Ack! My Sculpture Is Overdue And I Want To Borrow Some Pottery

Recently saw an article on the BBC website about a gallery in Cambridge, England that has been loaning out art to students for 60 years and has never had a piece damaged or lost.

I have written about this sort of arrangement before. Oberlin College has been doing it since the 1940s and has never had a problem, and they appear to be loaning out pieces with a lot more market value than the gallery in Cambridge.  On the other end of the longevity spectrum, the Akron Art Museum and Akron-Summit County Public Library started teaming up to lend out art works about a year or so ago.

But as I soon discovered, there are quite a number of universities, libraries and visual arts institutions that have been lending out art works for quite some time now. (University of Minnesota as far back as 1934)

Here is a brief list I found in a Hyperallergic post in 2018:

Sure enough, a piece appeared on Hyperallergic about 10 days ago listing or linking to visual art lending programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver,  Braddock Carnegie Library,  Minneapolis Art Lending Library , Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Williams College, Kenyon College, University of Minnesota, Harvard, University of Chicago, University of California, Berkley.

I post about this again because even though this is my fourth post on the subject, it wasn’t long before these programs slipped my mind. These all seem like great efforts to get art into the hands and homes of people who might not have opportunity and access and perhaps reduce the perceptual barriers people have about art not being for them.

Next week, my city is participating in its second community wide On The Table discussion and I want to bring these type of programs up as an idea of something that might be done here. If I hadn’t seen the BBC article, I wouldn’t have remembered. I want to reference my previous posts again to remind my readers and hopefully inspire you into action.

Maps Upon Maps, Soon Useful Data Appears

As part of developing the cultural masterplan for our community, people are being encouraged to contribute information to a cultural resource map. The goal is to not only map the active assets in the community, but the potential ones as well.

I have written about this aspect of crowdmapping before. You don’t only notate theatres, art galleries, murals, dance schools, historical markers, etc but shuttered movie houses, former community centers and places where things potentially might occur.

A beautiful fountain in the center of town? Good place for an impromptu concert. Empty lot overgrown with weeds? Our next community garden or maybe a pop-up sculpture park. Blank walls of an abandoned building? We see murals in our future.

In my post two years ago, I used an example which talked about using paper and colored stickers, but as you might imagine there are apps available for this sort of thing as well.

The executive director of the local arts alliance is taking classes in GIS mapping. The goal is to integrate the cultural asset maps with an overlay of every bit of data the county collects and maps. Not only will we (and local government officials) be able to see which neighborhoods lack cultural assets, we will be able to see where public transportation does and doesn’t run thereby limiting access to assets around the county. Likewise, they can cross reference things like frequency of events with trashcan placement in order to better deploy waste disposal.

There is already an app for reporting problems like potholes, broken streetlights, erosion to the county so there are likely to be all sorts of interesting correlations that emerge over time as more data gets added.

There is potential for all sorts of different analysis, including planning and zoning of hotels, housing, supermarkets, parking meters and the like. I think most people are excited by the idea that they will be able to cross reference data they haven’t even anticipated needing yet.

Here is the form we in Macon, GA are using to collect data. The mapping is still in its earliest stages so very few assets have been added yet. (I plead guilty to not doing my part.) There is a plan to cross reference this map with organizations , buildings, historical markers, etc already listed in different databases in order to populate the map with the lower hanging fruit.

Even if you don’t have access to map overlays, the simple paper and sticker process can be an important step toward a constructive conversation. As I noted in my post from a couple years ago, the process

… can go a long way toward solving the problem of involving people who are most impacted by decisions but may not show up to formal meetings. People who don’t feel like they are represented or have their voices heard can gain a measure of confidence that their contributions matter when they are made responsible for imagining/suggesting what a neighborhood might become.

This can especially be true for online submission tools. If you enter the hidden gem attraction at the end of your cul-de-sac and see it appear on the map a couple days later, you can gain the sense that you can contribute in a way that makes a visible difference. There is also an ability to bring recognition to often overlooked information preserved in a neighborhood, but not widely known in the community.  The grave marker of a civil rights advocate at the edge of what is now a cornfield, for example.

Though obviously, this only works if the serving as gatekeepers of the maps are prompt in approving the additions and responsive to the needs of the participants. I’m sure I am not the only one that had to jump through hoops to get Google Maps to correctly reflect closed streets and a change to one way traffic flow.

This Is Not The Show I Auditioned For. How The Heck Did I Get Here?

So if it isn’t bad enough that actors auditioning for a part are being evaluated on the social media following they have cultivated along with their looks and talent, they are now being asked to record and submit their own auditions.

Actor Melissa Errico wrote a piece for the New York Times about how possessing home recording studio and the requisite mastery to use it (or a friend with the aforementioned space, equipment and skills) is now increasingly required to audition for the stage.

The self-tape is the latest torturous incarnation of the ancient abusive art of the audition, the primal act of our craft. And the rules of engagement, even in suburban basements, are formal and strict:

You are expected to perform your lines in good lighting, framed horizontally, in medium close-up, with a microphone.

You are often asked to produce two extra pieces of audition material, the first, a “slate” in which you stand in front of the camera, showing your full body, and introduce yourself by name, height and role you are auditioning for.

You may also be asked to sign a Trumpian nondisclosure agreement and pose with it, your face holding a paper contract just under your chin.

Auditioning has always been a torturous affair and the article raises the point about whether it is better to be summarily dismissed in person after waiting for hours to audition, or at a distance by someone reviewing a video it took you 20 minutes to make.

There is a split on both sides of the casting desk. Some directors feel it is too impersonal and commodifies actors. Others feel that self-taped submission opens the field of potential actors to the entire world.

Some actors feel less anxiety with the tape, others feel it is too detached, impersonal and lacks even a hint of feedback necessary to improve.

Raul Esparza, a Tony-nominated Broadway actor and the star of “Law and Order,” acknowledged that he often self-tapes to get work, even as the process edges toward absurdity.

Auditioning for a superhero movie, “I wasn’t told the name of the film, role or the plot, and was asked to tape a scene from ‘Good Will Hunting.’” The feedback was, “Listen, they loved you, but you weren’t exactly right for it.”

What wasn’t he right for? “Good Will Hunting”? Or an unknown hero in an unseen script?

Errico writes she discovered she got cast based on one of her videos, but has no idea how it happened.

That week, I got a text that I was cast in a Sofia Coppola film that I had never heard of, in a role I had never read for and have no idea how I got. Though I was utterly delighted to get the part, the process baffled me.

The lack of transparency may be the biggest issue with this process. Money could be exchanging hands just to be placed in a pile of videos to be considered. You would never know you were immediately out of the running because your thumb drive should have discreetly wrapped in a $100 bill when you handed it to the assistant to the assistant.

Judging from the lack of details provided the two actors quote above, someone could inadvertently find themselves associated with an objectionable company, individual or project.

People with the money to pay for better lighting, make up, digital enhancements to voice and face will have an advantage over others.

Just as the push for more diversity in casting is seeing results, an obscure process and criteria may erode any progress that had been made. The old process really did nothing to advance equitable casting in itself, but having everyone audition in the same room with the same equipment, whittling it down and doing callbacks with people in a similar condition is an equalizer by comparison. (Instead of complaint being everyone is using the same audition piece this year, it will be about the use of the same video filter and green screen background.)

The director could be watching videos on a big screen in the quiet and comfort of her house and the choreographer could be watching on her phone sitting in the middle seat of a five hour flight. You’d never know you didn’t get the part because the in-seat charger wasn’t working and the phone went dead before the choreographer got to you.

As I end this entry, thinking back to the social media following requirement –I am sure I am not the first to say it, but it occurs to me that there is a contradiction in wanting your performers to have a strong social media following so that they can help promote the shows, and then forbidding those followers from taking pictures/video of their favored person when they come to see the show.

[NB: Entry edited 5 min after initial publication to add mention that lack of transparency about process could find people associated with objectionable projects for which they wouldn’t have auditioned.]

We Love Our Shows, And It Shows

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about American Theatre’s reporting in May on a Wallace Foundation supported audience building effort at Opera Theatre St. Louis.  American Theatre just published another piece about a different Wallace Foundation supported effort at Portland Center Stage (PCS).

As I wrote in my earlier post, one of the things I value about these Wallace case studies is that they discuss all the unexpected outcomes, both successes and failures.

Among the insights that caught my attention was PCS’s realization that in order to achieve their goal of diversifying their audience, they should target by age rather than some definition of diversity. .

“But it became clearer and clearer to me that we should target age.” At the time, in 2013, Portland had seen a huge influx of transplants between the ages of 25 and 45, and this population was now the most diverse age group in the city. Targeting them, Fuhrman reasoned, was a way to kill two birds with one stone, “tapping the most diverse population of the city while focusing on the age group.”

Most of the efforts discussed in the article are those focused on connecting with this age group. In surveying 25-45 year old current and lapsed audience members as well as non-attendees whom they identified as being inclined to attend, they collected some good information about where and how to advertise shows.

They also made an effort to provide all sorts of pre- and post-show events in an effort to enhance attendee experience in every possible way. Managing Director Cynthia Fuhrman says, “The theory was that the value add would deepen people’s commitment to return.”

However, they ended up discovering that less is more.

But interestingly, feedback from the focus groups actually led PCS to reduce the number of engagement programs in the grant’s second year. “We thought we had to do something every night,” says Furhman, which proved “exhausting on staff. But when we pulled back on programming, the numbers actually went up. It was deeper engagement. Quality of the program was more important than quantity.”

Another discovery they made that ran counter to their expectations was that people didn’t necessarily want to see stories set in the Northwest or written by playwrights in the region, despite the fact these were the best attended shows.

Interestingly, market research from the Wallace Foundation grant found that audiences in Portland were in fact not inherently more interested in plays set in the Northwest or written by Northwest playwrights, despite the fact they brought in larger audiences. Results like this, that disconfirm expectations, call for critical analysis. PCS hypothesized that perhaps the greater turnout had to do with better marketing, which might reflect their own internal investment in these shows more than audiences’ enthusiasm, but there is as yet no solid conclusion about why they outperformed.

Personally, I would credit internal investment in an event as being a stronger factor in the success of shows than we imagine it is. Which is not to say that shows we really adore won’t be flops. The subject matter may not resonate with the community at large or we may speak of the event in terms that aren’t relevant to people outside our profession.

On the other hand, I am sure we can all identify events that suffered due to our lack of enthusiasm or succeeded despite our worst efforts. Love isn’t the only ingredient in the success of a show, but advocacy sounds a lot more organic when there is authentic enthusiasm behind it.

The fate of PCS’s loyalty program provides something of a lesson about making sure technology will be compatible before investing a lot of time and money into development and implementation.

PCS hired a web developer to create an online loyalty portal which would allow members to earn rewards by attending shows and interacting with PCS online. But, while its launch attracted 3,500 sign-ups, PCS recently put the portal on hiatus, as the program did not integrate with the ticketing platform Tessitura. Because the loyalty app and the database couldn’t talk to each other, it became unwieldy for audience members to use and staff to manage. Fuhrman and the portal developers still hope that integration might be possible in the future.

As I have written before, I really appreciate the fact that the Wallace Foundation provided grantees with the funding and permission to try things out and make mistakes that provide valuable insights to both the grantees and the rest of the arts and culture community.

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