Writing Elsewhere Tonight

I had a comment on the Artsjournal discussion I have been citing the last couple days. However, since the comment section didn’t register the links I painstakingly typed in HTML code in the entry, I am mirroring it here as it was meant to be seen.

The entry I was commenting on may be found here.

A week or so ago, Artsjournal linked to a Wired article that talked about people almost having an intrinsic need for art/beauty/meaning/purpose in their lives. I quoted the following bit in my blog:

For companies and entrepreneurs, it’s no longer enough to create a product, a service, or an experience that’s reasonably priced and adequately functional. In an age of abundance, consumers demand something more. Check out your bathroom. If you’re like a few million Americans, you’ve got a Michael Graves toilet brush or a Karim Rashid trash can that you bought at Target. Try explaining a designer garbage pail to the left side of your brain! Or consider illumination. Electric lighting was rare a century ago, but now it’s commonplace. Yet in the US, candles are a $2 billion a year business -for reasons that stretch beyond the logical need for luminosity to a prosperous country’s more inchoate desire for pleasure and transcendence.

Liberated by this prosperity but not fulfilled by it, more people are searching for meaning. From the mainstream embrace of such once-exotic practices as yoga and meditation to the rise of spirituality in the workplace to the influence of evangelism in pop culture and politics, the quest for meaning and purpose has become an integral part of everyday life.

And just recently I saw a great illustration of this as Target Stores rolled out their “Design for All” campaign. They know they can’t compete with WalMart on price, but they are plugging in to this craving people have. You can probably buy most of the same stuff at WalMart, but their message is, you will feel better about yourself if you shop here.

Now how the arts can manage to position themselves in the same manner against the convienence of cable TV, DVDs mailed to your home and all the rest, I don’t quite know.

If you think back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need, you know that safety issues like infant mortality will never be superceded by self-actualization activities like the arts, and it is silly to try as has been pointed out. At the same time, those needs Maslow cites are sort of hard wired into the human brain.

While I agree with Phil Kennicott that the current political/social environment may be making people who might have previously been just unfamiliar with the arts into people who are predisposed to view the topic with hate, they too have these deep seated needs. The closest they may ever come to supporting the arts is by attempting to fulfill the need by buying products at Target which in turn supports the arts. (I believe that was one of Ben Cameron’s jobs prior to joining TCG.)

I hate to engage in idealistic speculation that implies the utopian theoretical can be translated into the practical so here is what I think might be a doable suggestion which extends Joli’s thoughts-

Perhaps the entree for answering this need for potential audiences is the garage band approach rather than the massive performing arts center. Maybe organizations should be putting their money into storefront theatres and stand alone black boxes where insecurities about dress code and etiquette aren’t as big an issue because everyone is wearing jeans. (We tell people they don’t necessarily have to dress up, but then they arrive at the venue and the veteran attendees are looking snazzy which gives a contradictory message.)

Once people feel comfortable and good about themselves, then you point out that if they enjoyed this, maybe they want to try the mainstage over on 6th Street–or just keep coming back.

The alternative venue doesn’t necessarily need to be run by one organization. All the arts organizations of a community might go in and share the costs and use it as sort of an outreach facility. Theatre companies the first two weekends of the month, snippets of opera on the third, chamber music on the fourth.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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