Archive for January, 2008

Politics, Players, and Pork - Part II

Monday, January 28th, 2008

Arts Fund

Photo by Julius Hibbert — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

The year-end positions of arts funding continues to spark debates, protests, and political ploys on both sides of the Atlantic.

The slap at the Bush Theatre in the UK is but one telling example. The Arts Council proposed cutting their funding by 40%. For any business, let alone a small arts organization, that’s an enormous unexpected hit. Previously, the Bush had received £480,000 pounds ($942,000). In the next cycle, the proposal was to grant them £300,000 pounds ($588,000).

Ninety-seven writers, including Margaret Atwood, Caryl Churchill, David Edgar, David Hare, Christopher Hampton, Hanif Kureishi, Neil LaBute, Mike Leigh, Harold Pinter, Salman Rushdie, Tom Stoppard, Arnold Wesker, and Timberlake Wertenbaker disagreed with the Council’s decision in a public letter:

Playwriting has always been at the heart of Britain’s theatrical life. Our playwrights are the envy of the world because there have been and are theatres able to devote resources to the development and presentation of their work. The Bush Theatre is unique as a theatre prepared to produce first plays, take risks on new playwrights, and thus launch careers. For 35 years, the Bush Theatre has discovered, developed and presented distinctive playwrights, whose work gives an extraordinary account of contemporary Britain and our changing world.

These heavyweights of theatrical life are demanding that the Council understand, and honor, the role of a small incubator of culture in the present and future of UK identity. How small? The Bush has only 81 seats. Think about that: 81 seats, and £480,000 pounds ($942,000) a year in subsidy.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the Boston Foundation issued a report on the arts which proposed that small organizations might want to spend more time thinking about an exit strategy — that is, closing down — rather than figuring how to continue to fund their work.

Isn’t that a sweet analysis? You are small, insignificant, and outside the mainstream — why should you exist? Sounds like a kind of nostalgia for the Middle Ages, an age America missed no matter how much one political party seems to want to bring it back.

Ian MacKinnon of Artezani organized a wonderful response: he staged an event of “artyrs” who drank Kool-Aid and took part in a “die-in.” Of course, they needed some funding to pull off the event. MacKinnon asked the Boston Foundation for twenty $500 grants to cover the “funeral costs” under the Foundation’s category of “encouragement grants.”

He was turned down — but encouraged to apply in the future. For his second funeral?

The British Arts Council and the Boston Foundation share a similarly misguided, and culturally dangerous, point of view with the wrong focus and the wrong measurement.

Their focus is on the large institutions because of the numbers of audiences that they serve. However, in a way these are the palaces that least need the government’s support. Think it about this way: If someone was interested in giving an arts institution $10 million, do you believe they are going to give it to an obscure tiny theatre (and thereby ensure that company’s work in perpetuity), or are they going to give it to an institution such as the Metropolitan Opera where their name can be engraved in gold in the lobby for all to see?

If you doubt this, go ahead and check out the major institutions and try to find someone who gave anonymously. Giving for engraving becomes “engiving.”

Just as important is the application of business goals to cultural development. In business, success is determined by a very simple measurement: you either grow or you die.

However, the arts must be measured by the quality of the impact on artists, audiences, and the art form’s development.

The future of a nation’s culture is not the marble columns, the plush seats, or even those engraved names, no matter how high they rate their own significance.

The future of culture uses the platform of the past to develop new artists, new audiences, and most importantly, new art.

Politicians always try to win votes by talking about the need to invest in education, to invest in our future. Maybe, the politicians and their funding bodies should begin to use the same language when they approach creating policy for the future of culture.

- Bill Reichblum

Politics, Players, and Pork - Part I

Monday, January 21st, 2008

Politicians With Their Pants Down

Photo by superk8nyc — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Politicians win votes telling us to invest in the future. Do you ever get the sense, though, that when it comes to art, they would much rather support the past?

On December 12, the British Arts Council notified the arts community that 197 organizations will be facing funding cuts. That is about 25% of groups funded by the Arts Council. At the same time, 75% of the groups will be receiving an increase, either in line with inflation or above. In addition, 80 new companies will join the roll of funding.

So, the pre-holiday decisions (this is the land of Dickens, after all) brought a mix of bad news, good news, and great news — but the news stories with traction would be the outrage of the arts community.

The Arts Council chief, Peter Hewitt, agreed to meet with the community at the Young Vic before the appeal process closed on January 15. In a two hour meeting, which followed the traditional time of a play but did not have a neat three act structure, Hewitt heard from approximately 500 theatre luminaries including Peter Hall, Ian McKellen, Jonathan Pryce, and Kevin Spacey. The end result: the crowd gave a “vote of no confidence” in the Arts Council.

Louise Wylie, the council’s director of media relations, told the New York Times, “We always knew that was going to be a very difficult meeting.” Give her credit for honest dramaturgy.

Hewitt’s summation of the dilemma: “Choosing not to fund an organization is a very difficult decision and one we do not take lightly… Sometimes this is on the grounds of their performance to date — poor artistic quality, a failure to deliver what they were funded for, poor management or any combination of these — and sometimes because we believe the money can be used more effectively elsewhere.”

Aye, there’s the rub.

However, are politicians and their appointees those best qualified to decide?

We know governments like to control the story of the past, do their best to avoid the problems of the present, and spin the future. Doesn’t sound like the perfect preparation for deciding the investment of a nation’s cultural future, does it?

Preserving culture is easy because it is safe. There is no fear of controversy — or consequences.

Next time in Part II, a view of what kind of national culture a government should support by looking at the consequences as felt by the Bush Theatre, and on the other side of the Atlantic, “artyrs” stage a die-in to protest a foundation’s advice to figure out an exit strategy rather than continuing to create. They asked the foundation for twenty $500 grants to cover “funeral costs.”

- Bill Reichblum

Where Culture is Cool

Monday, January 14th, 2008

Battersea Arts Centre

Photo by Lei Yang — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

The new year has brought new stories of woe or wanton behavior in culture. How nice, then, to report on a great story about culture: the new life of a cultural center.

A year ago, the Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) was in desperate need of new funding, and new energy.

Surely, you know many people who shy away from cultural centers. They are too afraid that the institution puts culture on a high and mighty pedestal. They approach a program as though it should only be consumed on a school curriculum. They wait to go until it might be a nice treat for grandma’s birthday.

There certainly can be something about a country’s cultural center that is too much a part of accepted (i.e. elite) wisdom, too official, and too nationalistic in tone if not content.

David Jubb, artistic director of BAC, leads the way on how to center culture.

Now, BAC is one of the hottest places for creative work. Last fall, BAC produced The Masque of the Red Death created by Punchdrunk theatricals, which took over the center’s spaces and brought life to all the nooks and crannies of a building and an art form. Soon, the audience numbers will top over 40,000.

Red Death is one of Jubb’s “playground projects” — bring in the artists, make sure they have keys to all the rooms and cupboards, and let them play. Who would have thought that our new model of a cultural center should be a sandbox?

Future plans include providing a place for artists to eat and sleep there while they create and share work with public. Coming up is the BAC festival, Burst.

In the story from the Telegraph posted on Fest News, Judd said: “The biggest truth about theatre is that it’s fake. Only when artists make work with authenticity and integrity does it feel real.”

A cultural center is the cool place to be: thanks to BAC, that’s real.

- Bill Reichblum

Arts Presenters: Ronald K. Brown

Monday, January 14th, 2008

Ronald K. BrownRonald K. Brown is one of America’s premiere choreographers. His highly regarded company, Evidence, which he founded in 1985, travels throughout America and the world. Brown has also choreographed for Alvin Ailey, Dayton, Cinque Folkloric, Philadanco, Jennifer Muller/The Works, and Jeanue Ballet d’Afrique Noire. His stories in movement capture collective memories and rituals to propel African culture for a new generation.

In this interview, Brown talks about his passion for creation, exploration, and bringing new artists and audiences to dance.

This interview is part of an ongoing series with the Association of Performing Arts Presenters.

 Arts Presenters: Ronald K. Brown [16:24m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

Arts Presenters: Brian Allenby

Monday, January 14th, 2008

Brian AllenbyBrian Allenby is the Manager of Operations & Education at Reverb. Reverb is a non profit organization founded in 2004 by environmentalist Lauren Sullivan and her musician husband, Guster guitarist/vocalist Adam Gardner, which educates and engages musicians and their fans to promote environmental sustainability. The organization’s work has greened more than 45 major tours and 600 events, working with musicians such as the Dave Matthews Band, Bonnie Raitt, John Mayer, Sheryl Crow and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Prior to joining Reverb, Brian worked in both the music and environmental fields: after attending the American University in Washington, DC, he managed a venue and promoted/produced concert events in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC, subsequently moving back to his home state of Vermont, where he transitioned to the renewable energy and carbon offset industry.

In this interview, Brian talks with us about greening concert tours and festivals, and the difficulties involved in getting rid of CD jewel boxes.

This interview is part of an ongoing series with the Association of Performing Arts Presenters.

 Arts Presenters: Brian Allenby [10:02m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

Arts Presenters: Tony Micocci

Monday, January 14th, 2008

Before forming the touring, management, and consulting firm Micocci Productions in 1992, Tony Micocci was Managing Director of the Flynn Theater and President of City Center Theater in New York City. His new book “Booking Performance Tours: Marketing and Acquiring the Live Arts and Entertainment” is the definitive how-to guide for both non-profit and commercial touring. His client roster has included Marcel Marceau, Basil Twist and STREB.

In this interview Tony talks about the complex relationship between agents and artists, how they connect, and why he spent two years writing a book.

This interview is part of an ongoing series with the Association of Performing Arts Presenters.

 Arts Presenters: Tony Micocci [15:24m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

Arts Presenters: Josh LaBelle

Sunday, January 13th, 2008

Josh LaBelle has served as the Executive Director of the Seattle Theatre Group (STG) since the spring of 2001. Prior to assuming leadership of the organization, he spent the previous five years directing programming and overseeing operations for STG’s historic theatres, The Paramount and The Moore. Before joining STG, Josh spent several years working as a musician, where he had the opportunity to record and tour alongside such legends as T-Bone Burnett and Sam Phillips.

In this podcast Josh speaks to the changing landscape facing the performing arts, the need for a diverse revenue base to support the arts, and how great Seattle is.

This interview is part of an ongoing series with the Association of Performing Arts Presenters.

 Arts Presenters: Josh LaBelle [11:20m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

Arts Presenters: Alicia Anstead

Sunday, January 13th, 2008

Alicia Anstead is an award-winning journalist and editor of Inside Arts. She has served as the senior arts writer at the Bangor Daily News, and has been published nationally in newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, American Craft and Down East. She was a National Arts Journalism Program Fellow at the Columbia University School Journalism program, and teaches writing and composition at several colleges.

In this podcast Alicia talks about some of the central issues around the theme for this year’s Arts Presenters conference - Presenting New Ground.

This interview is part of an ongoing series with the Association of Performing Arts Presenters.

 Arts Presenters: Alicia Anstead [5:28m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

Arts Presenters: Isabel Soffer

Sunday, January 13th, 2008

Isabel Soffer is director of programming at the World Music Institute, a non-profit concert-presenting organization dedicated to the research and presentation of traditional and contemporary music and dance from around the world. She is also one of the moving forces behind GlobalFEST, the highly acclaimed showcase of world music.

In this podcast Isabel talks about WMI and how it connects with artists, how to survive visa applications for visiting international artists, and what music she is listening to this winter.

This interview is part of an ongoing series with the Association of Performing Arts Presenters.

 Arts Presenters: Isabel Soffer [11:38m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

Arts Presenters: Yoko Shioya

Saturday, January 12th, 2008

Yoko Shioya is Artistic Director at the Japan Society, overseeing the Society’s Performing Arts and Film Programs. She has expanded collaborative projects with American cultural organizations and universities to introduce Japanese performing artists and also launched new initiatives, including an artists’ residency project and a workshop series. Known in Japan as a writer/researcher on the public and private arts support systems in the U.S. and Japan, Shioya is also a regular contributor to arts columns on performing arts and exhibitions for the Asahi newspaper, and has served as a committee member and selection panelist for numerous programs, including The Bessie Awards, Rolex Mentor and Protege International Program, and the Toyota Choreography Awards.

In this podcast she talks about contemporary and traditional Japanese art forms as they are re-imagined by both Japanese and international performers and choreographers.

This interview is part of an ongoing series with the Association of Performing Arts Presenters.

 Arts Presenters: Yoko Shioya [17:14m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download