NASAA Notes: July 2010


Jonathan Katz Headshot

Jonathan Katz

July issue
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July 13, 2010

Participating in the Evolution of the Arts

In their quest to articulate, exhibit and dramatize meaningful experiences in a global environment exploding with new data and information, artists are transcending the boundaries presented by established artistic disciplines and traditions, live and virtual formats, artist and audience roles, amateur and professional activities, and for-profit and not-for-profit status. They are creating new communities—communities  of experience—some of which are contiguous with governmental borders, some of which overlap borders and some of which have no borders. The future of state arts agencies will be determined in large measure by the success of state arts agency leaders in clarifying and communicating the public interest in what artists do and what we all do as artists. Private funders will face similar challenges making their case for the arts within their families, firms and foundations.

Four years ago, I wrote a column on “the continuum” suggesting that artists and arts organizations, and other providers of cultural activities, would have to compete from then on for participants whose experiential options from other sources would be increasingly creative, interactive and personalized. I observed that in order to remain competitive, they would have to become adept at using technology to make the live and digital experiences they offer continuous and mutually enhancing. I recommended that state arts agencies adapt their grant making, refocus their staff work and provide their partners with the kinds of encouragement, assistance and tools that would help their constituents fulfill their missions in the new environment. As I review the information and resources now available on the newly updated NASAA website, I am struck by how much change has taken place in just a few annual budget cycles, fueled not only by the ongoing digital revolution, but by recession, demographic shifts, leadership transition and fluctuations of confidence in the public, private and independent sectors at every level of policy-making and resource allocation.

Certainly, the producers and presenters of the arts have integrated digital technology and social networking in every aspect of their artistic and operational activities in order to survive and thrive. They universally use digital technology and social networking to extend their reach—around the clock and around the world.

  • The Indiana Repertory Theatre website offers connections through Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, e-mail news and its in-house blog. A special feature encourages and displays attenders’ reviews of their plays.
  • Elizabeth Streb’s place, S.L.A.M. (Streb Lab for Action Mechanics) “is an open-access venue that models a new kind of artist-driven community institution” and so “the doors of S.L.A.M. are never closed.” YouTube, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are among S.L.A.M.’s many website features, including a video gallery of promos, rehearsals, artist interviews and a Streb lecture.
  • Among the on-line connections you can make through the Salina [Kansas] Art Center is to the schedule of the MANHATTAN SHORT Film Festival. Each week from May 2 through July 25, a short film from a previous year will be shown in Salina and 200 other cities around the world, followed by a week-long event beginning on September 26, when more than 100,000 people worldwide are expected to view and vote on the films selected for this year’s festival. This is a web-based operation that facilitates a communal arts experience that is not on-line, but is both local and global. It is promoted as the world’s first global film festival.

Constantly, artists and arts organizations use technology, not only to broaden and increase participation, but to transform it.

  • The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra website offers connection via an array of social media through its BSO 2.0 feature. In addition, you can choose the combination of performances that make up your season subscription, sign up to be advised personally on your season selection by one of several members of the orchestra whom you may choose, and indicate your interests in musical type, style and instruments.
  • Recently, Sheila Smith, who directs Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, described to me her participation in a collaborative production of the Romeo and Juliet story by the Royal Shakespeare Company and Mudlark, a company that produces entertainment for mobile phones. Here’s the promo: “Six characters live the story over the five weeks of Such Tweet Sorrow and you can experience it with them.”
  • A photography exhibition entitled Click! at the Brooklyn Museum used the technology of crowd-sourcing to curate the show. First, artists were asked to submit electronically a photograph and statement consistent with an exhibition theme of “Changing Faces of Brooklyn.” On-line, all submissions were presented for judgment by anyone willing to answer a series of questions about his or her “knowledge of art and perceived expertise.” The works were then displayed according to overall ranking, and with additional explanations of how various cohorts within the crowd ranked them. The results were then interpreted by individuals with formal expertise in art, on-line communities and crowd theory. (Interestingly, there was a lot of overlap among the top photos chosen by the overall crowd and by those who professed expertise.)

Increasingly, projects and groups integrate multiple arts disciplines; professional and amateur art making; for-profit/not-for-profit arts activities; and the arts, sciences and humanities.

  • The staffs of little magazines, like Fogged Clarity, which just produced its first print issue with support from the Community Foundation for Muskegon County (Michigan), include, in addition to literary staff, such positions as arts editor/web designer, graphic designer/videographer, and audio engineer.
  • Tipitina’s, one of the premier music venues in New Orleans, has created the not-for-profit Tipitina’s Foundation to support local music and musicians, for instance by sponsoring cover-free Friday shows and free weekend workshops by professional musicians for local students.
  • Liz Lerman‘s new work, “The Matter of Origins,” is billed as “A performance, a conversation, a floor show, a game show and a chance to meet big minds.” The first act “takes place on stage and travels from Marie Curie’s lab to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN [European Organization for Nuclear Research], then through the Hubble telescope to the reaches of an accelerating universe.” The second act moves the audience at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in College Park, Maryland, to “a nearby party room for a 360-degree experience of dance, media, cake, tea, and provocative conversation.”
  • Marty Pottenger’s Arts & Equity Initiative in Portland, Maine, includes the Police Poetry Project, which, in seeking to improve department morale and community relations, blurred the boundaries between city government, civic engagement, law enforcement, an arts activity and public service.
  • The Foundry Theatre‘s “dialogue and performing arts series” entitled “This Is My City/Esta Es Mi Ciudad” features five events curated and hosted by teams of artists and social justice organizations including Right to the City, Domestic Workers United, Urban Justice Center, Center for Immigrant Families, and Families United for Racial & Economic Equity.

Our association of state arts agencies enables us to watch from a privileged perspective the epic story of this nation’s cultural development as it is expressed through the artifacts our people preserve, destroy, imagine, ignore, forget and create. From our perspective, we see that education policy, however complicated and decentralized, is also an artifact, and our people are crafting the future of their own artistic and creative abilities. We see emerging a complex identity composed of many identities; an ideology that is a system for the management of multiple ideologies; not majorities and majority decisions, but pluralities and alliances; digital advances and globalism that challenge a democracy designed—as the authors of the enabling legislation of the National Endowment for the Arts put it—”to make people of all backgrounds and wherever located masters of their technology and not its unthinking servants.”

You can visit NASAA’s Arts Participation feature and see how, in this most creative and challenging of environments, state arts agencies are helping to make arts participation affordable and accessible by drawing upon a broad range of research and program approaches. Visit NASAA’s Technology Strategy Sampler to follow how state arts agencies themselves are employing videos, podcasting, social media, blogs, photo sharing, e-publications and other technologies to provide constituents with the best possible information, networking, perspective and access to government possible with current budgets. State arts agency leaders need to be every bit as creative as their constituents in order to serve them well. That has always been the case. Perhaps it has never been as obvious as it is now that our society’s need for the skills and experiences we exist to provide is displayed every moment in the headlines we hold in our hands.