Racism is alive and well

…and it manifests in housing markets:

The findings from this exercise indicate that the preference estimates derived from our dynamic approach differ substantially from estimates derived from a comparable static demand model. For example, the per-year willingness to pay to avoid a 10-percent increase in the number violent crimes per 100,000 population is $586 (in 2000 dollars), which is about seventy percent higher than the $344 recovered from a comparable static estimation procedure. In the case of air pollution, the corresponding differences are even larger ($296 from the dynamic model versus $73 from the static) though still in the same direction. In contrast, the per-year marginal willingness to pay for race (in particular, the preferences of whites for living in proximity to other whites) is $1,558 whereas the estimate from a naive static model is substantially higher at $1,973.

Amazing that the emphasis in the article is on how $1,558 is such a low number.

Among (lots of) other things, this indicates to me that hedonic research studies looking at the impact of arts development on real estate prices will need to control for race.

Share
3 Comments

Around the horn: straw poll edition

It’s been sitting there quietly for a little bit now, but Createquity now has a Facebook page. Feel free to sign up – I post interesting links there that don’t make it into the Around the Horn round up for one reason or another.

PUBLIC POLICY AND THE ARTS – FEDERAL

  • Teresa Eyring has a rundown of the Congressmen who spoke in support of the National Endowment for the Arts during the floor debate over the Walberg amendment.
  • The Nonprofit Law Blog’s Emily Chan takes a look at the progress of the L3C, now three years after it was first adopted by the state of Vermont.
  • Charitable deduction defenders: don’t worry, it wasn’t touched in the debt ceiling deal.
  • The arts education blogstravaganza continues at Barry’s Blog, getting deep into discussions on federal policy and research. If the avalanche of text is too much for you there, Americans for the Arts’s Narric Rome synthesized his contributions to the forum so far in one post over at ARTSblog, and Bob Lynch did the same. Speaking of Lynch, he can be seen giving a recent lecture to the Chautaqua Institute in this video.
  • Rick Perry has entered the race for President, and Alyssa Rosenberg is right on top of his record on the arts. (Shocker: it’s not good.)

PUBLIC POLICY AND THE ARTS – STATE AND LOCAL

  • New York Times culture reporter Robin Pogrebin has been busy lately, penning a couple of articles on state arts agencies. The first round-up covered the recent round of big cuts and eliminations, focusing mostly on Kansas; and a follow-up takes a look at how South Carolina saved arts funding in the Palmetto State.
  • Amazing! After gutting the Kansas Arts Commission and laying off all its staff in favor of a privatized solution, the Brownback administration has the chutzpah to ask the NEA not to cut the KAC’s matching funds. Umm, news flash Sam – the whole point of the matching funds arrangement is to prevent your administration from doing what it did.
  • The Arizona Commission on the Arts has signed up basketball star Grant Hill to help make the case for arts funding.

GIVING AND PHILANTHROPY

  • I’m really enjoying these giving stories from GiveWell. This one is from Vipul Naik and is an interesting window into how highly analytical donors think about their contributions.
  • Looks like New Jersey is thinking about requiring nonprofits who raise more than $250,000 per year to give donors the opportunity to restrict their donations to particular programs. Nonprofit Finance Fund has a great rundown of why this is a dumb idea.

MUSICAL CHAIRS

  • Simon Greer, currently head of Jewish Funds for Justice, has been named the CEO of the Nathan Cummings Foundation.

MERGERS AND CLOSURES

  • Alliance for the Arts, an advocacy group based in NYC, is splitting its programming and assets between two organizations: Municipal Art Society, which will continue the Alliance’s research work, and WNET, which gets the group’s web operations. It’s unclear from the article when (or if?) the Alliance will formally close up shop, but clearly this represents a major sea change.

RESEARCH CORNER

IDEAS, TRENDS, AND COMMENTARY

ETC.

  • Justin Wolfers reports on what he’s learned about using Twitter so far – it’s a useful list.
  • Four Latin jazz musicians are suing the Grammys for eliminating their category (along with 30 others) in a decision announced this April. I wouldn’t be holding my breath if I were them.
Share
Leave a comment

Conversations with a Curator: Douglas Laustsen

In the spirit of the recent conversation on ArtsBlog, Emerging Ideas: Seeking and Celebrating the Spark of Innovation, I thought it would be interesting to talk to a curator about how he makes room for the unfamiliar in his work. Douglas Laustsen is a music educator and trombonist based in New Jersey who runs a radio program called Endless Possibilities on WRSU, Rutgers’s college radio station. We decided to continue a discussion we began on Twitter a few months ago about curatorship and new music.

Tell us a little bit about your radio show – what is it? How did it come to be, and how did you get involved?

Endless Possibilities is a weekly radio program I have hosted since 2008 on WRSU, the college radio station of Rutgers University. I began hosting shows on WRSU in 2005 with a wildly free form show called Trivial Pursuits. My initial motivation was to interact with music in a very non academic way because I was beginning to feel some conservatory burn out. As fun as it was to segue Pierrot Lunaire into London Calling into Hauschka, I eventually limited the format of my show and renamed it Endless Possibilities. While I don’t restrict myself from playing any specific genres, the core of each show is decidedly contemporary art music.

You announced an open call for submissions recently. What kind of response have you gotten? What is your process for evaluating what comes in through the door?

I’ve actually had an open call for submissions to a semi-regular segment of the show, Explorations, for about as long as Endless Possibilities has existed. The original motivation was to highlight great new music that may not have the shine of professionally made recordings or a publicity budget. This has long been one of the best parts of college radio, and I was hoping to do a little bit of that for new music. Additionally, I was looking for music that presented me with a new idea or fresh approach to an old one. I am more concerned with the idea than execution, and I hope to give the audience, which I assume to be college radio listeners more than new music insiders, the opportunity to connect with something they haven’t been previously exposed to.

A large majority of the submissions have been more polished than I expected. Upon reflection, the music has to survive the composition, rehearsal, and performance stages before it can even exist as a recording, and then the submitter has to be proud of the result. The bar is a lot higher than a call for scores, and I have no shortage of air time. As a result, I’m able to program a little more than half the works I am sent. While I’ve received a diversity of submissions, one thing that is clear is that most of the music I receive comes from people who have an affinity for self promotion.

Do you feel like you’ve “discovered” any artists through your submissions process (i.e., that nobody knew about before)? Do you ever try to promote their work beyond the radio show?

One composer I featured was solicited the following day for a commission. Another composer, Nat Evans, wrote a piece for a chamber group I run, and we’ve performed the piece multiple times. I certainly haven’t catapulted any composers from obscurity to household name, but I am pretty sure I have raised the profile of some musicians, including International composers who do not seem to receive attention in America. Additionally, I’ve kept tabs on the composers I’ve programmed and mention them on my website when they are promoting new projects.

You mentioned that the recordings people send you tend to be more polished than you expected. On the one hand, that perhaps makes for a better listening experience, but on the other, it perhaps gets away a little bit from the original vision for Explorations. How do you negotiate that tension in your curation process?

It is interesting, to me at least, that I’ve had to be more concerned with creating a ceiling for the segment than a floor. Luckily, I have space during the rest of my show to feature music I don’t find appropriate for Explorations, and I have played submissions outside of Explorations as a way to promote a piece and maintain the spirit of the segment. Clearly there is a lot gray area in making this determination, but over time my familiarity with the new music world has made this judgement a lot easier.

How much of your time do you spend listening to people’s submissions? And what keeps you going?

Submissions for Explorations don’t really follow any week to week pattern, but I’ll listen to each piece 3 or 4 times to get a firm grasp of it before deciding if it is appropriate. These submissions also have priority over the albums I receive from labels each month for regular airplay (which is generally about 10 hours of music a month), and the time I spend on soundcloud/twitter/etc. seeking out new music. As for what keeps me going, I am pretty addicted to finding new music and hearing things for the first time, so I’m generally excited to sit down and hear some fresh sounds.

What do you consider to be “good” curation? Is it about ethics, is it about filling a gap, etc.? What kinds of shortcuts do you think are permissible, and which ones do you not let yourself take?

I think any curator, whether creating a concert series or publishing a monthly short story series such as One Story, needs to have a clear focus of the type of art it is trying to feature and what makes his or her space unique. There is literally more music out there than hours in the day, and as a curator I’m attempting to create a virtual space that a listener can approach and quickly recognize the space’s identity.

I also have to deal with the critical mass of music being created. My social networks help limit the amount and quality of music I come in contact with. For example, Paul Bailey’s alt-classical has been a great source for finding new material. I don’t think this solution would work for any other medium, but I rely on iTunes Smart Playlists to filter music: Some of these playlists help me cycle through tracks within genres, while others keep the newest albums I’ve received close at my fingertips (as well as cycle out older tracks) and shuffle the pieces to explore how music would fit together for airplay. These playlists took a while to set up, but have saved me countless hours by targeting the most important music to listen to, as well as varying the tracks to keep my interest.

Share
1 Comment

Does academic journal content want to be free?

Last month, hacker activist (hacktivist?) Aaron Swartz was indicted for downloading 4.8 million proprietary academic articles from the JSTOR database via the MIT guest network. For this, he faces up to a $1 million fine and a potential jail sentence of 35 years. For ThinkProgress commentator Matthew Yglesias, the issues raised by the case point to a potential rethinking of the way we distribute knowledge via the academic system:

[H]ere’s the issue. Right now in academic publishing, what you have is basically a lot of donor- and government-financed nonprofit organizations taking outputs with near-zero distribution costs (electronic journal archives) and selling them to each other. For any one institution, this kind of makes sense. A publisher doesn’t want to give up his fees, which are valuable in meeting the costs of producing scholarship. But on net, it’s a mix of pointless and pernicious. Sale of access to journals helps finance scholarship, but it also raises the cost of scholarship. If everything was distributed for free, the whole exact same enterprise could be undertaken with no net financial loss. But there would be huge potential gains. A precocious 17 year-old could have free access to scholarship. So could a researcher living and working in a poor country. Or even an earnest political reporter who’s working on an issue and curious about what political science has to say about it.

The comments are an interesting read as well, mostly focusing on the question of how reliant the business models of academic journals in various fields are on article or subscription purchases, and the extent to which that income is a motivating factor for the quantity or quality of content seen in those journals. I’d be interested to hear further perspectives from our readers in academia on either of these issues.

Meanwhile, some 18,000 scientific papers from JSTOR and other databases are now available as a BitTorrent on The Pirate Bay, uploaded by a user named Greg Maxwell in response to the Swartz controversy. Is a bubble in academic journal piracy on the horizon?

Share
3 Comments

Around the horn: Debt ceiling edition

Don’t forget the Createquity Writing Fellowship application deadline is this Friday, August 5!

PUBLIC POLICY AND THE ARTS – FEDERAL

  • The State Department, though the New England Foundation for the Arts, is funding a major new cultural diplomacy program aimed at bringing foreign artists to small and midsize cities across the United States.
  • Alyssa Rosenberg apparently wasn’t done going through the arts records of the 2012 Presidential candidates; here’s her take on Barack Obama.
  • The Future of Music Coalition is really developing a top-notch policy shop within its ranks. No other arts service organization I know of is as on top of current (non-NEA-related) legislation as they are. Policy Fellow Liz Allen takes a thorough look at a proposal put forward by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) that would make streaming a work without the copyright owner’s permission a felony in certain circumstances.
  • Some big-name fashion designers are agitating for copyright protection of their works. I haven’t yet formed an opinion, but I have yet to read a commentary from outside of the fashion industry who thinks this is a good idea.
  • Judith Dobrzynski reports that the Smithsonian’s proposed budget appropriation for FY2012 has suffered little impact from the Hide/Seek controversy late last year.
  • As mentioned, the same House of Representatives budget has a 16% cut for the NEA included for next year. But at least the House defeated an amendment that would have cut an additional $10.6 million.
  • Scott Walters has been hard at work analyzing the proportion of the NEA’s recently-announced Our Town grants that went to small and rural communities. Bottom line: although there were some out-of-the-way areas that received grants (more than I personally expected to see, in fact), Scott shows both that the overall distribution is still weighted towards big cities even after population size and the number of applications from different-size communities are taken into account. A follow-up post offers some interpretations.

PUBLIC POLICY AND THE ARTS – STATE AND LOCAL

  • Denver has consolidated its Office of Cultural Affairs within a larger city agency, and some people are not happy about it.

PUBLIC POLICY AND THE ARTS – INTERNATIONAL

RESEARCH CORNER

  • The NEA has released a new research note looking at the proportion of the national GDP accounted for by (mostly for-profit) cultural industries including performing arts, museums, movies, music, publishing, and, uh…sports.
  • CEOs for Cities finds a clear connection between walkability and real estate values. It would be an interesting research project to disentangle the effects of walkability from arts amenities in examining their shared influence on housing prices.
  • Missed this nugget before: is it true that we’ve lost 50% of the arts journalism jobs in America over the past 5-8 years? Dennis Scholl doesn’t cite a source, but if so, wow.
  • Pew Research is out with a new study featuring some eye-popping stats about the disparity with which the recession affected different racial groups. The median wealth of whites dropped 16%, but 53% for blacks, 54% for Asians, and an astounding 66% for Hispanics. Hispanics in particular are concentrated in states where housing values dropped through the floor, meaning that much of the drop is from plummeting home equity (made worse by increasing consumer debt). Perhaps even more amazing is the disparity between whites, blacks and Hispanics in terms of current median wealth: the median white household had 19 times as much wealth as the median black household and 15 times the wealth of the median Hispanic household in 2009; by far the highest ratios recorded since 1984. And yes, Tommer, this is relevant to the arts. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it should be no great mystery why arts institutions have a hard time reaching nonwhite audiences. Sure, it’s about the content to some extent. But really, it’s about the money. (More from the Center for Social Inclusion’s Maya Wiley.)
  • Here’s some more information about the UK’s new national wellbeing measurement project. Household members will answer four questions (as part of a larger survey) about how satisfied they are with their lives generally, whether they find meaning in their activities, and how happy or anxious they felt yesterday. ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick has further commentary.

SOCIAL MEDIA AND DIALOGUE

  • Barry’s Blog has another gigantic forum going on this month, this time focusing on arts education. The Hewlett Foundation’s Julie Fry is co-hosting.
  • Ron Evans does us all a favor, poring through the tweets from the Americans for the Arts Convention and picking out his personal top 50. (Part IPart II)
  • Devon Smith, not surprisingly, is all over Google+.

MUSICAL CHAIRS

  • Leah Krauss is the new dance program officer for the Mertz Gilmore Foundation, after having previously served as a consultant.

ETC.

Share
1 Comment

Cool jobs of the month

Program Analyst, Office of Research & Analysis, National Endowment for the Arts

  • Design, administer, or oversee the design and administration of high-quality research instruments and/or protocols to collect performance data for the Agency’s new strategic and informational measures. Conducts pre-tests and pilot studies of new data collection instruments and protocols as appropriate.
  • Ensure the quality and integrity of the agency’s grant activity and administrative data used for performance measurement. Coordinates and implements strategies to ensure data completeness, relevance, and accuracy. Strategies include: qualitative data review; spot checks; targeted data searches; annual review of standardized definitions used on agency applicant and grantee data-collection forms; identification of outliers; and cross-referencing of data from multiple points in the collection and reporting processes.
  • Serve as the lead methodologist for the Office of Research & Analysis Evaluation unit.  Contribute to program evaluation studies, including: the formulation of evaluation questions and hypotheses; conduct of literature reviews; development of logic models and theories of change; development of rigorous evaluation research designs, including impact assessment; selection of appropriate evaluation models; and writing, co-authoring, editing, and proofing of evaluation or performance measurement reports.
  • Conduct descriptive and complex statistical analyses of the agency’s performance data, enabling the Agency to communicate the impact of its activities to internal and external stakeholders.
  • Utilize innovative data visualization techniques to graphically present multidimensional data so that stakeholders can understand the underlying structure and relationships between data elements. Uses data visualization software, GIS software, dashboards, and other dynamic tools to visualize data.

Much more info available at the link. Deadline August 12.

Executive Director, Alaska State Council on the Arts

$6132.00 Monthly Salary (minimum based on qualifications)

The mission of the Alaska State Council on the Arts is to foster the development of the arts for all Alaskans through education, partnerships, grants and services.

The Alaska State Council on the Arts (ASCA) is recruiting for an Executive Director, based in Anchorage. The Council is a division of the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, governed by an 11 member Council appointed by the Governor. The Executive Director works directly for the Council and manages a staff of five in addition to independent contractors. The agency budget for FY 12 is $1.8 million, comprised of State of Alaska General Funds, the National Endowment for the Arts, and private foundation support.

In addition to the specific responsibilities listed below, the Executive Director is relied upon by artists and arts organizations across the state to connect resources with opportunities, facilitate learning across diverse populations and encourage the growth of arts and culture in the state by every means possible. The Executive Director is also expected to balance new ideas to advance the agency’s strategic plan with sound leadership which is inclusive of all arts and culture groups in Alaska.

More info at the link above. Deadline is September 1 at 5pm Alaska time.

(Come work with my colleagues at Fractured Atlas! Guarantee this will be the only job application you ever fill out in which you explain evaporation to a whale.)

Program Specialist, Insurance, Fractured Atlas

 Fractured Atlas is seeking a Program Specialist, Insurance for a newly-created position. The Program
Specialist will provide high-level customer service support for the insurance program and will directly
assist and report to the Program Director, Insurance. The Program Specialist will execute the duties of
the Program Director in the event that the Program Director is out of the office. The Program Specialist,
Insurance assists in the delivery and coordination of all program-related services in accordance with
program goals.

The successful candidate will be interested in an arts-related position as a career, not necessarily as a
“day job”, and have a sincere interest in insurance/risk management. Additionally, we seek someone
who is committed to helping artists function more effectively as small businesses and believes in the
transformative power of technology. The majority of our staff are, or were, artists who have chosen to
serve the community at large by working at Fractured Atlas.

The deadline is Monday, August 1…act fast! More info available at the link.

(Don’t normally post development and marketing jobs here, but with this one you’d be filling the formidable shoes of Twitter star Alli Houseworth.)

Director of Marketing and Communications, Wooly Mammoth Theatre Company

Reports to: Managing Director

Objective: Achieve earned revenue goals, build audiences, and oversee all organizational communications.

Specific Duties and Responsibilities:

  • Generate all earned revenue including subscriptions, single tickets, and group sales, as well as facility rentals, program advertising, concessions, merchandise, etc.
  • Develop all pricing, packaging, and discounting strategies
  • Build, analyze, and exploit the Tessitura database
  • Conduct audience research and surveying
  • Supervise all customer service touch points
  • Shape all organizational communications and ensure they are represented consistently through channels such as the web site, e-mail, advertising, visuals, publications, and collateral materials for patrons, artists, donors, supporters, community partners, the press, bloggers, social media, and our local and national theatre colleagues
  • Manage the Woolly Mammoth brand (including all graphical standards)
  • Administer a budget of more than $600K
  • Supervise a staff of four, including a Sales Manager, Graphic Design & Web Manager, Press & Digital Content Manager, and Box Office Manager, plus an intern
  • Marshal the varied resources and diverse talents of the theatre’s Board, staff, and artists to achieve goals
  • Work closely with the development, literary, and connectivity departments
  • Participate as a member of the theatre’s senior staff, engaging in long-range planning and other cross-departmental initiatives

More info at the link above. No deadline given.

Share
Leave a comment

More on jazz audiences

At the beginning of last month, Createquity Writing Fellow Jennifer Kessler posted a round-up of efforts underway throughout the jazz community to modernize and broaden its relationship to audiences. Since then, several new publications and articles shed further light on the ongoing evolution of one of this country’s bona-fide homegrown art forms.

First up, an entertaining profile in Slate of George Wein, founder of the Newport Jazz Festival, shows a man still vigorously scouting out new talent and getting in the thick of it:

He goes to New York’s jazz clubs three times a week, keeping tabs on rising musicians, and still performs himself. “I’m not necessarily more modern, but I get into modal playing sometimes, and swing a little differently.” A recent line-up included the 79-year-old drummer Jimmy Cobb and 22-year-old Esperanza Spalding on bass. “I was 82,” he said. “We went in and swung for two shows a night for six nights. We broke up the place. Never stopped, and so that’s where I am with jazz.”

Comparing past and present, Wein identified a peculiar paradox of jazz today. “There are 1,000 nights of jazz every month in New York, but the days when you could fill Carnegie Hall are gone. Jazz is bigger than ever, but there are no big names.”

The audience has changed too. “When I had my club, people drank and they smoked, you could hear the tinkling of glasses. Now you go to a jazz club, it’s like a church service”, he said. “If you say something, people turn round and say ‘sssshhhh’. I get very mad, I’m going there to have a drink and listen to some music.”

Next, Technology in the Arts is out with a white paper on online engagement for jazz and classical music audiences. Written by Carnegie Mellon arts management graduate student Tara George, the document includes profiles of Search and Restore, Revive Music Group, eyeJazz.tv, and the Ninety Miles Project among others.

Finally, the Jazz Arts Group of Columbus, which was mentioned in Jennifer’s article, is spearheading a local Jazz Audiences Initiative funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and involving some big-name partners like WolfBrown’s Rebecca Ratzkin, Jazz at Lincoln Center, SFJAZZ, and  the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. The purpose of the initiative is to explore segmentation of jazz audiences and jazz not-yet-audiences, assess the language audience members use to talk about jazz, and convene a community of practice around jazz audience engagement. Now, Jazz Arts Group is setting up a call for research papers to be presented at next January’s Jazz Education Network conference.

The third annual Jazz Education Network Conference, January 4-7, Louisville, KY is calling for submission of research papers related to its theme “Developing Tomorrow’s Jazz Audiences Today.” The research track solicits the submission of original, principled research papers dealing with topics related to audience development for jazz in particular, but also for the arts in general.  The research track will run parallel with presentations by the Jazz Arts Group of Columbus on the Jazz Audiences Initiative. Such presentations will include various track offerings, i.e. Marketing and Messaging; Venues; and Presenting and Producing. During the past 18 months, the Jazz Audiences Initiative has studied fundamental questions related to how and why people engage with jazz. Jazz artists, producers, presenters, and educators nationwide will learn new ideas for building audiences, and infusing the art form with new energy. The research serves as a framework for testing new strategies for overcoming barriers to jazz participation and for building jazz audiences through more targeted marketing and programming efforts.

Deadline is August 15. More info available at the link. Note that you must be a member of Jazz Education Network to submit a paper.

Share
Leave a comment

The Critical Supporting Role of Curation in Making Innovation Possible

(This post was originally published on Americans for the Arts’s ARTSblog as part of the “Emerging Ideas: Seeking and Celebrating the Spark of Innovation” salon going on this week. Read the other contributors’ posts here.)

Through the work of the Emerging Ideas Committee this year, I’ve become acquainted with a wealth of new approaches to old problems and exciting combinations of existing models about which I was previously unaware. You’re seeing some examples of them on the Blog Salon this week, and we’ll be sharing more on this space as the year goes on.

For every strong example of innovation we highlight, however, I’m sure there are five more that we missed. Not because they were not among the ones we chose, but because they were never even brought to our attention.

You see, part of the nature of being “under the radar” is that it’s hard for people who rely on conventional information sources to find you. The five young arts professionals on our committee set out at the beginning of the year to identify novel, smart projects that weren’t getting attention from the field as a whole. We used what resources we had at our disposal – most notably, our connection to the 30+ local Emerging Leader Networks around the country – but inevitably, our ability to “spot” innovative ventures is determined to a significant extent by those ventures’ visibility.

Each of us as human beings only has a finite attention span to work with, and in many situations, that capacity for attention is not enough to handle all of the possibilities before us. As a result, we tend to take defensive measures to limit the pool of choices: we may confine a job recruitment effort to people we already know, for example, or a funder might choose not to accept unsolicited applications. These decisions are almost always understandable in their own right, but as I’ve written in the past, their combined net effect is that unheralded artist-entrepreneurs face increasing pressure and competition to stand out from the crowd, which often forces them to choose between either self-subsidizing to some degree or toiling in obscurity forever. That makes it harder and harder for the outsiders and the economically disadvantaged to get ahead – and our field is poorer for their absence from the conversation. We need dedicated, knowledgeable people who can each “cover” a smaller slice of the arts world comprehensively and with integrity, and who are willing to share what they learn with the rest of us. That’s what good curators do – and we desperately need more of them.

This past weekend, David Dower from Arena Stage drove home this point quite eloquently with a long post about Arena’s curation process. A couple of years ago, Dower reformed the way that Arena Stage  scouts new plays, and one of the consequences was the end of Arena’s open submissions policy. Although it makes sense in theory that if you want to support new plays (or new anything), you should be open to anyone, Dower and his team were bowing to the reality that the volume of aspiring playwrights was such that no one could really get a fair hearing anyway. “When the submission policy was open, writers and agents had the impression they were getting their plays to me by putting them in the mail,” Dower explains. “But they weren’t. They were getting plays to a corps of non-staff readers with no real avenue to impact planning decisions.”

So how does an aspiring playwright, someone with a radically new and wonderful approach to narrative that deserves a fair hearing, get the attention of Arena Stage without an open admissions process? According to Dower,

The answer to that one is by being in motion in the world as a playwright. [Emphasis mine—IDM] If you’re participating in development labs and conferences, if your plays are somewhere in production …you have a much better chance of coming to our attention than if you are mailing a script to a theater that assigns it to a non-staff reader.

Dower goes on to explain that Arena Stage pursues partnerships with new play development labs so as to effectively outsource the curation process to them. The point? Even a huge, highly influential entity such as Arena Stage that is committed to the performance of new plays doesn’t have the capacity to evaluate everyone’s work. If the curation process were only up to them, a lot of people would get lost through the cracks. The only way for new playwrights to get to that level is to first succeed among a network of organizations and individuals who are “closer to the ground” – who perhaps offer less in the way of access to immediate fame, but who are in a position to offer more of their undivided attention.

I’ve spent a lot of time just now talking about new plays, and you might wonder what any of that has to do with new models for arts administration. But the truth is that they are hardly different at all. Either way, someone with an idea, whether an artist or an entrepreneur or both, can rarely bring that idea to life on her own. She needs the help of those with resources and connections to realize its potential. Yet the catch-22 is that those with resources and connections need help too: they need help distinguishing her great idea from the hundreds or thousands of pretty good, mediocre, and terrible ideas competing for their attention. That’s where curators, in whatever form they take, play such an important role. They are the ones who invest their invaluable time, expertise, and attention in sifting through the unfamiliar names, the aspirational efforts, and the half-baked notions. They are the ones who make it possible for the unconnected to become connected, and for the rest of the world to benefit from that connection. The ones who pursue this task with vigor, perseverance, and integrity are the unsung heroes of our field, for without them we would not be very innovative at all.

Share
Leave a comment

Emerging Ideas Blog Salon on ARTSblog

This week, a number of folks including yours truly will be participating in a salon discussion on Americans for the Arts’s blog, ARTSblog. The topic is “Emerging Ideas: Seeking and Celebrating the Spark of Innovation,” which came from a subcommittee of the AFTA Emerging Leaders Council that I’ve had the honor of co-chairing this year with Ebony McKinney. Here’s more about the discussion and the work we’re doing this year:

In January, we decided to initiate a year-long research project by asking, “What lessons can the rest of the field learn or take away from novel, under-the-radar, and locally-based ideas, projects or approaches to old problems?”

[...]

This fall, our committee will present a selection of in-depth profiles on some of the innovative ideas, projects and themes we’ve uncovered throughout the year. This week’s salon is an effort to expand and frame that conversation.

[...]

We specifically looked for two types of writers:

  • First, the artist/producer/entrepreneur: someone who is realizing the development of a new enterprise or idea by leveraging talent, harnessing resources, pioneering change, and perhaps creating wealth (economic, cultural, etc.).
  • Second, the finder/curator: one who is specifically tasked, through either his/her job or passion, with uncovering new voices and bringing them to the attention of others.

Our hope is that the conversation is as much about the process of innovation (and tuning innovation into reality) as the content of the innovation itself.

Happy reading!

Share
Leave a comment

The challenges we face

Michael Kaiser wants us to focus on the reason why we do it (the art, silly!), but I’m more struck by his succinct diagnosis of why arts institutions are in scary times:

The development of new technology has given our audience members new forms of entertainment and new ways to spend their discretionary time and money. This has made it far more difficult to sell tickets at prices that cover most, if not all, of the cost of production. People now entertain themselves with iPads, iPods, iPhones and numerous other electronic devices. They are entertained for so little money that high-priced performance tickets lose their appeal.

This is happening, of course, at a time of financial instability. This has made our audiences more price-sensitive and our donors less likely to make major contributions.

Of course, with more competition for entertainment dollars, we have to produce even more exciting and important art — and this often costs more money.

But with earned and unearned income difficult to come by, risk-taking seems death defying rather than simply scary.

It goes on from there – I would quote more, but I’d be re-printing more than half the piece. In short, even as more and cheaper entertainment/leisure options are popping up everyday, the support systems that get people interested in arts institutions (education and media) are fading away. Therefore, arts institutions are under pressure to reach new people by charging them less for cooler stuff, even though cooler stuff actually costs more money than the status quo. All in a time of economic recession.  Read the whole thing.

Share
6 Comments