You Have Just Walked In To A Random Act of Culture

Well, Opera Company of Philadelphia is at it again. Back in June I did an entry on their flash mob performance of La Traviata at Reading Terminal Marketplace. In January, they were back in Reading Terminal Marketplace with a flash mob performance of “Toreador” However, this time it was under the auspices of the Knight Foundation’s Random Acts of Culture program according to a New York Times piece. The program is centered mostly in those communities with a Knight Foundation presence, but they are looking to expand after using these communities as pilot programs. The website has video from other communities and includes opera, dance, brass and string performances in public gathering places.

“Everything we do revolves around the idea of weaving the arts into the fabric of the community,” said Dennis Scholl, the arts program’s director, who aims to produce 1,000 Random Acts by the end of 2013. “Our hypothesis is that people care about the arts, and if you analyze where they are and bring art to them, they will be passionate about it.”

One of the things I like about the Knight Foundation effort, other than the basic fact that they are supporting and promoting arts organizations, is that the program is pulling many groups together to work collaboratively. Opera Company of Philadelphia organized another event to perform Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus at a Macy’s that involved 650 people. According to the Times article this meant the inclusion of “…28 groups — ‘everything from the Presbyterian church choir to the Gay Men’s Chorus,…’ ” If they can work together on this project, perhaps whatever conditions separate their organizations can be diminished or removed for future partnerships. I am not equating the abilities of church choirs with opera singers, I am just suggesting there might be other situations where they can generate more excitement together.

As I was thinking about this program as a possible template for connecting the arts with audiences, some questions occurred to me. If malls are viewed as appropriate places for performances, what is the fate of our acoustically refined performance halls? Will people recognize their experience in the food court is far from the ideal? Will they care?

If people can see a high quality performance for free, not realizing it took $30,000 to put the Macy’s performance together, will people balk at paying $50+ for a ticket because it seems so far out of proportion? They got 650 people at Macy’s for free, after all.

The Times article mentions that when the Opera Company of Philadelphia did their flashmob La Traviata last year, there was a groundswell of support that followed and hopefully such benefits might follow those that participate in the Random Acts of Cultural Program. It might be good though to also take the opportunity to educate people about what was invested to make it all happen. A little hand out that says, “We are glad you enjoyed this so much. This was a fantastic experience for us too, involving 650 people from 28 groups, 500 rehearsal hours and $30,000 generously supported by the Knight Foundation that allowed us to provide this 10 minutes random act of culture for free. If you thought we were great here, please consider coming to see us at our best when we perform throughout the year at Lovely Venue.”

Fractured Atlas Has Found Me!

Fractured Atlas has my home address. I am not sure how they got it, but I have my suspicions. (I’m looking at you Western Arts Federation and Americans for the Arts.) The reason I know this is I received a small pamphlet in the mail this weekend letting me know about Fractured Atlas’ services to artists. My assumption is that this is part of Fractured Atlas’ effort to have a more nationwide reach. While they do have membership across the U.S., the vast majority of their members are on the East Coast, especially around New York City.

As I am wont to do when I see them offering something I like, I am encouraging people to check out their services. The pamphlet says their goal is to support artists, arts groups, arts administrators and other creative types “in the business aspects of your work–through access to insurance, funding, education, technology, and more.”

They have designed the pamphlet like one of those choose your own adventure books to direct you through a survey of their services. The first page directs you either to a page on fiscal sponsorship and insurance, two of the basic services Fractured Atlas has offered since they formed. Here is a look at the center pages of the pamphlet.

Click Image to Enlarge

Fractured Atlas has been demonstrating this sense of fun a fair bit lately. Take for example their espionage themed blog posts about two of their research fellows working on their open source arts administration software ATHENA. It’s a little strange, but a far more interesting read than posts discussing how they analyzed the current market needs and their methodology.

Wait a minute, maybe I am not taking their spy stories seriously enough! Maybe their research fellows are much better than I anticipated and that is who found out where I live! If I turn up missing in the near future, start the questioning with Adam “the Hutt” Huttler.

Speaking Art to Power

Tonight we hosted a retirement party for one of the art professors on our stage. We were sort of the victims of past success. About 7-8 years ago, a professor had her retirement party on stage and it fired the imagination of the art professor. But this woman has had a 40 year history with the school which is no insignificant thing so when she asked us to host it back in August, we found a date we were dark for Nutcracker and penciled her in.

There were a lot of other art professors and some of her former students getting up to talk about how she impacted their lives and what the experience of taking her class meant to them. One woman had sustained an injury that prevented her from continuing her work in healthcare and she went back to school to study art and ended up winning some awards thanks to what she learned.

And the best part of it all was that the governor was sitting there the whole time. The retiring professor (who is not at all retiring personality-wise) was a long time friend and supporter of the governor since before either of them moved here. She supported him when he started running for office nearly 45 years ago and stood behind him on his first run at governor this past year. I knew he was coming, but I expected him to be in and off to another event. Instead, he stayed the entire night, got up, spoke about the value of the artist in society, signed his first proclamation as governor commending her and sat right back down.

The night unfolded essentially just as I had it should in my post yesterday when I advised talking about the value of the arts over and over again in front of decision makers or get them to talk about you. I have never had something I suggested in a post manifest itself so quickly and without so little effort on my part. Though it will likely still be hard going from this point forward, I will take the gift.

Alec Baldwin Hates NPR and Turning STEM into STEAM

If you have been listening in on the public radio fund drives occurring the past couple weeks, you probably heard Alec Baldwin issuing various over the top threats about pledging to your public radio station. If you haven’t some of his greatest hits are collected on the KPLU website. In the first, he channels his character from 30 Rock and in a later one, reprises one of his speeches from the movie, Glengarry Glen Ross. Not included is an extremely frank, but very funny bit he did on This American Life this weekend. I have been trying to find it to no avail. If anyone has a link, send it my way.

Alec Baldwin has come a long way since his first appearance on NPR. (Warning, double entendres)

In other news, I got in to work just as the President’s Council on the Arts and Humanities started a live streaming chat this morning. Chuck Close, Margo Lion, George Stevens, Jr. and Damian Woetzel were talking about the place the arts have in the US and what can be done. You can watch the archived video here if you missed it. There was a simultaneous chat on the White House Facebook page so you could watch and discuss at the same time. (And let me just say, apropos to yesterday’s entry, as I listen to the archived video I realize how much I missed while trying to stay abreast of the comments.)

Chuck Close seemed to carry the day among commenters with his dismay/disgust with the lack of the arts in schools. He mentioned, as he often does, that the arts gave him hope in school and he credits the arts with keeping him out of jail. After the subject how the focus of education is on STEM courses, someone in the chat suggested it be changed to STEAM to include the arts.

It got me thinking that acronym would really lend itself to some good slogans. – STEAM drives America’s Productivity and Creativity; STEAM Powers The Economy. Not the most imaginative perhaps, but I am sure the products of STEAM education can generate some inspirational ones. It provides a good shorthand to use during advocacy because it binds the arts in with concepts in which many policy makers are already intellectually invested in advancing.