Archive for July, 2007

Economists Can Be Silly

Monday, July 30th, 2007

Money Man
Photo by Eric Mesa — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

If you are a B-list celebrity and want to resurrect a bank account, go on reality television; if you are an economist and want to make more money than your tenured academic post provides, lecture everyone on how to live their lives.

At least this seems to be the current trend. Reality television series with has-beens and never-beens can be so embarrassing it is hard to look away. Economists of the should’ve-beens and could’ve-beens schools for misunderstanding global economies bring their accredited erudition to change the choices we make every day. This, too, is hard to look away from.

The latest fast-talking, fast-thinking, fast-writing economist to join the pop-fray is Tyler Cowen. Through his blog, his academic web page, and his books, Cowen covers an incredibly wide range of opportunities for applying economic theory to everything from the practice of scheduling doctor’s visits, eating strategies, the social value of Microsoft, to a new look at arts funding.

In fact, culture is high on Cowen’s list of loves, interests, and experience. Art opinions and recommendations are a constant presence in his work, and his time.

How does a master polymath do it all? Why, he apparently has systems for absorbing as much culture as possible with the least expenditure of time. According to Hugo Lindgren’s review in New York Magazine of Cowen’s next book (available on August 2) Cowen poses better approaches for audiences of culture.

Why traipse through a whole museum to see so many paintings? Just go straight for the most famous one, and leave the rest behind. Don’t spend the time to read a whole book, but follow only one character, skip around, and quickly get to the last chapter. Whatever you do, do not waste two hours watching one movie from beginning to end, but go the multiplex and jump from one to the other playing at the same time to have notched three flicks on your belt of cultural currency.

I know that economists dislike irrationality, or at least find that it so often gets in the way of their predictions and expertise. But, why ruin the experience of our best expressions of irrationality: art.

In an equation where the scarcity of time is most important: Why spend any time to find out if Hans Castorp gets off the Magic Mountain, just cut to the end; Why spend any time listening to complications of Carmen’s love life, just check out if the end is tragic; Why spend any time watching all those scenes with the different camera angles, just cut to the end to find out what was so important about Rosebud; or, why spend any time waiting to see how Hamlet is going to do it, just cut the finale of sword and dagger play.

In a world where the difficulties of living and providing for others can be so challenging, perhaps we enjoy cultural experiences precisely because we do not apply an economist’s valuations to an audience experience.

Of course, we’ve all had experiences where we regretted the lost time; but, we’ve also had experiences that transported us away from our daily clock calculations and ticks. In search of lost time, indeed.

Perhaps Cowan does not have the patience, the willingness, or the openness to listen to others. In other words, Cowan does not want to be an audience member for someone else’s story.

The economic solution is simple. He should create his own art. Surely, he won’t mind if we skip around.

- Bill Reichblum

Interview: Ruth Margraff

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

Photo: Ruth MargraffRuth Margraff is a playwright, librettist, musician and leader of the new opera music/theater movement in America. It would be hard to top the description of her that was given by Erik Ehn on NPR:

Ruth Margraff is a performance artist who looks like Shirley Temple, sounds like Marilyn Monroe and has the mentality of Thomas Merton eating alive William S. Burroughs. She’s got a savage imagination and a very sweet affect.

In this podcast Ruth talks about her collaborations with artists such as Nikos Brisco and Fred Ho, upcoming projects, and how her extensive travels have deeply influenced her work.

 Interview: Ruth Margraff [16:44m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

Beatles in Diapers

Monday, July 23rd, 2007

Photo by Shad Bolling — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Is there a competition for irony?

If so, our Fest News carried a story that posits a question for our times: Where does the most irony lie? Michael Jackson makes money from diapers, or a song of peaceful inspiration sells a disposable diaper?

The Procter and Gamble company has purchased the rights to use the Beatles’ magical “All You Need is Love” to sell love — well, at least Luvs diapers.

Before you run out in a fit of rage to chant “All You Need is Cash”, and then disprove Luv’s claim-to-fame for creating “guaranteed ultra leak guards,” don’t blame the Beatles.

The publishing rights to the song are owned by Sony/ATV Music Publishing, a joint venture of Sony and Michael Jackson. To sell the song for commercial purposes, they do not need to receive prior permission from Paul, Ringo, or any of the surviving Beatle family members.

Of course, this is hardly the first time a cherished Beatle song has been used to sell something: “Revolution” for Nike; “Help” for Ford; “Taxman” for H&R Block; “When I’m Sixty-Four” for Allstate insurance; “With A Little Help From My Friends” for Gateway; “Come Together” for Nortel; and, “Getting Better” for Royal Philips Electronics.

There have also been the cheesy rip-offs, such as for a Ford Dealership; the ever-so-current dancing for iPod; and the reverential - All You Need is Love…and a lot of lawyers for iTunes.

MSNBC has been inspired to run a poll on the worst pairing of classic rock tunes and commercials. Their current list includes:

  • The Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” for Luvs Diapers
  • The Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up”: Microsoft Windows
  • Bob Seger’s “Like A Rock”: Chevrolet trucks
  • Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz”: Mercedes-Benz cars
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son”: Wrangler jeans
  • Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life”: Royal Caribbean cruises
  • Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”: Mountain Dew

What would you add to the list?

Don’t lose hope: What we lose in nostalgia, we can gain back in satire.

- Bill Reichblum

In Memoriam: Sekou Sundiata

Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

Photo: Sekou SundiataWe are saddened to report that the poet and performance artist Sekou Sundiata passed away this week. KadmusArts interviewed him one year ago as he was touring his latest work The 51st Dream State, when he discussed with us the process by which he created his rich, multi-faceted works.

Sundiata created the acclaimed theatre works The Circle Unbroken is a Hard Bop, which toured throughout the U.S. and received three AUDELCO Awards and a Bessie Award; The Mystery of Love, commissioned and produced by New Voices/New Visions at Aaron Davis Hall in New York and the American Music Festival in Philadelphia; Udu, a music theatre work produced at 651 ARTS, the International Festival of Arts and Ideas, and the Walker Art Center amongst other venues; and The 51st Dream State which he performed at the Vision Festival, the BAM Next Wave Festival, and the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. His most recent recording, Long Story Short, was released by Righteous Babe Records.

Grounded in the African American experience, Sundiata used his talents to help us explore who we are, and what makes for a life filled with meaning and beauty.

 Interview: Sekou Sundiata [10:26m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

Yes Minister

Monday, July 16th, 2007

Andre Malraux
Photo by Pierre Metivier — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

As covered in our Festival News, Christopher Beam from Slate magazine provided a quick primer on a few of the significant cultural ministers and the role the position plays in governments around the world.

The minister of (or sometimes more actively “for”) culture is the government’s point person in charge of seeding, developing, integrating, and exporting a nation’s cultural work. Some governments view the position more widely, incorporating the portfolios of heritage, media, sport, and/or tourism. Others focus the position solely on the arts, still embracing everything from the largest national museums to the smallest fringe festivals.

No matter how broadly or narrowly the position is defined, one thing is clear: culture matters to the government. Of course, there is a kind of Kafkaesque bureaucratic shadow lurking here. What Kafka imagined has too often taken place: a totalitarian silencing of culture. However, there are many examples of bureaucracies shining genuine light on a nation’s diverse culture and artists.

Since the US government’s current theme (some would say obsession) is exporting democracy, why not import this position from so many other democracies around the world?

Currently the US has the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, led by individuals nominated by a president’s administration. Both of these bureaucracies are committee driven and, as with all committees, go out of their way to avoid any smell, taste, or touch of controversy. Is that any way to inspire the freedom of expression, thought, and creativity?

Wouldn’t it be interesting to evaluate presidential candidates based on their cultural interests and policies? What if the kind of culture that would be supported during their administration became part of the election conversation and debate? Don’t you think the kinds of culture they would want to be funded, developed, and exported provide clear insights into their real program and possibilities?

At the very least, a cultural minister would elevate the significance of culture in the US government’s policies. At best, the position would place the bureaucracy of art funding on the same level of controversy, public scrutiny, and impact as the other cabinet positions.

At a time when newspapers are cutting back on their cultural coverage, while the private sector is earning more from culture than ever before, surely there is a place for leaders to lead.

Play a simple game: ask yourself what the world of arts would be like if Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton or Bush had the power and the resources to put their direct stamp on US culture.

No doubt the debate, the passions, and the protests — in other words, culture — would be center stage.

- Bill Reichblum

Interview: Mia Hanak

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

Photo: Mia HanakMia Hanak is the executive director of the Natural World Museum, which presents art to engage the public in environmental awareness and action. For her work, she has been nominated as the “Iconic Museum Leader of the Next Generation” by the American Association of Museums and the Getty Leadership Institute. The Museum is embarking on its latest traveling exhibition, Envisioning Change, which opened in Oslo in early June. The exhibition features artists from all over the world, who create work that speaks to environmental issues associated with climate change. The Natural World Museum inspires audiences to think and act on the environmental message of the exhibitions.

Mia talks with us about educating people about climate change through the arts, the Museum’s latest exhibition, and transforming art-fueled inspiration into action.

 Interview: Mia Hanak [9:13m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

How Many Rock Stars Does it Take to Unscrew a Light Bulb?

Monday, July 9th, 2007

Live Earth Stage
Photo by Rob Sinclair — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Now that Live Earth has completed the around-the-world rock event to create energy for climate change, it is time for the critics and cynics to do one thing: Chill.

Of course, there are easy aspects to criticize (anyone count how many plastic cups were left on the ground in London?), and easy smirks of cynicism (anyone want to nominate a rock star who lives the humble life of energy-efficiency?).

No doubt, the best headline of commentary came from the Guardian: “The Artists Formerly Known as Huge Carbon Footprints.”

Bob Geldof did not see the same tangible pay-off of his festival creations for aid. Roger Daltrey couldn’t see the point of powering-up lights, speakers, and private jets to convince the world to power-down.

Yet, the Arctic Monkeys, who pointed out the hypocrisy of fronting for a cause that interferes with their desired life style, put one issue front and center: “It’s a bit patronizing for us 21 year olds to try to start to change the world.”

Oh Wow. (So much for all those graduation speakers who urge the youth to go out and make the world a better place.)

How sad it would be if their contemporaries thought the same way, with the same disregard for the role that music and the other arts have played in shaping — and changing — our culture. Have the arts solved the problems? Probably not. Have the arts helped to energize movements against war, discrimination, and totalitarianism? Probably yes.

So why not a cultural shift in how we think about the climate? Maybe the context of big productions loses the impact of an artist’s simple song. Maybe the rock star’s life today loses the immediacy of an artist’s powerful naiveté. (Remember Edwin Starr’s international anthem, WAR?) There is still something to be said for an event that audiences all over the world can share simultaneously — live in person, live on television, live on the net — a truly live earth.

Give credit to Live Earth for challenging us to think about how we use our resources: natural, technological, and artistic.

If the mega-event is too much of an iceberg for you, check out all the communities of artists and audiences around the world that have already begun to create Green festivals, initiatives, and resources. You’ll see this is a passionate and committed community — and one that is growing. Wouldn’t Al Gore be proud?

- Bill Reichblum

That’s So 1980s

Monday, July 2nd, 2007

Old Friends
Photo by Patrick Q — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Is it an artistic trend? Is it a nightmare? Is it just a moment of fun? Or, is it time to get a new haircut?

As covered in Festival News this week, there appears to be another decade coming back: time for the Retro 80s. The Associated Press reports on the beginning of a nostalgic trend in the arts and culture for all things so-1980s. (It is true that the current U.S. republican presidential candidates can’t stop talking about their ability to channel Ronald Reagan. In an even more bizarre echo, a fellow actor will soon join the race.) Is this a good thing?

Do you feel a sudden compulsion to change your hairstyle? Put on a pair of leg warmers? Dress like a young innocent?

What defines the 80s for the arts? Advertisers pushed the idea of “shop ‘til you drop,” and Tom Wolfe countered by defining the times as the “splurge generation.” The phrasing of a “sound bite” was promoted by new “spin doctors.” The gaming industry gave us the low-tech Rubik’s cube, and the high(?) tech Pacman. MTV planted its flag, cats appeared everywhere, and turtles looked really silly.

Inspired yet?

Here’s a short sing-along reference:

  • Everybody Wants to Rule the World (Tears for Fears)
  • Goody Two Shoes (Adam Ant)
  • Jenny 867-5309 (Tommy Tutone)
  • 99 Luftballons (Nena)
  • Rio (Duran, Duran)
  • Stray Cat Strut (Stray Cats)
  • Take On Me (Aha)
  • Voices Carry (‘til Tuesday)
  • Walk Like an Egyptian (Bangles)
  • Walking on Sunshine (Katrina & The Waves)

How about a short list of film highlights?

  • Bergman’s Fanny och Alexander
  • Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo
  • Kurosawa’s Ran
  • Malle’s Au Revoir, Les Enfants

Surely, any decade that produced that work from the masters provides lots of inspiration for today’s work.

Then, again, maybe it’s best to ignore any retro-trend and just stay in the present tense to make the future work.

- Bill Reichblum