Supporting Coverage Of The Cultural Organizations You Support

Yesterday on ye olde Twitter feed came a story about how two Buffalo, NY area arts & culture funders were helping to establish an arts and culture desk at a local public radio station.

I don’t recall who distributed the link but what drew me to it was the question in the post about whether this might be a new mode of funding for arts coverage.

In case you missed it, both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal announced last year that they were constricting their arts and culture coverage, joining other news and media sources that had made the same decision in the past.

A press release about establishing the news desk says the intent is to cover groups, disciplines and topics that often get overlooked:

…Arts Services Initiative of Western New York Executive Director Tod A. Kniazuk said. “The establishment of this desk means that culturals of all sizes and disciplines, and artists in all mediums and stages of their careers, will have a greater opportunity to get the message out about their work and its impact.”

…explained Stanton H. Hudson, Jr., Executive Director of the TR Site…And, through a dedicated arts and culture news desk at WBFO, artists and cultural organizations will be provided enhanced opportunities for listeners to experience their work, which often address historical and contemporary social, religious, political, and cultural issues and provide a framework for exploring challenging and difficult subjects.”

A column on the Artvoice paper site applauded the decision, citing the importance of coverage for small cultural groups and how they sustained Buffalo through the tough times

This can be a particular threat to the smaller, edgier, scrappier, low budget venues, tucked into warehouse or storefront spaces, hidden in basements or abandoned social halls. These venues depend upon coverage in mainstream media to attract new audiences.

In Buffalo, where small venues have arguably sustained the city through its hard times and fueled its burgeoning renaissance, it is dangerous to neglect or abandon this aspect of a diverse and lively arts scene.

To get back to the question that lead me to the article, is this a sign of things to come? Will community foundations need to support some sort of system of coverage for the arts and cultural organizations in their community?

Will arts and cultural organizations kick in funding to support such coverage? If so, it might be best funneled through an arts council in order to avoid accusations of favoritism to those who paid the most or the emergence of a pay for review system that caused a controversy in Los Angeles.

While I do wonder if reviews are really as important as word of mouth/social media any more, and it might vary by community, I do think general coverage of news, activity and trends can be important for the cultural health of a community. Reviews and stories about specific events only provide a snapshot of an instance. Conversations about long term initiatives, trends and developments can be particularly of value because they communicate overarching information that can be missed when we are so focused on what is immediately in front of us.

I am not saying subsidized coverage of culture shouldn’t call attention to particular groups and events. Just that it is often easier for an organization to catch and engage momentary attention than it is to communicate the arc of progress or illuminate the entire cultural ecology of a community. That is where the real value of coverage by a media organization can lie.

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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