Pro Am In Flower

I think I witnessed an honest to god significant Pro-Am occurrence last week. (I say significant because there are a lot of smaller examples all around me everyday.) One of the professors at my school, Paul Cravath, donated his book to the college library last Friday. Not a big thing in itself certainly, but it was how it got published that is interesting.

A gentleman with a passion for the Cambodian art around Angkor Wat was interested in the story behind the figures of dancers found in the area. Having read two sentences somewhere of the professor’s doctoral thesis on Cambodian Dance Drama, he asked the read the whole thesis. The gentleman decided the thesis should be published and set about making it so despite having never published a book before.

Now the professor has a gorgeous looking book published supported by a nifty website. This week, the book appears on the cover of Publisher’s Weekly. Okay, sure it shares the cover with 11 other books, but still it is pretty impressive. (Its the one on the bottom row in the middle.)

Granted, it wasn’t cheap to print even 800 copies but nothing says that Pro Ams are necessarily poor. The man who funded the project seems pretty canny and has a plan to recoup his nut in a manner that doesn’t depend on making college students spend a lot of money on it as a text book. The idea that one man’s passion for Cambodian art would inspire him to publish the work of another having no experience in doing so is mind boggling to me. I suspect that in a 5-10 years this sort of thing might not be so surprising.

In fact, the practice might prove a little dismaying. In the discussion of his book, Engaging Art, at the APAP conference, Steven Tepper mentioned that while people might be inspired by the technology facilitated Pro Am environment to write a book, their enthusiasm and hard work might not translate into something worth reading.

So you may ask, does the world need a book on Cambodian Dance Drama? Well I can attest that it is pretty comprehensive. It is also probably the definitive book on the subject since no similar text exists in English, French or Cambodian. Given that the author got out of Phnom Penh while the Khmer Rouge were shelling the airport, he may have been the last one to see some of the source materials.

If it does prove to be of some value, its availability to scholars and the public will be the result of one man’s passion. Otherwise, its sole existence would have been in a box under a bed and in a microfilm archive.

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 ( 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. (

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.


2 thoughts on “Pro Am In Flower”

  1. “Worth reading.” Hmmmm. I know this is going to sound really, really pomo, but worth reading according to whom? The status quo gets reinforced when gatekeepers decide in advance what is worthy.

  2. Well Scott, given the ease with which people can publish these days be it on the web or via places like Cafe Press ( I would say the judgment of worth rests increasingly with the reader. While the individual probably won’t have the distribution channels to get their work into Barnes and Noble, there are fewer impediments to dissemination than their used to be.

    Given that these channels are generally online and there is an expectation of free content on that medium, even if a work is widely recognized as good one may not make much money off one’s labor. But who is in it for the money?


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