural Appropriation

Nakotah Larance in Totem, photo by Greg Horn.

Nakotah Larance in Totem, photo by Greg Horn.In the late 1800's, William Cody, more popularly known as Buffalo Bill, toured the United States and Europe with Buffalo Bill's Wild West, a production that featured sharpshooters, re-enactments of Indian attacks (it was said to have ended with a presentation of Custer's Last Stand) and, later (when the title was appended to include "and Congress of Rough Riders of the World"), feats of derring-do from people from the Middle East, Mongolia, Central … [Read more...]

The Evaluation Problem


Diane Ragsdale and Devon Smith have written tandem arguments about the difference and relative laxness of arts incubators over technology incubators. I won’t go into all that they’ve said, as you should be reading their blogs anyway, but in sum it comes down to an argument that arts incubators, rather than adopting the put up or shut up attitude of tech incubators, whose average support time is 33 months and at the end of which they let you fly or fall on your own, instead adopt a system that … [Read more...]

The best art teaches us how we should behave

"Dancing With Mom" by Nagu Tron from Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.

"Dancing With Mom" by Nagu Tron from Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.On Thursday of last week I finally caught up on all my blog reading, including Chad Bauman’s recent post on reconnecting with the art he was marketing by actually getting in and seeing a show.  I can relate to that feeling of drain, of forgetting the value of what we are doing (and what we’re doing it for) sometimes.  Especially with a new baby at home, and commuting 75 minutes each way to work each day, I find it … [Read more...]

In Whose Hands Does Meaning Live?

Photo: "DSC07227" by Phillip Torrone from Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.

Where does the meaning of a piece of work live?  When does its particular resonance take shape?  When a playwright puts words down on paper and submits them to be produced, is there something already inherent in those words that form the shape of the meaning?  Or is the true shape of that meaning created by a director, whose particular eye and concept elevate the words from the page to the proscenium? This is not, it turns out, just an esoteric conversation.  As we move into an age … [Read more...]

Communion, Captivation and Flow – With a Little Rapture Thrown In For Spice

Prarie Dog Rapture

Last fall, I was walking with a friend on the expansive brilliantly white patio outside the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.  It was a hot day, and when my friend needed to take a call, I snuck out of the sun to stand under the large flat roof of the building in the shade, next to the cool marble walls.  The building is huge, a true monolith, and as I was looking up at the architecture, one of the many quotes they have engraved on the Kennedy Center’s walls caught my eye: “This country … [Read more...]

Sydni and the Green Feather

Photo: "The Green Feather" by Sheree Zielke from Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.

This past Saturday, I took a drive through a ferocious, and unseasonably late, rainstorm to the house of an eleven-year-old theatregoer named Sydni.  I was interviewing Sydni and her mother, Sarah, as part of the research into the intrinsic impact of art that we are conducting/commissioning at Theatre Bay Area, in this case video interviews with a small group of everyday theatre patrons to understand why they go to theatre, why they value it, and what it means to them.  We were videotaping … [Read more...]

Syncing Brainwaves Through the Fourth Wall

Photo: "Quantum Brainwaves" by aLansong! from Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.

What is actually neurologically involved in communication? What does it take for a speaker to convey something to a listener, and what does it take for that listen to both comprehend what's being said and remember it? In a paper published in August 2010 in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) called (dryly) "Speaker-listener neural coupling underlikes successful communication," three researchers from Princeton University detail an experiment that … [Read more...]

Co-Opting Public Value

A billboard for Mozilla, currently up in San Francisco.

San Francisco is big on non-profit alternatives. I know this because we’ve done some asking around (and looking at other research) as we attempt a brand realignment on our TIX Bay Area discounted ticketing service. It turns out that, all other things being equal (a big caveat), a good percentage of Bay Area consumers will opt for a socially-helpful version of a service over a straight-up corporate one. As such, we will be touting the fact that we’re the only non-profit ticketing vendor in the … [Read more...]

The Value of Arts is Not Going to Be Found in Economics


This post originally appeared on the National Endowment for the Arts' Facebook page. The true value of art cannot be measured in economics alone. If that were the case, we’d be in trouble. It’s impressive that, per the new NEA research note Time and Money, the cultural industries contribute $70.9 billion to the U.S. annual GDP—but the total U.S. annual GDP is $14 trillion, which basically means the entire cultural sector contributes .51% of the entire GDP in any given year. On any given day, … [Read more...]

We Are The Memory Pushers

JourneyEndCurtainCall_photo by Paul Kolnick

What we traffic in is memories.  Theatre, particularly, but all the arts, are representations of abstracted or concrete parts of this world, pushed out from artists to audience with the goal of sticking in the head.  We are memory makers, and it's important that we try not to forget that when we're building out experience packages and talking about the value we have to audiences in our materials.  Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel laureate and founder of behavioral economics, has spoken eloquently about … [Read more...]