Advocacy Gameshow Is Now Documentary, But Will People Still Think Of Fundraising As A Competition?

You may have seen last week that CBS quickly shifted directions when their planned show to pit activists against each other in a game show like competition drew extremely negative responses from the general public.  Now the intent is to create a documentary around the work the six contestants do.

According to reporting by Salon, part of what would determine the winner was the social media responses each contestant engendered among viewers:

A press release written up by Deadline includes the details:

Activists go head-to-head in challenges to promote their causes, with their success measured via online engagement, social metrics and hosts’ input. The three teams have one ultimate goal: to create impactful movements that amplify their message, drive action, and advance them to the G20 Summit in Rome, Italy. There, they will meet with world leaders in the hope of securing funding and awareness for their causes. The team that receives the largest commitment is celebrated as the overall winner at the finale, which will also feature musical performances by some of the world’s most passionate artists.

There is so much about this process and how much the creators of the show actually know, or think they know about how non-profit fundraising works. Not to mention what sort of impression people will get about what organizations should be doing in order to garner support from them. The articles I linked about each have examples of things people tweeted in response to the planned show, comparing it to the Hunger Games. Others mentioned that in many places, activists are jailed or tortured in response to their advocacy.

According to Salon:

…more than 70 progressive groups and activists signed an open letter to CBS and Global Citizen critiqueing the premise.

“Pitting activists against one another upholds the ‘oppression Olympics’ and perpetuates the belief that justice issues must fight over ‘breadcrumbs’ supplied by those with power, resources and large platforms,” the letter states. “Ultimately, this results from the very oppressive systems which we are trying to dismantle. Our lived realities, struggles and traumas are not games, nor competitions for the consumerist gaze.”

If you are thinking you may have read about something similar not long ago, I did indeed cover a similar, though untelevised, funding opportunity the Morgan Stanley announced in May which similarly has applicants working with experts to hone their pitches to funders.

Enters Stage Right, Wearing Mask

There have been a lot of stories about shows re-opening on Broadway and how important that is to the economy of NYC. While I haven’t read everything single article, one that appeared on Bloomberg yesterday is among the most complete in terms of imagery and coverage of a variety of different arts disciplines.

The article discusses the hopes of Broadway shows like Six, which went from thunderous applause at its final preview performance on March 11, 2020…to nothing when Broadway closed down on March 12. It also takes a look at dance companies and dance performance venues, the Metropolitan Opera and NY Philharmonic and speaks to restaurant owners whose livelihood is nearly inextricably linked to attendance of Broadway shows.

The large number of images are an important companion to the article because every picture of artists rehearsing or performing–including those painting in parks–show them wearing masks. All the hopes and dreams for mounting a production are entwined with those pieces of fabric and people’s willingness to wear them and get vaccinated.

And so, even as costumes are sewn, lines are rehearsed, sets are built, and playbills are printed, organizers are acutely aware that, even in a best-case scenario, audience numbers are a long way from their 2019 levels. “It may be that people don’t show up for a while, and they come back when they feel safe,” says Deborah Borda, president and chief executive officer of the New York Philharmonic, who says the first weekend of the orchestra’s season has already sold out. “But increasingly, yes, everyone has anxiety, but people are feeling like ‘Good lord, we have to find some pathway to normalization.’”

That pathway, Borda is convinced, runs straight through live performance. “I like to think that music is a fundamental human right, like good health, clean air, fresh water,” she says. “It’s that important to human beings, and I believe that. And that’s what we try to deliver.”

There Is A Lot Of Grand Out There

My day job is Executive Director of The Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.  Around the end of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century, it was vogue to name theaters as Grand Opera Houses, even if they didn’t host opera concerts. As far as we know, the was never any fully mounted opera in my venue, for example.

However, at least once a week we get a call for tickets, refunds or a staff person at a Grand Opera House in some other part of the country. About 80% of the time it is for the one in Wilmington, DE but last week it was for one in Colorado. It seems like there is one in just about every state based on the calls we get. Not long ago, a government entity in Belfast, Ireland actually tagged us in a social media post about job openings in the Belfast Grand Opera House. (I felt that was a little embarrassing since their FB tag is GOHBelfast and ours is grandoperahousemacon.)

Any way, earlier this week I saw a Twitter conversation about grand operas in Shanghai which seems to promise even greater confusion.

Opera has a different performance style, history and association in China than in the U.S. and Europe so there are likely specific motivations for each of the organizations and venues mentioned to employ the term.

Thinking perhaps the official names of some of these entities in hanzi might differ enough that native speakers wouldn’t be confused, I did some research and it seems that the distinction is exactly the same as in English. In fact the architects for the Shanghai Grand Opera House use the same hanzi as the performance company, Shanghai Opera House: 上海歌剧院. It made me wonder if the architects made a mistake since Chinese language news sites referred to the venue planned for completion in 2023 as 上海大歌剧院。 If you aren’t seeing a difference, there isn’t much of one. Just as in English the only difference is the inclusion of the word “Grand.”

In any case, there will be some work to do establishing a clear identity for each of these entities.

When You Actually Want Your Sidewalk To Fall To Disrepair

More great stories of artists being part of infrastructure projects, this time from a Next City article that came out last week. I have written about these type of projects before and one of my favorite go-to examples is the Green Line project in St. Paul, MN which employed artists to help mitigate the impact light rail construction on nearby businesses.

This recent Next City piece discusses a similar effort in the small town of Grand Marais, MN that was also seeing the impact of construction:

She began by interviewing village residents about detours in their lives and turned their stories into a playful scavenger hunt of signage that reframed the construction as an exploration of unexpected life shifts. Detour signs sharing personal life stories are now installed throughout the village. With artist collaboration, this infrastructure project became an opportunity to turn road detour signs into messages of community joy.

In the article they talk about artist-in-residence programs in cities, both large and small, and the impact the artists have had on planning and design. However, what really caught my eye was another project in St. Paul, MN – Sidewalk Poetry.

“In St. Paul, Minnesota, artist Marcus Young turned common sidewalks into atlases of community stories by inviting residents to share poems printed in the concrete. City residents are invited annually to submit their poems for consideration to be printed into sidewalks as they are scheduled for replacement across the city by the public works department. Young saw this system-based work as a re-imagining of the city’s annual sidewalk maintenance program in which the city replaces 10 miles of sidewalk a year, a way to enhance a civic system to give it a new sense of relevance and appreciation.”

In the article linked in the quoted section above, they emphasize the fact that only sidewalks slated for replacement are part of the program, “never in new development, ensuring that the poems are able to be found across the entire city.” The project solicited poems in the languages of groups with high representation in St. Paul, including English, Spanish, Hmong, Somali and Dakota.

The project involves an interesting mix of priorities. While some people will request that a poem not appear in front of their home or business, the city is not able to fulfill all the requests they receive to place a poem in a specific place because they strive to balance where the poems are placed and because not every patch of sidewalk requires repair.

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