Archive for February, 2008

Oh, The World of Culture: Hot Chicks, Dumb Critics

Monday, February 25th, 2008

Chris Robinson Belts It Out

Photo by marya — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Have you ever wondered if the purveyors of popular culture are as vapid as the culture they promote?

Now, we have an answer courtesy of the entertainingly high-gloss and low-brow Maxim, one of America’s top selling magazines. From the magazine which brings you such highly popular online search categories as Girls, Video, Sexy Time and Stupid Fun, along with their culture articles and reviews, comes a new low in the profession of critics.

As posted in Fest News, from the Associated Press story, Maxim reviewed the new Black Crowes CD, Warpaint, due out at the beginning of March. Maxim’s reviewer, David Peisner, wrote that the band’s work is not much of a step forward and nailed the CD with only two and a half stars out of five.

Here’s the catch: the reviewer has never heard the CD. Oops!

As posted on their own site, Peter Angelus, BC’s manager, responds:

Maxim’s actions seem to completely lack journalistic integrity and intentionally mislead their readership.   When confronted with the fact that they never heard the album they are claiming to ‘review’ in their music section-with a star rating, no less-they attempt to explain that it was an ‘educated guess.’ In an email correspondence, Maxim went on to state: ‘Of course, we always prefer to (sic) hearing music, but sometimes there are big albums that we don’t want to ignore that aren’t available to hear, which is what happened with the Crowes. It’s either an educated guess preview or no coverage at all, so in this case we chose the former.

Well, at least it was an educated guess!

Maxim’s not alone in the category of Critics in the News, or Critics as the News, but they sure have put themselves at the top of the list — for now.

In the meantime, you can catch The Black Crowes at the upcoming festivals East Coast Blues Roots Music and the Riverbend Festival, during their international tour.

- Bill Reichblum

Hey Kids, What’s An Oxymoron? Educational TV

Monday, February 18th, 2008

Toddler Prime Time

Photo by swoodie — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

You know this to be true, but now we have the studies to prove the obvious: children’s learning is not helped by television. Sorry, Kermit.

Did you really think that educators came up with the phrase “educational television”? No, it was the television industry.

As posted on KadmusArts’ News Feed this week, the author of Remotely Controlled: How Television is Damaging Our Lives, Dr. Aric Sigman is doing his best to remind us of a simple truth: television is a way for parents to avoid, or at least take time off from interaction with their children. This is the only “value” of children’s television.

No matter how many letters Cookie Monster eats, or how many sounds a Teletubby emits, the evidence shows that an adult’s connection with a child is more stimulating, more natural, and more important. Sigman is not anti-television. In fact, he’s worked for TV. (And, as with all good Kadmians, he is proud of his travel.)

As Sigman told Reuters: “Television-makers will always justify themselves by saying that children enjoy their programs. They say they make children smile and laugh. But children will also smile if you give them cocaine.”

Of course, his research doesn’t stop with television. Analysis of brain activity shows that a child playing with beans for simple math problems exhibits significantly more blood flow to the brain than when they are working with a far more complex computer game. For Sigman, the complexity of the computer game — flash edits, sounds, colors, and speed — may have a detrimental effect on brain development.

Moreover, Sigman believes, “There is a definite inverse relationship between time spent watching any kind of television or screen when you are young and your ability to read and concentrate when you are older.”

In other words, this “recreational junk food” is not just lacking in nutrients for the short term, but has consequences for the long term. Surely this has implications for future culture audiences across all media.

In the meantime, the BBC is starting TV’s first quiz show for pre-school kids, overseen by Richard Deverell, the “children’s controller at BBC.” (Many of us have been tagged with a similar title — albeit only in our own homes.) Deverell, who used to be Head of Strategy and Marketing for BBC News, has also helped develop a BBC initiative for kids to create their own pages online, play videos, and receive prompts when their favorite shows are coming up.

Deverell is hardly alone. There is Baby Classroom, where television is for the good, and even better when you buy the videos. Or, how about Kids First! which uses the following ever-so-stringent criteria for kid productions: “programs without gratuitous sex or violence; no racial, gender, cultural or religious bias; no unsafe behavior; no condescension toward children; and no verbal or physical abuse.”

Is there no room for the criteria of intelligence, creativity, and a good story? Now, that would be educational television.

P.S. While writing this my daughter is watching SpongeBob SquarePants — an episode she has seen “at least ten times!” SpongeBob is the favorite TV character (ahead of Bart Simpson) according to a study of 6 to 12 year olds by the International Central Institute for Youth and Educational Television. Thankfully, she knows the difference between the pretension of education and having fun watching something so silly, and yet so wonderful.

- Bill Reichblum

Two Days that Shake the World

Monday, February 11th, 2008

The Dear Leader

Photo by Teresa Clark — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Good thing John Reed didn’t play in an orchestra: Who knows what would have happened to the history of totalitarianism?

The conservative press is crashing their cymbals over the news that the New York Philharmonic will be playing in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, on February 26. The Philharmonic will pay a two day visit that includes the concert, broadcast live back to the States, along with an open rehearsal and master classes for North Korean student musicians. The North Korean appearance is part of the orchestra’s three week tour to South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China.

Arts critic Terry Teachout, writing in the Wall Street Journal, tagged the visit as “doing little more than participating in a puppet show whose purpose is to lend legitimacy to a despicable regime.” Music critic Fred Kirshnit of the New York Sun managed to take a dig at the Philharmonic’s conductor Lorin Maazel’s politics and art: Maazel is “politically naïve” and he will enjoy an audience where an audience has to applaud on command. Ouch!

Zarin Mehta, the orchestra’s president, has tried his best to steer a clear and honest approach to the issues, including helping one of the orchestra’s members overcome her hesitation as her parents had suffered from the 1948 Korean divide. Mehta noted the encouragement of the US State Department and the involvement of all the orchestra’s constituents in bringing this potentially historic visit to fruition.

But then, philharmonic maestro Lorin Maazel put down his baton and opened his mouth. As posted on Fest News, having conducted music in Salazar’s Portugal, Brezhnev’s Russia, and Franco’s Spain, Maazel informed the conservative apparatchiks:

People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw bricks, should they? …Is our standing as a country — the United States — is our reputation all that clean when it comes to prisoners and the way they are treated? Have we set an example that should be emulated all over the world? If we can answer that question honestly, I think we can then stop being judgmental about the errors made by others.

Well, that was helpful.

The problem, though, is not what Maazel thinks. The problem is when anyone — from the highest realms of government to the lowest art critic — wants to control the export or access to culture. Of course, no one should be ignorant enough to think that the North Korean government will open the concert hall and the orchestra to anyone who has a yearning to hear great music and to meet great artists. Still, adopting a totalitarian approach to culture is hardly the best way to counter totalitarianism.

Don’t they remember ping-pong diplomacy? Have the conservatives abandoned Nixon, as well?

If the fear is to provide legitimacy to Kim Jong Il, all parties might agree to extend the cultural diplomacy by bringing along dvds of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Team America: World Police.

Mehta noted that music can unite people. Politicians can divide people. History is on Mehta’s side.

- Bill Reichblum

Arts Presenters: Nikolai Khalezin and Natalia Koliada

Monday, February 11th, 2008

Photo: Nikolai Khalezin and Natalia KoliadaThe Belarus Free Theatre is at the forefront of the democracy movement in Belarus. Founded by Nikolai Khalezin and Natalia Koliada in 2005, the Free Theatre has quickly become known internationally as much for their political actions as they are for their theatrical artistry.

Last August, the performers and audience of a Free Theatre performance were arrested. (Read the original story, and the theatre’s open letter.) Since then, the international community, including Tom Stoppard, Mick Jagger, Václav Havel and many others, have helped bring attention to the theatre’s struggle to create honest and truthful work.

This interview was recorded between the theatre’s performances at the Under the Radar Festival, part of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters’ conference, in New York and the Arts in One World conference at Cal Arts, outside of Los Angeles.

In our talk, Nikolai and Natalia examine their own artistic and political journeys, and the revolutionary spirit of their work.

On-site translation provided by Yuri Kaliada.

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

 Arts Presenters: Nikolai Khalezin and Natalia Koliada [33:56m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

Arts Presenters: Suzanne Callahan

Monday, February 11th, 2008

Suzanne Callahan founded Callahan Consulting for the Arts in 1996, to help artists, arts organizations and funders realize their vision through a range of services that includes strategic planning, resource development, program evaluation, philanthropic counsel, and meeting facilitation. Callahan served as Senior Specialist for the Dance Program at the National Endowment for the Arts for nine years, where she was responsible for annual funding programs, reviewing over 6,000 applications and providing technical assistance to artists and arts organizations. Also while at the NEA, she received a Distinguished Service Award for her leadership as Chair to the agency’s AIDS Working Group and for her efforts to address the issues of AIDS and health insurance for artists. She is the author of “Singing Our Praises: Case Studies in the Art of Evaluation”.

In this podcast Suzanne talks about the value of the performing arts and the tough questions arts organizations and their funders need to ask themselves.

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

 Arts Presenters: Suzanne Callahan [12:06m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

Arts Presenters: Maure Aronson

Monday, February 11th, 2008

Photo: Maure AronsonMaure Aronson is the executive director of World Music/CRASHarts, a multidisciplinary presenting organization. Prior to 1990 he was the general manager for the modern dance companies Beth Soll & Company and Concert Dance Company. World Music/CRASHarts presents approximately 60 concerts every year and, over the last 12 years, has presented more than 350 performing ensembles from around the world. Aronson is also a co-creator of GlobalFest.

In this podcast Maure Aronson talks about the exponential growth of world music, the performing arts scene in Boston, and the impact of the euro on arts exchanges.

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

 Arts Presenters: Maure Aronson [10:07m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

Arts Presenters: Linda Brumbach

Monday, February 11th, 2008

Pomegranate Arts LogoLinda Brumbach is the founder of Pomegranate Arts, an independent production company with a roster of artists that includes Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson and Dan Zanes and Friends. Prior to Pomegranate Arts, she was the producing director of International Production Associates (IPA), and has served on the board of directors of the International Society for the Performing Arts, and been a chairperson for the Arts Presenters Conference.

In this podcast Linda talks about how to support creative thinking, and the vital importance of the role artists play in representing the best America has to offer to the rest of the world.

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

 Arts Presenters: Linda Brumbach [13:27m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

The Future of Social Networking

Monday, February 4th, 2008

Collaborative Sociability

Image by Jamie Parks — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Last week, Cal Arts hosted a fascinating gathering at the intersection of arts, politics, and technology.

In association with the Interdisciplinary Genocide Study Center in Kigali, Rwanda, the weekend meetings Arts in the One World, led by Erik Ehn and Jean-Pierre Karegeye, brought together a diverse group of arts professionals, educators, and students to explore art and justice, art and social issues, art in the community, and the effects of performance on public policy.

The anchor to these themes were stories from the Rwanda genocide: stories told, experienced, and performed. An example of this kind of searing political and artistic memory was Marie-France Collard’s documentary film with Groupov, Rwanda ’94.

The meeting also created an opportunity to think through the future of social networking. How is an individual experience communicated? How does one reach out to one’s own community? How does one reach out to new communities?

The harder the story the more difficult it is to find a way to tell the story, and then find a path to get the story told. Today’s technology creates a distribution of stories in-process. We are watching a new kind of dramaturgy unfold: rather than wait until the normal parameters of storytelling are fulfilled — a beginning, a middle, an end — stories are told in the present tense. Without the perspective of time, the beginning is not clear. Without the perspective of history, the ending is unknown. There is only the present tense, the immensely powerful experience for the creator and the audience of being in the middle of the story.

There are now over 100 million websites that can be used for social networking, avenues to distribute your story. Major social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, are fundamentally profiles by list: school affiliation, favorite music, job titles, friends.

This model of biography works well when one is young. In high school you are defined by the music you listen to, by the friends with whom you hang out, and by the clothes you wear.

However, as you get older, life becomes much more interesting, and much more complicated. Stories become more meaningful, more powerful. Just as importantly, the older we get the more stories we seek out for learning about our world and the worlds of others.

We know from art that age brings deeper levels of wisdom, insight, and accomplishment. This will be true, too, for the uses of social networking.

The future of social networking is the move away from sites with profile lists to sites with stories.

Imagine the power of social networking sites as a collection of a community’s ongoing stories: stories that reach out to listeners; stories that invite responses; stories that can bring diverse groups together to take action — across communities, across borders, and across cultures.

As our social networking sites continue to develop and define us, we are on the edge of new possibilities for the link between arts, politics, and technology: stories for conversation, stories that create connection, and stories that demand action.

- Bill Reichblum

Arts Presenters: Ken Foster

Monday, February 4th, 2008

Photo: Ken FosterKen Foster is the executive director at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, a multidisciplinary contemporary art center that features exhibitions, performance, film/video and community engagement programs. He has worked in the arts for over two decades as an administrator, curator, educator and performing arts presenter.

In this podcast Ken reflects on the challenges and opportunities for arts centers, the cultural landscape of San Francisco and what kind of cultural institutions he visits in his free moments.

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

 Arts Presenters: Ken Foster [10:23m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download