The comments so far on my post about the National Performing Arts Convention — have been mostly very heartening. As is one private e-mai, which I hope to be able to share. The comments are well worth reading.
One point that emerges from the comments is how silly it is — to put this in plain English — to assemble a group of well-meaning amateurs and ask them to solve a serious problem that needs the attention of professionals. Of course I mean amateurs in politics, promotion, and the planning of strategic campaigns. The democratic impulse here is well-meaning, but — in my view — terribly misguided. If the arts aren’t getting enough attention, locally and nationally, how can we fix that? Well, you might start by talking to people who deal with that kind of problem every day — people, for instance, in politics, advertising, marketing. If you assemble a group of people without professional experience in those areas, most of the suggestions you get will very likely not be useful. Or, as some of the commenters pointed out, you’ll get suggestions that have been made many times before. i’m not saying that amateurs might come up with something really workable that professionals would never think of, but if all we’ve got is amateurs making suggestions, we won’t even know when that happens!
Case in point: the most popular answer (see the NPAC blog for full details) to the question, “What should we do about arts advocacy and communicating our value at the NATIONAL level?” (Caps in the original.). The most popular answer — by far — was:
Create a Department of Culture/Cabinet-level position which is responsible for implementing a national arts policy.
But this is just silly. Yes, I know that some European countries, maybe many, have ministers of culture in their governments. But what would it take to create one here? Some kind of national upsurge in support of the arts. No president is going to support this innovation just because a convention of happy enthusiasts in Denver proposed it. And no Congress is going to pass legislation creating the post, just because people at NPAC think they should.
Once you understand that, the proposal turns out to be self-contradictory. But that can’t happen until the arts get the support they’re not getting now! The proposed solution couldn’t be implemented unless there wasn’t any problem in the first place.
Please note! I’m not saying it might not be possible to build a political movement to support the arts. I think it’s unlikely, but I could be wrong. The mistake, though, is to make the cabinet-level arts department a priority now, when you have to create the movement before any such thing would be possible.