Trash Talkin’ About The Arts

First it was Indianapolis Museum of Art and the New Orleans Museum of Art wagering paintings on the outcome of the Super Bowl. Now I hear Dallas and Ft. Worth are talking smack about which of them has better cultural assets.

Please people, art is only demeaned by using it as a prop in a bet or a gauge of greatness. Oh. Well, actually I guess that is where a great deal of it obtains its value from.

I think a lot of us would be pleased to have our communities talking about how much better the arts and culture are here than in the next place over. There are sports rivalries from high school to professional levels and the fear/pride of someone else getting there first got us to the moon. Without evoking the old “if we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we…” trope, cultural rivalries may be something to inspire locally.

You wouldn’t want to compare yourself to New York City, because as evidenced by the end of the Dallas-Ft. Worth piece, you can’t compete with them for culture or condescension. But it could be mutually beneficial to get into a friendly rivalry with a similar municipality/county/town across the state or across state lines. Something that drives both locations to make progress against the other–but also celebrate the other’s successes, perhaps begrudgingly.

In the best of worlds, both locations might advocate for funding for the other, writing letters on their behalf. Because of course, the other guys may be more uncouth, but they are still a sight better than places X, Y and Z. If they were distant enough from each other not to overlap their audiences, some of the organizations could block book the same artists and then quiz the artists about whose theatre was nicer, whose audiences were more enthusiastic, etc. Done good naturedly, it could make artists excited to visit the other location. If the story about Philadelphia area theatres sharing the same production is any indication of the future, attempts at oneupmanship may just add to the fun.

My technical director does a version of this with the technical director at a partner organization. They send the company members to do strange things to the other one. He even has me holding up groups’ departures until he can instruct them in proper execution.

Everybody wins if both communities invest themselves in the rivalry. In addition to getting people excited about what might be coming and how they might top the other guys at their own game, it also gets people looking around for something of value to boast about in their community. Soon you get around to boasting about the quilts in all the bed and breakfasts having been created by a local artist whose quilts appeared in a show at the Smithsonian. Then you start to realize just how great it is to live where you do and how many extraordinarily talented people you never knew you had has neighbors.

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/)

I am currently the 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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