Directing advocacy

By Clay Lord, Director of Marketing and Audience Development, Theatre Bay Area
Marty's post and William Osborne's comment on Bill's post together highlight a discord between artists and advocacy groups.  There's a perception on many artists' parts that they are, in fact, doing advocacy, that much of the work created today comes from some level of advocating impulse, and that building that energy is enough.  Often, however, that advocacy is very specifically directed based on the personal motivations of the artist, and more coordinated effort is difficult both because of the extremely specific motivations and because of more mundane issues like time, money, and energy. On the other side, as Marty notes, is the impulse to try and coalesce that energy effectively through organizations, whether it's to affect political change or build audiences.  The danger here, of course, is that when you spend too much time trying to aggregate, you end up with a watered down version of many viewpoints, and potentially a less effective message motivating a less impressed artistic and political core.  I've had long arguments with friends about the admin-heaviness of arts institutions, the predominance of administrators in a world where artists don't make living wages, and while there are surely pros and cons to the current structure, I think one thing it does continue to provide is a level of institutionalized collaboration (or at least conversation) that might otherwise be swallowed up by the relative entropy of a thousand individual artistic voices. 
July 20, 2010 7:35 AM | | Comments (4) |


Alex and I, of course, have fundamentally different views. Historically, classical music has never been in the marketplace (it was created and developed under a feudalistic patronage system,) and it is extremely unlikely it will ever be successfully market oriented.

Alex speaks of a shift in consciousness that would help artists make money in the marketplace by believing they can and that they deserve it. This is not a new idea. Giants like Beethoven, Mozart, and Schumann all tried it and failed, which does not speak well for our own merely mortal chances. Late in his life Haydn met with some notable commercial successes, but only after having been supported by aristocratic patronage for the previous 50 years during which he developed his craft. Examples of attempts and failures at commercial success by great composers are countless.

I feel that a more meaningful transformation of artistic consciousness is created by the “mixed economies” of Europe. Many of their musicians recognize that they can and perhaps should provide an alternatives to commercially oriented work. Europeans deeply respect the marketplace while at the same time realizing that well-managed alternatives are needed in some areas of society.

I think a similar shift in consciousness is evolving in America. Milton Friedman’s radically anti-Keynesian neo-liberalism (more commonly known as the Reagonomics of privatization) has caused so many problems it has more or less seen its day. This is changing the consciousness of some of our arts leaders. Bill Ivey’s views, for example, seem a bit different than those he expressed in the AJ blog he participated in five years ago. He seems more cautious about market deregulation and privitization, and more interested in balancing them with a healthy public sector. (Of course, I’m probably reading too much into his statements, but he seems to be moving in tandom with a general trend in thought that is more critical of ecomonic neo-liberalism.)

If our schools help future leaders understand that our private arts funding system is systemically flawed, and if we learn to study the more effective public systems in other countries, progress will be made. These are the changes in consciousness that we need, and that are in fact happening. I think a few of the panelists here are behind the curve.

For clarity, my opening quote below was pulled from William's comment, not from Clay's post. Thanks!

"The simple fact is we don’t share those concerns because our world is so different."

Or, consider flipping that: perhaps the classical artists' world wouldn't be as vastly different, and they would be better remunerated by the marketplace, if the artists themselves were to take an interest in and educate themselves on matters of licensing of music on the web, copyright laws, and media consolidation. I don't argue that, with some exceptions, the new music world does not generate a comparable scale of income to that of the popular music world (and I'm guessin' that's why they don't call this popular music). But I absolutely believe that many artists could do better than they do professionally, were they to embrace a broader vision of entrepreneurship and business savvy that goes beyond grants and charitable support.

It's a little bit chicken-and-egg (or, Catch-22, take your analogous pick). If artists proceed with a negative attitude about their ability to generate income from their art, then it's more likely that such an attitude will become their reality, and only further perpetuate the frustrations they already experience. It's hard to make money when one is constantly transmitting a message that one can't make money.

We all appear to agree that educating artists is essential, and I've observed that once artists understand the worth of their assets and how those can be used to benefit them in the marketplace, things tend to improve in their careers. The better we understand the open sea of the non-arts world, the more capable we will be of successfully navigating through it! It's an enjoyable journey.

Yes, there is little agreement about what sort of advocacy work people with the arts should do. Jean wrote that work for better public arts funding systems and arts education are the normal “comfort zones” for such advocacy. She suggests that we are being somewhat narrow-minded or parochial if we can’t look beyond topics like those to issues involving the licensing of music on the web, copyright laws, and media consolidation. In effect, she is saying we should share the same concerns as the pop-music-industrial-complex and Hollywood. The simple fact is we don’t share those concerns because our world is so different. As I outlined in my previous post, the vast majority of creative musicians are not even remotely involved with the marketplace. Our works are not published and not broadcast so copyright and licensing barely affect us.

On the other hand, issues involving public arts funding could have a profound effect on our lives. The public funding system in Germany supports 83 fulltime, year-round opera houses while America does not have any. Even the Met only has a seven month season. We only have about four other real houses in the whole country (Chicago Lyric, Houston Grand Opera, San Francisco Opera, and Santa Fe.) Their paltry seasons range from six weeks to five months. Our so-called National Opera in Washington didn’t even do any performances at all in April and May. The so-called Houston Grand Opera has a tiny chamber orchestra as its instrumental core. For comparison, look at this topographical map of Germany’s 83 opera houses and note the density of the landscape:

The NEA spends about 50 cents a year per capita per year on the arts. If one added in state and local funding the number might be stretched to a couple bucks. By contrast, Norway spends $564, Austria $327, Sweden $282, France $254, and Germany $123. It is a similar story with every developed country in the world except the USA. As the following table shows, we are more on par with Albania, Moldova, and the Ukraine:

Little Finland (pop. 5.5 million) spends $215 per capita. It is no wonder that Finish conductors like Esa-Pekka Salonen and Osmo Vänskä conduct major American orchestras, or that Finn Magnus Lindberg is the resident composer of the NY Phil, that Finn Kaija Saariaho is feted at the Santa Fe Opera and Lincoln Center, or that the NY Phil’s conductor developed his career in Sweden before he could come back to the USA.

Our private system of funding simply does not provide comparable support, so American artists are being screwed. They can’t develop careers like Europeans can, and so our arts leaders cynically import Europeans to lead our orchestras and opera houses, and even to fill many of our most prominent positions as composers. And yet you want us to get involved in licensing and copyright when our works aren’t even published and broadcast in the first place.

You should not wonder if we artists see you all as a bit clueless. You need to look outside American plutocracy and the Hollywood/Nashville box for a moment. If you address relevant topics like public arts funding and arts education you would see more participation here in the blog and in your efforts to unify activism. There’s a good reason those are “comfort zones.” They’re relevant.

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William Osborne commented on Directing advocacy: Alex and I, of course, have fundamentally different views. Historically, c...

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