Theater Seeking Animation With Creative Vitality

Something I thought might be interesting to readers.  The City of Douglas, GA has issued a request for proposals (RFP) to purchase and run a historical theater.  You don’t see this that often so it was interesting to me the type of things that go into an RFP to run a theater.

The 750 seat Martin Centre was constructed in 1939-41 as a movie house but was renovated to accommodate live performances. The city is looking for someone to purchase the venue for at least $200,000 and continue to operate it as an arts venue.

The City is seeking proposals with the following indicators:

a)Recognize the historical significance of the building and maintain architectural characteristics of the theater’s façade.

b)Honor all upcoming rental contracts where the lessee has paid deposit and/or rental for the booking.

c)Deliver a use that will further promote Downtown Douglas as an entertainment and cultural destination location in South Georgia and Georgia and be cohesive with existing downtown uses.

d)Clearly demonstrate economic feasibility.

e)Demonstrate a positive economic benefit to the downtown Douglas area and the City of Douglas.

f)Offer a purchase price of at least $200,000.00.

As part of the proposal, they essentially request that the applicant outline how they will accomplish all these things. They also list how each criteria will be weighted.

For me, it was interesting to see how the RFP reflected the hopes and ambitions for what the Martin Centre might be for the city. They highly encourage people to discuss potential use of an adjacent plaza as part of the proposals. They are definitely hoping the new owner’s vision extends beyond the physical walls of the space.

Since I expect the listing to go off line after the May 6 deadline, I am archiving a copy of the PDF here for future reference for RFPs along these lines.

The Games That Are Played In Cultural Facilities

Hate the fact that your city will provide millions to fund an arena that only gets used 20 times a year but not arts organizations that each host hundreds of events a year?

Concerned that the availability of home entertainment systems with huge screens and gaming systems are keeping people at home rather than participating in cultural activities?

Well now your fears and concerns are combining to haunt you even more!

According to CityLab a $50 million eSports Arena is being constructed in Philadelphia. There are other eSports facilities around the country, but this will be the first standalone facility.  Just to be clear, I am not sure if the local government has subsidized the construction of this arena. According to the article, it is being built by Comcast Spectror.

Some might see this as an unnecessary shrine to a niche subculture. But for fans of esports (or professional video-game competitions), this was an inevitable next step. An estimated 250 million people watch esports, although most do so from the comfort of their homes. Global revenue is slated to hit $1.1 billion this year, and the industry is growing into a more social, spectator sport.

This article didn’t catch my eye because I perceived eSports arenas as a threat to arts and cultural organizations. Actually, I see some potential in providing a venue for gaming.

I was at a meeting a couple months ago and someone said they had started hosting video game related activities in their facility. They identified people living within a certain radius of their facility who posted game walk-through videos on YouTube and Twitch and set up sessions where local residents could come in and play against them.

They were only charging about $5 a person, but the overhead was low and they also earned money from concessions. They saw getting a new group of people walking into the facility and feeling comfortable as a win. Plus they got an opportunity to get a sense of what the people might be looking for in terms of programming.

I have started talking to staff about trying to set up something in our facility. One of my tech crew is a professional gamer who travels around the country competing. We haven’t lined anything up yet. If anyone else has had success and has some tips, let me know.

People might be horrified that a performing arts space is being desecrated by such base activities as video game tournaments.

I am not actually raising a hypothetical situation here. A director of the state opera house in Kyrgyzstan was fired for allowing a video game tournament in the building.

Many people were aghast at the thought of the competition in that space, but others felt that it was both relevant and fiscally responsible:

Liberal opinion leader Bektour Iskender disagreed in a January 21 Facebook post:

Hello?! A Dota tournament at the Opera and Ballet Theatre is one of the coolest ways of advertising opera and ballet. And its not as if you can just find 180,000 som (the total Beeline paid to rent out the building) lying on the ground.

Note: 180,000 som is about $2,600

Even Art Works Undergo High Stakes Testing

In a literal case of one person’s trash is another’s treasure, New York Times had a piece about museums grading the works in their collection to decide what to liquidate.  It has long been acknowledged that museums often only display a small fraction of their collections. As they continue to acquire more pieces, the likelihood that some pieces may ever be displayed decreases. At the same time, the need for temperature controlled storage space increases.

The NY Times piece has an interview with the director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, Charles L. Venable, who halted plans for a $14 million expansion of storage. Instead, he had the museum staff grade 54,000 pieces in their collection from A to D. Those pieces receiving D grades will be sold or given to other institutions.

The NY Times article has an interactive quiz where you can try to guess which pieces received an A and which received D. The whole process forces one to revisit the unenviable questions of “what is art” and worse, “what is good art?”

The criteria used by the museum was “A being a masterpiece,” … “and D being maybe onetime in the distant past this was a valuable object for us but we probably shouldn’t hang on to that.”

The whole process of deaccessioning is so cumbersome, it is almost easier to retain and store. In addition to the issues mentioned by the NY Times below, recently there has been a lot of concern about art finding its way into private collections where it can be even less accessible than before. (Even when not displayed in a museum gallery, scholars are able to study works.)

Deaccessioning, the formal term for disposing of an art object, is a careful, cumbersome process, requiring several levels of curatorial, administrative and board approval. Museum directors who try to clean out their basements often confront restrictive donor agreements and industry guidelines that treat collections as public trusts.

The article details some of the exacting requirements made by donors which have intentionally and unintentionally firmly cemented the presence of certain works at different institutions. Some works will never be placed in storage other than the time it takes to effect repairs and restoration thanks to donor stipulations.

There are also some instances where museums accepted nearly everything that was offered during their early years in an attempt to build the collection. Many times, not only did the institution lack the means to care for the works, the quality of the work was rather inferior. As time went on, the institutions had to determine how best to divesting themselves of works they probably shouldn’t have accepted in the first place.

If nothing else, take the interactive quiz to get a sense of how works are judged and graded.

Public Restrooms As A Metaphor For Accessible Cultural Experiences

Four years ago, I wrote about how the government of India, in an attempt to end public defecation by 2019, was building over 1 million toilet facilities in households around the country. However, due to a general belief that it was healthier to defecate outdoors, most people receiving government constructed toilets were using them for storage or living spaces instead. India started sending out inspectors to ensure the toilets were being used for their intended purpose and encouraged people to report on their neighbors.

I used this situation as a metaphor for expecting people to participate in arts events just because they were being held or a facility existed. The benefits of the arts may seem just as self-evident to arts people as the benefits of a robust sanitation infrastructure, but social inertia can be difficult to overcome, even with mandatory education campaigns (i.e. arts in schools).

This idea has made “toilets in India” a short hand metaphor friend of the blog, Carter Gillies and I use when we discuss the ways in which the value of the arts are perceived and measured.

Because that article from 2015 is never far from my mind, I was interested to read about a private effort in Pune, India to transform old buses into public restrooms for women. In addition to public restrooms often being poorly maintained and/or unavailable, women in India are averse to using public restrooms due to the possibility of being assaulted when using them after dark and stigmas associated with menstruation and pregnancy.

The people behind the project confirm that it took months to reverse the common perception and convince people that public restrooms could be safe and sanitary. The mobile restrooms are definitely on the higher end of any portable toilet set up you would find in the US. They have video screens with personal health information, a cafe outside and an alarm button to alert a full-time attendant if you feel unsafe.

The project creators discovered there was a much larger unmet need than they expected.

“Our aim initially was to build toilets for mostly lower or middle-income groups, but the gap between the demand and the supply must be so huge that women from all classes are using them,” Sadalkar noted.

I still believe, as I did in 2015, that it isn’t enough to provide opportunities and space for arts and culture, assuming the benefits will be self-evident and people will change their behavior in accordance with that realization.

Now that I have become more involved with Arts Midwest’s Creating Connection effort to build public will for arts and culture, I can appreciate the need for a consistent, long term approach to shifting perceptions and attitudes such as the efforts of those behind the portable restrooms. Those involved with the portable restrooms couldn’t just talk about the benefits of a clean, well stocked place, they had to understand and address the perceptual and physical barriers that their demographics faced.

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