In the world of media, the line in the sand between commercial and nonprofit has long been getting washed away, but this past month’s announcements leave behind even less of a trace. First came the news that premium cable channel HBO had struck a deal with the nonprofit Sesame Workshop to bring first-run episodes of “Sesame Street” exclusively to its network and streaming outlets starting in the fall. The deal will allow Sesame Street to double the number of episodes it produces, and alleviates a number of financial pressures. Although new episodes will eventually be available on (free) PBS–the show’s home for the last 45 years–the news raised some troubling questions about mission and access. Lest you think of this as a simple story of a media empire benefiting from the public purse, though, know that Denzel Washington also plans to produce adaptations of all ten of esteemed playwright August Wilson’s works for the network, one per year for the next decade.
As if that weren’t enough, after 127 years, the National Geographic Society, “one of the largest nonprofit scientific and educational institutions in the world,” has sold a 73% stake in its iconic magazine and other media assets to a Murdoch-headed partnership in exchange for $725 million. (The relationship is not a new one: the society first partnered with Fox in 1997 to launch the National Geographic cable channel.) Many were dismayed by the news, citing concerns about the “Foxification” of National Geographic, and the effect of the partnership on the magazine’s standards of reporting. Others are more positive: the new joint venture (and a newly bolstered endowment) will give the National Geographic Society the “scale and reach to continue to fulfill [its] mission long into the future,” and allow it to double spending on research, science and other projects.
Cultural Colonialism or Sound Business Strategy? Vivendi to Open Venues in Africa. This month, French media group Vivendi announced it will build ten performance venues in Africa to “enhance access to culture and entertainment in countries frequently lacking such facilities.” The venues will be built in Cotonou (Benin), Brazzaville (Congo), Conakry (Guinea), Dakar (Senegal) and other locations to be determined, and will operate under the name CanalOlympia. These venues, which will serve a concert halls, theaters and cinemas all-in-one, are part of Vivendi’s strategy to reinforce the Group’s presence in high-growth markets, where an emerging middle class is consuming more content. They will also include recording studios and a rehearsal rooms, in support of Vivendi’s strategy of identifying and supporting new talent (key to its growth in international markets,) and will form a network of sites for the organization of tours by Island Africa, an initiative of Universal Music Group.
LA Philharmonic Goes Virtual (Reality). Free concerts in the park. HD screenings in movie theaters . Classical music institutions have long played with innovative and accessible ways to take their performances out of the concert hall and into the community. This month, the venerable Los Angeles Philharmonic took it to the next level: with artistic director Gustavo Dudamel at the helm, the orchestra is going on a virtual reality tour. A bright yellow van, nicknamed (of course) VAN Beethoven and outfitted with Oculus virtual reality goggles, Samsung headsets and half-dozen seats from the Walt Disney Concert Hall, is hitting the road for five weeks, stopping at county fairs, street food festivals, and everywhere in between. Individuals will be invited in to experience four minutes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, complete with Fantasia-like visual effects. For those already in on the VR game, you can watch it at home.
The Islamic State vs Digital Archaeology. In March, the Islamic State’s seemingly endless destruction of Mideast antiquities made our roundup of top arts stories. The destruction has continued in recent months, and if anything, is accelerating. In May, ISIS militants occupied the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra–a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In June, they blew up a tomb. In July, they attacked a dozen ancient statues. In August, they leveled two more temples of great cultural significance (and beheaded an expert who was fighting to protect the city’s relics.) As this newsroom “goes to print,” news arrives that the 1,800 year old Arch of Triumph is the latest cultural casualty. The situation is dire, and archaeologists have been galvanized into action, racing to capture Middle East’s historical sites with digital renderings before they’re destroyed. In the coming months, the Institute for Digital Archaeology, a joint venture between Oxford and Harvard universities, plans to distribute thousands of low-cost, high-quality 3D cameras across the Middle East with the help of UNESCO and New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. These cameras will capture 3D renderings of a (for now secret) list of ancient sites and artifacts for preservation and, ultimately, recreation.
Despite Changes at the Helm, Future of Australia Arts Council Remains in Question. Australia made Createquity headlines in May with the news that Arts Minister George Brandis had diverted a whopping $104.8 million from the arts council budget to a newly established policy, the National Programme for Excellence in the Arts, managed by his own ministry. The move made many enemies of the Arts Minister among Australia’s cultural sector. This month, the sector celebrated the news that Brandis had been removed from his post. Unfortunately, the celebrations may be premature: although the $104.8 million has not yet been spent, incoming Arts Minister Mitch Fifield has indicated for now that he is planning to move ahead with Brandis’s agenda.
MUSICAL CHAIRS / COOL JOBS
- Sharon Alpert, currently the Vice President of and Strategic Initiatives at the Surdna Foundation, has been appointed president of the Nathan Cummings Foundation. She will be the foundation’s fourth president and first female leader.
- Music coverage at metropolitan dailies took a hit in September: Jim Farber was let go from the Daily News (New York) where he’d been writing since 1990s; longtime music writer Brian Mansfield left USA Today; and the New Orleans’ Times-Picayune dissolved its music department in its entirety.
- H.E. Shaikha Haya bint Mohammad Al-Khalifa has joined the Culture & Archaeology Authority of Bahrain as its new director of Culture & Arts, Dawa Gyeltshen was formally appointed the Cultural Affairs Minister of Bhutan, and Trinidad and Tobago has named Dr. Nyan Gadsby Dolly its new Minister of Community Development, Culture and the Arts.
- The Institute of Museum and Library Services is hiring a Program Analyst. Posted September 14; closing date October 9.
- Grantmakers in the Arts invites consulting firms/individuals through an RFP process to submit a proposal to conduct an audit of GIA with respect to the organization’s goal of racial equity in arts philanthropy. Posted September 22; closing date October 26.
- The Walton Family Foundation seeks an Arts and Culture Program Officer for its Region Program. Closing date October 31.
NEW RESEARCH OF NOTE
- A new survey conducted by the CECP and Conference Board finds that corporate giving is, and is expected to remain, stable. On the other hand, a report from the consulting group Camber Collective suggests that better meeting donors’ needs and preferences could open up access to quite a bit of additional giving.
- A couple of studies from this past month look into the question of gender gaps. One study suggests that disparity stems from a reflexive tendency to link masculinity & creativity, implying that similar work by women will be deemed less creative simply by being executed by women. The second suggests that the gender imbalance among the highest level positions in some cases may in part be the result of differences in lifestyle preference.
- Recently released research suggests that television has the potential to be used in teaching tolerance, increasing political tolerance, and eliminating racism, sexism, and heterosexism.
- Several studies out of the UK this month bear mention. One suggests that arts participation is strongly correlated not with class, but with education, which paints a slightly different picture from Createquity’s previous research on the topic. A second, from the UK Office for National Statistics has crunched the numbers and found that net financial wealth does correlate with happiness quite well, thank you. The third, a survey of theater goers in the UK reveals that recognizable cast members is the biggest driver of ticket sales. And on the topic of theater, a report published by the Creative Industries Federation suggests that theaters and performing arts organizations are markedly less ethnically diverse than other creative industries.
- Two new studies released this month suggest that music does in fact have the power to influence us, though not always in a good way.
- A survey of social media use in USA published this month shows that Facebook and Twitter usage has plateaued, while Instagram and Pinterest users have doubled.