Diversity vs. the Brand

Apropos to the recent aggregation of articles on You’ve Cott Mail about diversity in the arts, I wanted to point back to a post I did a few years ago about the pressures of protecting the brand image which may make it difficult to achieve diversity.

In the post I point to how everyone from Ivy League universities to car companies will willingly eschew the opportunity for immediate gain in order to protect their brand image. Arts organizations may have the best intentions for diversifying audiences, but the fact that funders/donors/sponsors may desire to have their name before the eyes of certain demographics will drive many choices that are made.

Side Effects of Cultural Policy

I hope everyone had a wonderful and restful Christmas yesterday. As I understand it, today is the seventh day of Hanukkah. And of course, we are just in the beginning of the 12 days of Christmas (which gives those who have procrastinated in their gift shopping to save face by the Feast of Epiphany.)

It is frequently mentioned that Hanukkah was never really a significant Jewish holiday but that its proximity to Christmas celebrations helped to make it so. That idea of how cultures influence each other is related to today’s blog post retrospective.

Back in 2005 I made a post about indirect outcomes of cultural policy. The fact that the U.S. doesn’t have a cultural policy is a policy of itself, but unfortunately limits the conversation we can have about the value of the arts. Yet the U.S. government actively used it arts and cultural assets as soft power influence around the world.

I also talk about how artist lead gentrification can improve neighborhoods and how the same high rents which displace the artists which made it happen can also result in the destruction of ethnic enclaves.

Dickens, Illustrated

By the time you read this, I should hopefully be at my sister’s house teasing my nephews. Fear not loyal readers, for I have scheduled a series of posts according to my usual publishing schedule. I will also be attending the Association of Performing Arts Presenters conference at the beginning of January and should have some insights to report from there.

As I was looking back at some old entries to see if there was anything I might want to link back to in my absence, I came across a post about groups trying to use graphic novels to get kids interested in great literature. In that entry, I noted that something similar had been tried with Classics Illustrated back in my parents day but had failed because there was too much content to squeeze into too few pages.

It got me to thinking, it might be possible to do a credible job by turning great works into web comics. I will confess one of my guilty pleasures is to follow a number of web comics. One I will cop to reading is posits that the world mythologies are actually based on the conflicts between humanoid aliens from another dimension, one group holding to a philosophy of authoritarian rule (Titans) vs. a more free will philosophy (Greek gods).

Because it is expected the story will unfold over the course of months or years, some of the restrictions inherent to print don’t apply. Also because people can read the comic on computers and mobile devices, distribution issues are less problematic.

There are plenty of classics like A Tale of Two Cities that will make for exciting reading without any need for embellishment. A lot of plays, operas and ballets could benefit from a comic book adaptation as well. Linking to the completed comic could serve as a study guide for a lot of organizations.

Yes, students would use the comics as a substitute for reading the book for class. But they are already watching the movie, reading synopses and buying papers as a substitute for work already. Doing a thorough job with the web comic would provide an opportunity to make people aware of the full content of the literature that they would normally avoid reading.

Even Great Artists Need Recess

I may be beating a long dead horse here but last week the National Endowment for the Arts linked to a NY Times article from their Twitter account asking what people thought. The article in question was about how public schools in NYC were having arts classes during recess. I tweeted in response that I thought it was great, but that when I was a kid, I had art, music AND recess. The title of the article touts the school as being highly rated.

While I am happy these kids are getting some arts exposure, I wonder how it can really be seen as an improvement and a credit to their high rating that they had to do it during recess. It’s a shame that that the only time students can have the experience. It is with some chagrin that I tell the story of my first day in high school where I was trying to figure out when we would be allowed outside for recess. The memory of realizing I wouldn’t be having recess any more still causes a little ache.

I have to wonder, is there really so much more to learn these days that they have to squeeze arts classes and recess out? I know arts get cut for financial reasons, but if a school has the resources to offer it during recess, then they could offer classes as well, right? It has been 30 years since I was in elementary school, but I don’t think there have been that many developments in history, reading, mathematics and science in that time that can’t be covered in the course of all the elementary years of school.

If they have to spend so much additional time teaching and testing material for kids, that must mean those of us in the previous generations fell short of learning all that was required of us, correct? I quake in fear for what it will mean for me when these kids grow up and bring their superior knowledge capacity to bear, pushing me out of my job.

Okay, while it may indeed happen one day that my knowledge will be obsolete compared to younger people, I am fairly certain it won’t all hinge on the differences between what we learned in elementary school. In fact, I may retain my superiority over them simply because of the freedom of recess I enjoyed in elementary school.

Dr. Todd B. Kashdan recently had a piece on the Creativity Post about this very topic. (my emphasis)

If you want children to do well in school, give them dedicated time to play, sing, dance, build something out of wood, or whatever their fancy. There is a myth that time spent in these activities is time better spent cramming in more information for all important high stakes tests. Unfortunately, the brain doesn’t work that way. We each have a finite amount of willpower and when this willpower is exhausted, carrots and sticks are not going to change this fact. Our brains need time for restoration and replenishment. Discover what kids are passionate about and set them free to pursue it. Let me repeat that, set them free. Do not overly structure their recess. Do not overly structure their play time. This is a time for them to recharge their batteries. In return, you will get a greater frequency of creative, curious, critically thinking youngsters. You will get attentive, engaged students.

There is a great NY Times magazine article on the science behind the finite nature of willpower. There is a shorter version of the information on NPR if you don’t have the willpower to read the article. 😉 (Though as you will learn, you might be able to get some will power by eating a cookie!)

The more I read about the importance of allowing kids free time, the more I appreciate that my elementary school emphasized self-directed learning. (Albeit under the withering gaze of nuns which I am sure counteracted some of the benefits the freedom afforded.)

It occurs to me that arts people shouldn’t just be advocating for arts in the schools, but the free time to explore and express it. I am sure artistic and creative people are well aware of examples from their own disciplines in which a strict teaching environment has had a stultifying effect on the development and joy of young students. The advocacy can’t simply be about providing arts education if it is bereft of an opportunity to play. If students choose to spend their free time peering down at a cell phone texting their friends, it may be in part because they were never provided the opportunity and encouragement to spend it any way else.