AJ Logo


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

« Nice Thoughts... | Main | From Midori: Returning "Results" »

March 08, 2005

Since the hand grenade pin has been pulled...

OK, I forget to log in one day and come back to see hand grenades thrown in my direction, as both Bill and Russell say....

Before I lob it back, I must say that I'm taken with the way in which much of what we say really is in agreement--that we're frustrated with the general inability to move the arts forward more successfully on the public agenda, that we want more support for the arts, that we sense the traps inherent in pitting the arts against other pressing social demands, and we all want a healthier arts environment. From such common cause, great things will grow, I hope.

Two quick observations to earlier comments: pitting the arts against other causes IS a trap. For a healthy society, it should be a both/and and not an either/or. Many of the past questionnaires ask us to prioritize how we spend money--e.g. which is more important between infant mortality and the arts--rather than asking us to describe those characteristics that comprise a healthy society. If we could look at the latter, there would be room and a necessity of a creative approach to policy--one that seeks to promote a more holistic sense of national health in which the arts MUST be counted--rather than the traps of competing causes.

And to Bill's point. In EVERY industry, growth implies greater reliance on more people--a relationship that implies a move to the middle and, quite possibly, a more mainstream aesthetic take. To fault large theatres for more conservative fare is both a fairly soft point (in many cases) and not really indicative of what is going on in the FIELD. Putting the large institutions aside for a moment, the VAST majority of theatres in this country operate on $1,000,000 or less these days--and it is often in these smaller groups that a different kind of work is seeded and blooms. ANGELS IN AMERICA started at the Eureka Theatre in San Francisco who commissioned it, long before Broadway; it's the not for profit who have given us Suzan Lori Parks, the Wooster Group, Mabou Mines, the whole explosion of exciting young work--Elevator Repair Service, Big Art Group, Richard Maxwell, Rude Mechanicals--the list goes on and on and permeates the country.

Judging a field by the behavior of 70 or so large groups--a fraction of the professional community but a fraction that thankfully provides deeply meaningful experiences and joyous encounters to those faithful audiences who have built them and attend in huge numbers--is not the same as saying that a field has abandoned innovation and experimentation. The national theatre community stands in stark rebuttal to that oversimplified, and unfair, assertion.

Posted by bcameron at March 8, 2005 02:55 PM


I've been a bit surprised at some of the mention of for-profit artistic products during this fascianting discussion. One comment mentioned Bill Frisell, Dr. Dre, and Tom Waits, suggesting that they are more useful in our 21century society than Mozart. I might dissagree, but the important thing, is that those three artists DON'T need our help. They don't need the non-profit sector. As for the Alien vs. predator reference, the problem is not that the AVP audience doesn't care about 'the arts" It is that the "sideways" and 'hotel rwanda" audience doesn't care about us.

On the subject at hand, I think we should all acknoledge that we are ALWAYS making a case for the art we make. everyday. WE do it when we programm Beethoven or Meyerber. or play Chen Yi or Babbitt. We do it when our lobby has a coffee bar hour before the performance of becket. We do it when the city puts up banners all around the city about the 'Treasures of Ancient Egypt' at the museum.

We do it when our season brochures tell what we are playing, with our slogans, (the Colorado Symphony's recent slogan "the sound of your life" is one example which makes no sense to me) We can't NOT make a case for ourselves. We can not retreat from the community.

I think one important solution revolves around the audience we have now. The subscribers, the musuem pass holders; if we can harness the power of our current audience, and make the feel part of our mission, we can leverage their social contacts into a bigger audience, more finding, and just maybe, some magnficent Art.

Posted by: Jonathan Gresl at March 8, 2005 03:34 PM

As the person who referenced Bill Frisell, Dr. Dre, and Tom Waits, I feel the need to clarify. I did not say that any of those 3 were more useful than Mozart in our 21st century society. I did say that they are resonating more strongly within that society that Mozart. I was not making a value judgement, but rather an observation.

But I do think there is a strong case to be made that popular music, and other popular art forms, now wield the same power to most people as Mozart did in the past. Lest we forget that HE was a popular composer. But often those in the arts (and I am one of them...Ben might even recognize my name...) seem to be of the opinion that the only REAL art is the European-styled "High Arts" or "Fine Arts". And I think this opinion is not only elitist and arrogant, but also harmful. Because, as we hold these opinions, they effect how we program and present, and, I think, how we are then perceived by the public. And the perception is a turn off to some potential consumers. I simply don't think it's our job to make anyone like or appreciate Mozart. It's our job to create meaningful artistic and cultural experiences that audiences can engage with (note I didn't say relate to) in a meaningful way. And if Mozart is not longer doing that for some folks, then it's our job to recognize what is, and why. Not to give them what they want, but to better give them they will engage with positively and meaningfully. And hopefully love. We should strive to be neither didactic or condescending. We should strive to be aware.

Posted by: David Pausch at March 8, 2005 04:32 PM

"pitting the arts against other causes IS a trap. For a healthy society, it should be a both/and and not an either/or. "

Exactly. In my professional life I'm advocating and raising money for the arts. In my social life I'm raising money for a 2-day breast cancer walk. Both are valid and yet, no one ever died or lost a loved one from lack of the arts. I love the arts and wouldn't be in the industry if I didn't. My arts organization recently held a bowlathon and I had to decide if I could go to the same people twice for money.
On one hand, my fundraising minimum for the walk is $2000 and that fundraising effort has global implications. On the other, my professional reputation is affected- and my loyalty measured- by how much I raise for the company.

Unfortunately, people don't have the financial resources and neither does the government.

Posted by: Andrea T. at March 9, 2005 06:15 AM

Post a comment

Remember Me?

This weeklong weblog is now closed, but will remain on-line as an archive of our conversation. In addition, the entries and reader comments are available for download in Adobe Acrobat format, suitable for reading on-screen or printing. You will need the free Acrobat reader software to open the files below:

Participant Entries (~880K, pdf)
Full text of the posts of our 11 invited participants.
Reader Comments (~900K, pdf)
Full text of reader comments posted to the site.

Is there a better case to be made for the arts? more...

· Weblog Home
· The Question
· Participant Bios
· Reader Comments

Developed in partnership with
The Wallace Foundation

rss feed
(rss 2.0)

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.

Copyright ©
2005 ArtsJournal. All Rights Reserved