I Figured This Was Highly Unlikely. What A Difference A Month Makes

Early last month I bookmarked an article by Jeremy Reynolds in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette intending to come back to address it in a blog post in some manner. In the article, Reynolds was arguing for shorter classical music concerts.  At the time, I figured it would never happen broadly due to the inertia of tradition.

Now with public events shutdown and artists and organizations streaming their performances, I strongly suspect a lot more people are going to be open to exploring the basic concepts Reynolds espouses.

If concerts were shorter, the quality of musicianship could increase significantly. I often chastise classical groups for bloated, unnecessarily long recitals. An hour of tight, balanced, in-tune playing is vastly preferable to a two- or three-hour slog of mediocrity.

While some organizations say a program should fill an evening, offering quantity over quality is a poor strategy even if funders tend to favor inventive and diverse programming.

He also accuses ever lengthening intermissions of impeding the momentum of the experience. Since his article opens with him advising friends to go home at intermission, I imagine he would be all for a short, intermissionless performance which would solve two problems at once.

He addresses the idea that you have to give people their money’s worth:

I realize that the cost of ticket prices (which I recently argued are too expensive given how little revenue tickets generate) causes some groups to feel they need to hit a minimum threshold of time, but this is arbitrary. Maybe it’s not about the length of the program, but what an organization does with it that matters most.


The New World Symphony, a forward-thinking training ensemble in Miami, rolled out a series of concerts years ago that ran for 30 minutes and 60-75 minutes.

“The trick is not to think you have to fill an evening,” orchestra President Howard Herring said. “The question isn’t just: What music do I want to bring forth? but What is the uncompromised artistic experience that only we can provide?”

Now that groups and individuals are streaming their performances, they are almost certainly getting a lot of exercise evaluating and providing a highly focused uncompromised artistic experience. If things ever move back to the former semblance of normal, I think it would be a safe bet that those who continued to employ the “muscles” they developed while focusing on delivering an uncompromised experience will be on a firmer path to success.

Encouraging Creative Expression At A Social Distance

I took a little break from social media this weekend. When I logged in this morning I was surprised to see how many local musicians had streamed concerts over the weekend. I have also been pleased to see libraries streaming staff reading books to kids and museums giving tours and demonstrations.

However, as I am wont to do even in better times, I wanted to encourage organizations not to just push content out for passive viewers. The only thing worse than having people sit quietly in your dark room and watch something is providing the opportunity to do the same thing in a more comfortable dark room at home.

I have been encouraging organizations to provide opportunities to actively participate at face to face events for a couple years now. The same should hold even in times of social distancing. There are still plenty of opportunities to use technology to have people exercise their creativity.

You can do everything from having people send in video of themselves singing a song which you edit into a whole. Likewise for performing parts from a play or poetry reading.

Character limits on social media sites like Twitter lend themselves well for “what happens next…” participatory storytelling where you build on what the previous person wrote while under the discipline of a character limit (can’t make sequential posts!) Obviously can do the same thing with Facebook posts.

Or get really up the game and do sequential visual storytelling with pictures or video on sites like Instagram or TikTok where you can edit other people’s work into your own to simulate interacting with them.

Arts Professional UK has a Creative Communities page which looks like it is being updated with activities every day.

Today it has links to a BBC project soliciting short scripts,

…between 5-10 minutes in length whose 2-4 characters now find themselves in isolation, but connecting via video conferencing. They may be friends, lovers, neighbours, colleagues, family or strangers. But they’re all alone together and using modern technology to stay connected.

And there are face mask art projects:

The Turban Project has published step-by-step instructions for creating and decorating a personalised lightweight face mask for adults and children (see examples). Care Wear has published instructions for making a decorative fabric cover for a protective N95Mask, intended for reuse after laundering if needed during a severe shortage of masks.

While I am at it, here are a couple other projects with participatory content.

Voluntary Arts is curating a daily update of creative ideas – by and for creative workers – to be explored and enjoyed in response to the coronavirus.

Nonsuch Studios are launching Creative Quarantine, a daily email of creative activities for people to do in their own home. Led by a group of artists and creatives who’ve been sent home, they will be sending two different emails with content appropriate to adults and to children and families, which will include extra educational features for children who are off school.

If you know of any US based projects doing something similar, let me know in the comments. Or just tag me on Twitter @buttsintheseats


What Is Being Done In Your Name While You Are Away From The Office?

I flipped my notepad over today and realized there was an important point I omitted from my discussion of the Americans for the Arts webinar I cited yesterday. Important enough that I am doing a very rare Thursday post.

Mollie Quinlan-Hayes from ArtsReady made participants aware that there are already scammers out there raising funds in the name of arts entities and other non-profits. The fact so many people are working from home and not staffing office phones or regularly monitoring social media traffic may leave organizations unaware that there is suspicious activity going on in your name. At the very least, be sure you are paying attention to any use/mentions of your organization on social media so you are aware of how your name is being used.

Some other important, though less crucial tips that came up in Mollie Quinlan-Hayes’ section of the webinar yesterday that I didn’t mention was suggestions organizations work on some of their emergency planning resources. Like:

•Drop Dead Book – document of processes and procedures someone else can follow if you were to drop dead.
•Bug out Bag/Box – if you need to evacuate your office quickly, can you grab what you need to work remotely in a short amount of time

Another suggestion was to do cross training having staff interview each other about their jobs so that there isn’t only one person who knows how to do the work.



Portland, OR Art Tax Update

Back in 2012, Portland, OR approved a $35 tax to supports arts education and arts organizations around the city. In 2017 I wrote a post about how overhead was starting to cut into the amount of money available to distribute to programs. Part of that overhead was attributable to the fact people weren’t paying the tax and so funds had to be diverted toward enforcement.  Last week, via Artsjournal, is another article mentioning that the tax hasn’t proven to be the boon supporters hoped it would be. For one, people still are resistant to paying it.

The art museum, like the rest of the big five, never received the targeted 5 percent support.

That’s in part because the tax has never brought in the $12 million a year voters were told to expect. (Revenues were $9.8 million the first year and peaked at $11.46 million in 2016.)

Portlanders have been reluctant to pay it. Although the city’s population has risen nearly 12 percent since November 2012 and tax receipts should have increased proportionally, figures show revenues still never reached levels proponents forecasted.

A point I want to clarify. The article makes it sound like arts funding for schools has diverted money that was intended for non-profit arts organizations. However, from my earlier posts, it appears the law that was passed intended to fund the schools first and then the non-profits would receive funding. In fact, this recent article says when the measure was passed in 2012, funding the schools was politically more attractive to voters than funding non-profits. While the arts organizations had been pushing the art tax idea for a long time prior to the vote, when the time came, the resolution being voted upon was written to fund the school first.

The other thing the article notes is that between the collection effects and the art tax name, there are public relations and perception issues which have proven problematic.

While arts leaders all favor more Portlanders paying the tax, some worry the city’s zeal to collect is counterproductive. “You get pinged with a letter, you get pinged with a postcard, you get an email saying time to pay the arts tax,” says Portland Center Stage’s Fuhrman. “That’s where I think the bad PR comes in.”

Andrew Proctor, executive director of Literary Arts, which produces the Portland Book Festival, says the public’s ill feeling has a cost. “Even the name ‘arts tax’ sounds punitive,” he says, “and it misleads citizens that in paying the tax they have supported arts institutions. They haven’t. It can damage our fundraising efforts and can polarize the conversation.”


Hawthorne, the former RACC official, says he fears the public may believe the tax works. “Ten to 12 million is a lot of money,” Hawthorne says. “People may perceive the arts have had their influx and now it’s time to focus on more pressing needs.”

The whole article provides a lesson for those considering advocating for an arts tax of some sort. The basic idea isn’t bad, but the way it is structured and executed needs to be thought out. The example of Portland points to things people want to avoid. The name; the way in which it is collected, structured and discussed; all call negative attention to it.

It is worth reading the whole article because it also mentions the Regional Arts and Cultural Council’s (RACC) initiative to provide more equitable funding for smaller arts organizations. Back in 2012, RACC was starting to require more diversity on the boards, staff and eventually audiences of Portland’s arts organizations. In January, I had written about how the Arts Council of England was instituting similar requirements, forgetting that Portland had been working toward that goal for nearly a decade now.

Last year, RACC shifted their funding model to better align with this philosophy which includes size and economic diversity among its criteria. As a result, the larger organizations in town receive less of the art tax money than they once did.

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