Hall of mirrors?

I wasn’t at the National Performing Arts Convention in Denver last week, but I’ve faithfully read the strategies for the future that the conference produced. (If you follow the link, keep scrolling down to read all the strategies that were proposed.)

And the whole thing, I have to say, makes me a little sad. Everyone — and this includes friends of mine, people I respect and have known for years — got so excited. Which is natural. You meet in a supportive environment, you’ve all got the same goals (boost the performing arts!), procedures are developed for constructive talk. So of course you come up with hopes and plans:

Organize a national media campaign with celebrity spokespersons, catchy slogans  (e.g. “Got Milk”), unified message, and compelling stories!

Create a Department of Culture/Cabinet-level position which is responsible for implementing a national arts policy!

Forge partnerships with other sectors to identify how the arts can serve community needs!

Create multi-media marketing strategies (including YouTube, Facebook) to communicate and demonstrate value and relevance!

The exclamation points are mine, and of course there were many more ideas. But what was missing from all of this was any discussion of the world in which these initiatives will have to be launched. And without that discussion, how can anybody know which of the many ideas presented are likely to work? Just imagine a commercial company making plans to promote a product. Wouldn’t they do market research? Wouldn’t they want to know what people think of the product, and what things about the product might (or might not) be appealing?

And yet here we have the arts — an endeavor that most people involved would think was far more important than a mere commercial marketing campaign — and all we bring to it is (forgive me) unfocused amateur enthusiasm. Organize a media campaign! Well, what’s it going to say? OK, fine, leave that to the professionals who’ll eventually run it. But if you yourself have no idea, how will you know whether the professionals will make sensible plans? (And, by the way, who’s going to pay for this campaign? It’s going to be expensive.)

What’s going on here, I think, is something I’ve pointed out before. (And also here.) People in the arts won’t talk about what the outside world is really like. What they like to do is go running down a hall of mirrors, shouting out in great excitement. The arts are wonderful! If only people knew that! If only people were exposed to the arts, then they’d love us! And so plans are made for eager, not-quite-thought-about-enough exposure.

And meanwhile, out in the rest of the world, people have no problem in principle with the arts, but they’re also deeply into popular culture, which has (long, long, long ago) evolved art of its own. They don’t make distinctions, any more, between high and popular art. They don’t think anything’s missing from their lives because they don’t spend time enough with everything that people in the arts promote. If you want them to go to opera more, or dance concerts, or theater, one job you’ll have to do is to persuade them that they’ll get something as smart and as deeply connected to their lives as The Sopranos or The Wire.

A lot of arts marketing and advocacy — just look at classical music marketing, which might be effective for the core audience, but is absolutely feeble otherwise — doesn’t come near to doing this. But people in the arts don’t seem to notice, because they’ve conveniently assumed that popular culture is shallow, weak…oh, you know the drill.

You can read people saying, for example (I won’t name any names here) that our current culture leaves no room for thought or for reflection. This might be followed, in one example I can think of (again no names), with suggestions for ways that classical musicians can learn to think — to deeply reflect — on what they do. Meanwhile, newspapers and magazines and TV shows bring us interviews with movie actors, film directors, TV producers, and pop musicians, all of them thoughtful, all of them deeply pondering the issues in their work. But apparently some of us are blind to that.

Enough. There are some useful cautions about the convention from my fellow ArtsJournal blogger Andrew Taylor, who was there. (Scroll down to find the post called “”Changing the players, and the game.” I’d go further than he does, and I want to be particularly clear in saying that my ideas are mine, and his may be quite different. But I’m glad he said the following:

Being unique, under appreciated, and in constant jeopardy seem to be part of our DNA now in the nonprofit performing arts, whether or not the evidence supports the assumptions. And our perception of commercial entertainment as the ”other” and the ”enemy” still block our larger understanding of our work.

And:

So much of the conversation in Denver was driven by frustration with the lack of perceived resonance, value, and importance of what the performing arts do for society. Government doesn’t support us enough. Schools don’t work hard enough to sustain and integrate arts education. Audiences don’t spend enough on our tickets. We tended to blame the outsiders for this problem — if they only understood us, they would value us — but every now and then someone would ask the deeper question: Are we telling our story well? Are we building our story on the values and interests of our community? Are we being as compelling and clear in our organizational narratives as we are on our stages?

These are crucially important issues. We’ve got to break out of our hall of mirrors, and start living in the same world as the people we say we want to reach.

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Comments

  1. says

    90% of the strategies seem to describe efforts that have been in progress for years, or if not, should be. It could have been written 10 years ago or more.

    It frustrates me that our ideas for change are always colored by the notion that, given the right ad campaign or outreach effort, people or elected officials will experience an epiphany and suddenly adopt our values and passions. It’s a born-again philosophy of arts marketing and advocacy.

    We refuse to meet people where they are: find out their needs and start learning where the arts and our particular genre might fit in, including as a means of amateur self-expression.

    I always come back to the findings in the Knight Foundation’s Magic of Music Final Report, in which we learn that 60% of adults surveyed expressed an interest in classical music, but most of them preferred to listen to it in, not the concert hall, but… the car. Those people indeed have classical music needs, and they’re already being met.

  2. Elizabeth Cornell says

    Indeed, there is much reason for concern. One persistent problem in the symphony orchestra world centers on the repertoire being offered. While there is an occasional performance of a work by a living composer, the programming is almost purely historical.

    Concert music composer David Sartor, a practical and very listenable composer if ever there was one, makes some good observations in his blog (http://blog.davidsartor.com/) on this subject:

    "At one time, before the recording industry came into maturity, the only way to keep the historical repertoire alive was to perform it repeatedly, in large towns and small. This is no longer the case, yet far too many orchestras see themselves primarily as keepers of that historical flame. In fact, a successful conductor once said that in a 40+ year career he had not yet been faced with conducting any work that was not already old when he began his college studies!&quot

    and

    "I firmly believe historical music still has the power to enthrall and uplift audiences, but this power is greatly leveraged when old works are performed alongside an equal number of contemporary and vital works by today’s concert music composers. Failing this approach, today’s audiences soon learn that despite the big screen monitors, clever pre-concert events and flashy four-color brochures, what they being offered is in its essence a purely historical product. And, forced to choose between repackaged Dickens and even a moderately good contemporary suspense novel, most will pick the modern novel every time."

    Frankly, we are blessed with many concert music composers who write listenable and audience-friendly works for orchestra, but there is a widely held belief among the choosers that audiences just won;t like anything written past 1940 or so. Therefore, they find themselves in the position of trying to sell an aging and unchanging repertoire to a new audience – a losing proposition if ever there was one!

  3. says

    Great points as usual Greg. I just want to add one thing:

    “Organize a national media campaign with celebrity spokespersons, catchy slogans (e.g. “Got Milk”), unified message, and compelling stories!”

    Not just a silly idea, but a terrible idea. The premise of those media campaigns is that the product is good for you, and that consuming it will make you better. Milk is healthy, and adding more milk to your diet will make you healthier. Running a similar campaign for classical music would have the same sort of premise, but that attitude that classical music is better for you than the alternative plays into the perception of elitism and is just plain offensive and untrue. Any sales pitch which relies on telling prospective audiences that classical muic is better than popular music is counterproductive.

    None of which is to say that classical music doesn’t need a national media strategy-just that it shouldn’t be an “outreach” or “public service” style campaign. Nor can it be based on generic “classical music is awesome” messaging. You don’t ever see “soft drinks are great!” ads, you see ads for individual products and the combined effect is to persuade people that soft drinks are great. Advertising a whole genre or category plays as desperate.

    -Galen

    PS Great to finally meet you in person at Bang on a Can.

  4. says

    Greg,

    Excellent post. Maybe the structure of this town hall meeting was part of the reason that there appears to have been little discussion of how these ideas would actually be implemented and which ideas would likely fare the best. The primary emphasis could have been on the process of idea generation and not really an assessment of feasibility. I wasn’t there either – so I’m speculating.

    What did strike me about the main categories of discussion and the agreed upon strategies is that, unfortunately, I’ve heard these ideas before. I don’t feel that new, innovative ideas were added to the mix and considered for discussion – at least the ones that percolated to the top that we can read about on the conference blog.

    I wrote a post critical of the NPAC Internet and blogging strategy, which conference was kind enough to post to their blog along with related commentary.

    Doug’s post is well worth reading. NPAC had many, many problems.

  5. Peet says

    This paradigm–civilization vs. barbarianism–has existed for years. Is the concert hall a museum or just a punk rock venue with better architecture? Rules of thumb apply more than scientific evidence. It’s a spectrum more than two opposing camps, and people are going to fall somewhere along a spectrum. Thing is, there may be some very articulate commercial artists, but they’re the exception. We can drag Radiohead and Weezer into the concert hall, and make a one-off splash, but what are the benefits and what are the costs? The sheer “otherness” of serious music is it’s main attraction. It has relevance because it is NOT what people get on a daily basis. Attempts to make serious music, and I specifically mean the traditional Western Canon, somehow popular through whatever means (naive marketing plans, artificial excitement driven by celebrities, integration of top-selling commercial artists within the framework of standard programming) miss the point. It is not meant to be popular. A drive to be popular is an economic issue, not an artistic issue. Trying to mask a desire for financial stability by making a spurious case for generally inferior music won’t help.

    Peet, you’ve fallen into some stereotypes here. “[T]here may be some very articulate commercial artists, but they’re the exception.” How do you know? What’s your basis for saying that? And suppose you’re right, and “articulate commercial artists” are a minority. How large a minority are they? And how influential are they, whatever their numbers? Obviously it matters whether 5% of “commercial artists” are doing intelligent work, or 30%, or 45%. And if 15%, let’s say, were doing good stuff, and the rest was utter crap, but the 15% were having a healthy influence much larger than their numbers would suggest, wouldn’t that matter? Exactly that happened when art films began appearing in American movie theaters in the 1950s.

    I challenge you to spend some time in the indie rock world, or the indie film world, and see if you’ll still say these things. One point that you miss — and it’s really a crucial point — is that a lot of popular culture is just as other to the mainstream as classical music is. Or much more so, actually. Bjork, to take an obvious example, is a lot more other than any standard performance of Tosca. Remember Cher crying at La Bohème in Moonstruck? There you have a case of classical music clearly showing itself as something the mainstream can understand. Now show me someone reacting to Bjork or some other truly strange indie pop artist in a similar mainstream film.

    Well, actually I can do that — just watch Juno. But Juno wasn’t at all a mainstream film the way Moonstruck was — it was an indie film through and through, with a deep alternative sensibility, reflected in the music on its soundtrack, that happened to find a large audience. Thus showing how wrong you are when you imagine that thoughtful “commercial artists” are some kind of tiny minority.

    I put “commercial artists” in quotes because your use of the term is derogatory, and not really in touch with reality. You imagine that there’s a pure world of art, in which commercial considerations have no place, and then a world of commerce, in which any artistic production is fatally compromised by the need to make money. Good luck trying to prove these two worlds exist with actual, detailed references to how things work in reality. Compare, for instance, the programming constraints any major orchestra feels — for reasons that are flagrantly commercial — with the freedom indie rockers take for granted that they have.

  6. Suzanne Derringer says

    Hi, Greg –

    Excellent post as usual, and the readers’ comments as well.

    All I can add is an observation on marketing classical music. There’s a big ad poster in DC at the moment – I have seen it at bus-stops – for WETA, the all-classical DC radio station. Smiling, pleasant grey-haired man in his 50s, who says (I’m paraphrasing slightly, didn’t memorize the ad copy): “Some people think that classical music is relaxing or soothing. I find it stimulating. Mozart wakes me up. Haydn makes me happy. And Bach just makes me glad to be alive.”

    “Classical” music, at least in this context, meaning Bach to Mozart – nothing in the past two centuries at all! And the poster-boy? Rather on the young side of the “classical” audience these days.

    This is WETA preaching to its core audience; it doesn’t expand it.

    This spring, the final concert of a long-running chamber music series, originally based at NIH, took place: Schubert’s “Schwannengesang” was sung for the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences. The series literally died of old age. The remnants of the formerly much larger audience were truly elderly.

    WETA’s approach is a prime example of the wrong way to go.

    I can imagine why they don’t more boldly look for a new audience. First, in their hearts they don’t believe it can be done. And second, very much tied up with that, they also know, in their hearts, that if they tried to find a new audience, it would be different (more or less by definition) from the one they have now, and that would mean that they might have to change. Play more music by living composers, maybe (as WNYC does in New York), or become an art music station, in which classical music was only one of the art-music genres they might play. (That’s more or less the Nonesuch Records strategy, and also to some extent is what WNYC does.)

    But of course they don’t want to do those things. They want to keep playing the classical music that — to be fair to them — they and their current listeners so deeply love. The advertising campaign you described seems, off the top of my head, to be an effort to talk to the people just outside their base — people who like classical music, but might have the idea that classical radio is sleepy and predictable. Or “calm,” to use a word I’ve often heard people outside the classical world use to describe what classical music’s appeal to them might be.

    WETA, in other words, hopes that there are smart, classical-loving people who don’t listen because they think the station isn’t smart enough. Or something like that. The problem, though, is that then they’re a little in John McCain’s position. He has to maintain the Republican conservative base, and at the same time reach out to independents. WETA probably has a lot of people listening precisely because they think classical music is relaxing or soothing. In fact, a very smart and serious Canadian blogger, who admires WETA, says that the station in fact realizes that it offers a refuge (which he capitalizes):

    They now know that what they offer is a Place. They offer a Refuge. They offer a Refuge in a world that is overwhelming. A world that is usually loud and crass. A world that often isolates us from others and more importantly from our very selves.

    They are learning that they are the keepers of a Haven. A Haven where the age old customs of hospitality still apply.

    If that’s truly their appeal, then I’m not sure their current ad campaign is the best idea for them.

  7. Peet says

    Points well taken Greg, I make my sweeping generalizations based on my (limited) interaction with everything we think of as popular music. American Idol. The vast sea of Classic Rock acts still touring the same venues with the same sets from when I first heard them 30 years ago. Scanning rock fan mags and reading an unchanged dialectic. In so many ways, pop culture is as fossilized as opera. The standard of “intelligent work” can be found in a lot of places, but one reason I abandoned the nightclub for the concert hall is that I found more intelligent work there. Plus the fact that I can get good seats for 1/4 the price, don’t get frisked when I walk in the door, and don’t have to smell piss, vomit, and dope for two hours. Seeping generalizations sure, but odds are I would become more enlightened about music spending time with a the oboe player from a randomly chosen community symphony than with the bass player from a randomly chosen pop/rock act. Not in all cases, sure, but I think the rule of thumb holds. It’s a gray area, but I always go back to a discussion I had when I worked in a record store. Another employee couldn’t understand why i was uninterested in new rock/pop/commercial/whatever. My argument at the time: I haven’t heard the whole Ring Cycle yet. How can I possibly justify spending time listening to yet another flavor-of-the-month? The burden is on newer artists to defend their relevance to me, not on me to defend Wagner to them.

    I don’t think of a “pure world of art” as much as I think of an aspirational goal to be inspired, enlightened, emotionally touched. To generalize again, composed music performed live on acoustic instruments does that more effectively for me than amplified electronic music that relies heavily on recording technique. Personal preference. As for the propgramming restraints a typical symphony operates under, sure, they have to annually program the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, just as much as the latest Beach Boys iteration has to play Fun Fun Fun. But if you had to spend 30 years listening to one of those two…

    Thanks for the clarification. And this can be a very fruitful discussion.

    For me, the operational word in what you wrote is, well, “for me.” As in, “composed music performed live on acoustic instruments does that more effectively for me than amplified electronic music that relies heavily on recording technique.” You have every right to speak for yourself, and to have whatever taste you have. But it would be interesting to hear you expand on the value judgment you’re making here — that when music “relies heavily on recording technique” this seems, to you, to lower the music’s artistic value. Couldn’t we just as well say that recording technique can be just another color in a composer’s palette? Certainly that’s what Michael Gordon had in mind when he made his Light is Calling CD, in which, as a classical composer, he used studio recording techniques to compose pieces that couldn’t be created in any other way. You might also enjoy taking a break from your conversation with the local oboist to talk to some really good pop producers about how studio recording techniques work. There are also books you could read about that, and, for that matter, magazines like Keyboard and Electronic Musician that can give you at least a general idea of how sophisticated these techniqes can be. The history of studio recording techniques is also pretty fascinating — there was a lot of creative excitement in the early days, when people like Buddy Holly and Phil Spector and various Motown types (along with many others) started to understand how the recording studio could be a musical instrument in its own right.

    But back to “for you.” You have a point of view, and why not? But it’s not the only one, and I hope you’d be willing to concede at least the possibility that someone else’s point of view might also have some validity. For instance, your oboist versus the randomly chosen pop/rock act. I’d rather not trust to random choice here. Let’s (as a thought experiment) pick a really smart oboist, and a really smart bass player. I’m sure you’ll get more from talking to the oboist than you would from the bass player, because you start off more interested in what the oboist might have to say, and you also know more about the things that are likely to come up. The bass player might lose you pretty quickly, talking intelligently about things you’re not yet able to follow. (This happened to me in the late ’80s, after I defected from classical music to pop.)

    A couple of other points. First, your phrase “everything we think of as popular music.” Which turns out to mean American Idol and classic rock acts playing the same songs for 30 years. But that’s not what I or many other people think pop music is. One key fact about pop music is that it’s very varied, to say the least, and it’s completely possible to have a rich life with pop music, as I’ve had for decades, without ever paying attention either to American Idol or those classic rock tours.

    Drugs and vomit at rock clubs? I was a pop critic for several years, and for some of fhat time I went to shows five nights a week. I rarely ran into drugs and vomit. And it was pretty easy to predict what kind of shows would attract people who’d do drugs and throw up. You’d have no trouble avoiding that, if you wanted to.

    Rock fan magazines? Which did you mean? Did you include the rock magazines that publish serious political articles? (Rolling Stone, for instance.) I can’t reconcile my reading of serious rock publications over the years with your impression.

    The Ring vs. some new band? You could say the same within the non-classical orbit. Why would I want to hear Vampire Weekend when I haven’t yet listened to all six CDs of the complete Miles Davis On the Corner sessions? And when I haven’t fully absorbed Robert Johnson, and haven’t listened to all the Bob Dylan bootlegs? For God’s sake, I haven’t even fully absorbed The Basement Tapes yet. The answer, though, is pretty simple. Something new, reflecting the world it’s part of and also helping to shape that world, has value simply because of its role in contemporary culture. That doesn’t mean that crappy new bands aren’t crappy. But good new bands have a value and importance that nothing old can have, even if the old things are, by general acclamation, masterworks.

    Finally, Tchaikovsky vs. the Beach Boys. You’re really loading the dice here, if you ask me. As I said, I was in the pop music business full time for a number of years, and have paid intermittently close attention since. When I was in the biz, I went to shows regularly. And I’ve never, ever, heard some Beach Boys “iteration” singing “Fun, Fun, Fun.” (Often enough, you’ll hear someone singing old songs in a new way, but that’s a very different story, since it’s genuinely creative.) But in more than 30 years in the classical music business, I’ve of course heard the world’s top orchestras play the standard repertoire over and over again. The New York Philharmonic, which does the Tchaikovsky concerto regularly, is considered a serious artistic organization. Cover bands, which imitate the Beach Boys or other classic groups, are considered, in the pop world, to be the lowest of the low. You won’t see their performances reviewed in any serious publication (or probably anywhere at all), and if they make recordings, those recordings aren’t reviewed. So I think here you’re making a comparison that won’t hold water at all. “Cover band,” in the pop world, is a term used derisively. Which is why an Australian commentator, upset that big Australian classical music organizations receive what he thinks is disproportionately too much funding, attacked Australian orchestras with precisely that term. He called them “cover bands,” meaning that they played classic repertoire over and over — and from a pop point of view, that was about the most abusive term he could find for them.

  8. Peet says

    In my Beach Boys analogy, I was refering to the actual band. But I get your point.

    I’ll admit, I don’t seek out serious rock publications. Just the lurid stuff with photo montages of Ronnie James Dio and performers from Slipknot on the cover. Lists of the 100 greatest metal solos. It allows me not to have to take it seriously. But, in the interest of openness, I’m willing to put my ears in your hands. On my desk, I have an unopened boxed set of Olivier Messiaen. Instead of opening that, I should go to my local Borders and pick up a copy of….???? And why?

    See if they have The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll. That’ll give you a terrific (if not completely current) overview. Or else pick up some books in the 33 1/3 series (often displayed on its own, away from the other pop music books), like Ben Sisario’s book on the Pixies, or the one on Radiohead’s OK Computer album. Just to see how serious people think about pop music.

    Or you might read the pop reviews in the New York Times for a month or so, online. Their critics are quite good, and talk about pop the way serious people do. You’ll also get an idea of what current bands are like. The Times does something in pop music that few publications do with any area of the arts or popular culture — they devote more space to unusual, thoughtful stuff than to the big stars. So maybe this would be my number one recommendation. Just read the daily pop reviews in the Times for a while. And the Sunday pieces. You might especially look out for a regular feature called Playlist, where they’ll get a musician to talk about what he or she is listening to right now.

    Maybe, if you want a magazine at Border’s, you might pick up that old standby, Rolling Stone. It’s been quite a while since I read it, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be like the magazines you were used to.

    But the main thing, really, is to absorb yourself for a while in serious rock criticism. And to learn the history of pop music in the rock era. Though I have to say you might really prefer to spend time with your Messiaen. That’s what you really care about, and I say that with full honor and respect. I’m impressed that you’re willing to spend even a little time double checking your impressions of pop.

  9. says

    Hi Greg,

    Good points here. I will say that the discussion at the tables during the caucus process, at least in my experience, was of a considerably higher caliber than the final “results” would seem to indicate. That said, your critiques of the giant ad campaign approach are spot-on. In fact, I posted a follow-up on my blog that shows that during the heyday of the famous “Got Milk?” campaign, milk consumption actually declined in the US.

    http://createquity.blogspot.com/2008/06/got-milk.html

    Hi, Ian, and thanks for this. I’d love to know more about the discussion you were in — the things that were higher caliber, but didn’t make it into the final summary. Which evidently was compiled, in effect, by voting, because each suggestion on the list is accompanied by a number, the percentage of people who supported it. Maybe I should have said that nothing scored much higher than 20%, including the idea for a cabinet-level arts office, which I said was by far the favorite. It was, in the sense that it finished far ahead of the second most popular suggestion, but it still only got minority support. (The flip side of this, of course, was that really grounded suggestions appeared to have gotten very little support at all.)

  10. says

    Actually, Greg, if you look closely again at the NPAC blog, you’ll see that the cabinet post idea actually came in second (at 23%) behind the Got Milk campaign (at 27%). Full disclosure: our table actually felt the cabinet post was a strong idea, although I don’t think I ended up voting for it. Yes, it’s probably the least realistic of all of them, but my sense is that state and local governments are starting to become more savvy to the value of the arts at least on an economic level: look at Massachusetts, for example, which recently appointed a Culture Czar to its Office of Business Development. It’s not such a huge leap from that to having something on the national level. And from having attended several of these kinds of sessions over the past year, I’ve come to believe that a greater involvement in the political process, along with actual engagement with actual politicians, is one of the key missing elements here. At a recent event called “Saving Our Cultural Capital” in NYC, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer highlighted how something called the Industrial and Commercial Incentive Program gives millions of dollars to subsidize for-profit businesses that really don’t need any help from the city, such as the Toys ‘R Us in Times Square. There are a lot of instances like that where being connected to what’s going on politically can help us to advocate effectively on behalf of the arts getting a fair shake from the money that’s already there.

    As for the conversations at the table, I wasn’t taking notes on them since somebody else was doing that, so I unfortunately can’t be too specific. What I will say is that the ideas that were shared were done so with considerable nuance and refinement, nuance that was lost when those ideas had to be submitted to the gathering committee in the form of one-sentence soundbites. That’s a flaw of the process more than anything else, I’ve come to believe. Though I agree that some of the ideas that made it to the final round were indeed pretty stupid, I think it’s unfair to make assumptions about the expertise and savvy of all the attendees based on those results–a lot of folks there were just as unhappy as you with the final voting. (Also, you should know that there were myriad technical difficulties during the final session with the voting machines and I believe we were supposed to have been able to choose more than one option, which might have changed things quite a bit.)

    Thanks so much. Very interesting. Subtleties often get lost in summaries, so it’s good to be reminded that they were there.

    That said, there were certainly people who attended the convention who agree with me. One of them sent me very strong e-mail saying that I’d been too kind. Unfortunately I can’t quote what he said, because he needs to keep it out of the public eye.

    As for the national arts position, I think it’s notable that the government arts initiatives you mention are both about the economic impact of the arts. Thus they come under the heading “What can government do to help the economy of our [city, state, town, whatever.” That’s a discussion that’s been active for generations. In the end, it has nothing to do specifically with the arts. It’s very far from, “We need more arts, for their own sake. What can government do to help with that?” Their was once a wave of support for that kind of thinking, back in the ’60s when the NEA and the first state arts agencies were established. Crucial to that wave of support, I believe, were donors to large arts organizations who could see, from their inside position, that established funding patterns weren’t going to be enough. These were people with a lot of political clout.

    But I don’t see any movement like this right now. And with the problems the US is facing right now — war, economy, gas prices, health care (an obvious list; we all know what’s one it) — where does anyone expect to find enough support to create a cabinet-level arts department? Or, maybe more realistically, to elevate the NEA to cabinet status? If the argument for doing this should be that the arts have an economic benefit, then there are already government agencies that can deal with that. If the argument is that the arts are beneficial in themselves (the “intrinsic benefit” argument — it’s not like no one has never discussed these issues before) then it’s hard to believe, at least for me, that there’s enough support for the importance of that to spearhead the establishment of a new cabinet office.

    But, Ian, it strikes me that our discussion is very much part of the problem. Anyone who wants to establish this cabinet office shouldn’t be talking to me. They should be talking to people in politics, to find out how feasible the idea is, and how to go about implementing the idea, if it turns out to be feasible.

    So it might have made more sense for everyone in Denver to say, “We should confer with people in politics to study the feasibility of establishing this office,” rather than “We should establish this office.”

  11. says

    I think Maryann is on to something here with the suggestion that lots of people can get their quota of classical music on the radio. I look at the faculty here at the college, and these are sharp, educated, and aware folks. They don’t come to our departmental concerts, and I see very few of them at the orchestra concerts in St. Pete.

    I think the typical young faculty member is so oversubscribed and stressed out that they don’t have the time and energy to get in that car, drive downtown, park, and walk to seats in a concert hall, where they will sit for two hours. Perhaps to see a Broadway blockbuster or a boilerplate rock band in the hockey arena in Tampa, but not for the orchestra. One exception to that would be stuff like Messiah and the Beethoven Ninth, as choral things sell well here.

    My students will go if they are helped with tickets and transportation. They are even expressing an interest in opera!

  12. says

    I think some the amatuerism that you not is simply immaturity. There is a lack of understanding of what happens where rubber meets road.

    One find this at all levels of the policy world. Those making education policy frequently aren’t making it with full realization of what the conditions, the site, of implementation is.

    And yet, like politicians, artists must be hopeful. Aware of what they cannot do, and at the same time ignoring the road, and focusing on the rubber.

    I’m working on a piece looking at the use of internet in the performing arts, considering it specifically in relation to Louis Sullivan, and the theory ‘form follows function’. Perhaps you’d be willing to offer a comment.

    Yes, professionals can do very dumb things, as they work in their professions. We all can cite examples.

    And there’s nothing, really, that anyone can do about that. Oh, in specific cases, we can fix the problem. The New York City agency that inspects construction cranes can discover that its chief inspector was taking bribes, and replace him. (Not to mention prosecute him. This scandal really happened over the last few months, and was discovered after two huge cranes fell on construction sites, killing people.) And in November we’ll elect a new president.

    But I think I was talking about a different problem, which is people trying to solve problems in areas they really don’t know much about. This, too, seems not uncommon in life, but it also seems more avoidable. In particular, it seems like a good idea not to plan a large part of a large convention around getting people working on things they don’t know about.

    And in that spirit, Ron, I don’t know if I’m qualified to comment on what you’re writing, interesting as it sounds. I might not be familiar with the concepts involved. Above all, though, I have to pass because I just have too much stuff piled up, too many things to read, too many things to write. Good luck with it, though, and I hope it’s helpful to many people.

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