Over Christmas Break my theatre was more or less empty so in the interests of not turning on lights I didn’t need, I pretty much ended up eating lunch at my desk. On a whim I started perusing the Chronicle of Higher Education’s forums.
It wasn’t long before I was asking myself why there was nothing like this in the arts world. These forums are a great resource for people in higher education. It is mostly geared for professors, but grad students and administrators have their places too. The different areas deal with various issues from how people spend their free time to thorny ethical issues over student cheating and plagiarism.
One of the areas I think is strongest is jobs. The posters pose and answers questions about interviewing- how to dress, what to expect at a conference interview vs. campus interview, what a job talk might entail, what foods you should avoid during a meal interview- it really runs a gamut. People even solicit advice about particular towns and institutions.
What really impressed me is that there seem to be a couple of Wikis created by the forum members rather than by the Chronicle staff. One is essentially a collection of the basic wisdom covered in the forums about where to find a job and what to do when called for an interview.
The other, quite interestingly, acts as a status board about what stage different jobs are at. Since many institutions are pretty bad about communicating where a job search is at and may not even start committee review until months after the deadline, the forum members make notes about when they hear anything about a job. If there is a note saying they are calling for interviews and you don’t get a call, at least you know where things stand for you.
If one of the prominent arts entities hosted these types of forums, it would be fantastic. There could be discussions about everything-advocacy, marketing tips, law, unions, interviewing tips, technology, audience relations, fundraising, board relations, philosophy. I could really go on and on. In addition to helping arts organizations make their external relations more effective and efficient, it might bring about an improvement to employee relations too. After some posts saying “you ain’t going to be paid well anywhere in the arts so if you gotta starve, you couldn’t find a nicer group to starve alongside,” some places might experience a little bit of a brain drain.
Some of the large entities like Americans for the Arts and the Association of Performing Arts Presenters do have listservs but they are only open to the membership. I have access to a couple and they are like ghost towns. I have more discussions with people who comment on my blog. I think part of the problem is that access is closed. The other is the old chicken and egg thing. There is no discussion because nobody posts and nobody posts because there isn’t enough discussion to get them visiting.
It won’t be long though before the up and coming youth who are used to holding long conversations online start showing up and looking for some place to talk. Absent any place to do so, they will start creating their own discussions. The problem with that is the discussions will be decentralized. I can start a forum right now. The software comes with my blog account. My forum would add to the conversation and be an improvement over the present status, but not as much as one at a more highly trafficked site would.
A central forum should be started now and all the bugs ironed out so that it is ready for when the next wave of artists, managers, designers and technicians arrive on the scene. They will have a certain set of expectations from their experiences with MySpace, YouTube, internet chat, texting and whatever else may come next. If they are disappointed in what they find and go elsewhere, an opportunity to harness their energy is lost.
Whatever organization creates a good forum for discussion can have a hand in directing the energies of artists. I understand that these things take resources and that is why some of these organizations are limited access to dues paying members only. Whomever does this well will gain at the very least tacit recognition of leadership. Giving it away for free could garner greater membership and support than keeping it locked away will. Which is why I think a group like Americans for the Arts should do it. Though I wouldn’t discount ArtsJournal.com from stepping up and making a success of it.
Maybe there are highly active forums out there and I missed them. I would love it if someone could point me in the right direction. Before writing this entry, I checked out Americans for the Arts, the NEA, TCG, ASOL, DanceUSA, and Arts Presenters.
(All of these have great resources to check out though which is why I am going link crazy here.)
I even checked out the Center for Arts Management and Technology at Carniege Mellon University. They will license forum and listserv software to you, but they don’t actually host any public forums that I can see.
On the other hand, they don’t list Butts In The Seats as an arts management resource, so really, how good can they be?!
Anyhow, I really feel strongly about this so I am going to ponder a little more, put together a nice letter making my case and contact some likely hosts suggesting something like what I am proposing. I might enlist some of my gentle readers to lobby alongside me if I discover any promising opportunities.
I know that all solutions do not solve the problems of all people. What is creating great discussion for educators may not work for the arts world. But seeing as how no one has really tried it yet, it is worth turning over the stone and seeing what we find. Maybe there are forums in Butts in the Seats’ future.