Art and Vocation

I always like to discover organizations that find a way to offer opportunities for people to realize artistic and “practical” pursuits.

In Providence, RI is The Steel Yard which “offers arts and technical training programs designed to increase opportunities for cultural and artistic expression, career-oriented training, and small business incubation.” So you can go there to pursue welding certification, learn how to weld for around the house chores or explore a new art form. (They also offer ceramics, blacksmithing and foundry casting.)

They also offer lectures, studio space, youth training partnerships and a locker in residence program where you can get access to their shop without being associated with any classes.

Sounds pretty cool. This is the one time I regret not being a visual artist cause they have an executive director position open. Sounds like an intriguing opportunity.

Another similar program is at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. They have an arts and industry program where artists take up residency at the Kohler Company which manufactures plumbing supplies.

This may sound strange, but if you think about it, the company’s products require them to work in ceramics, iron and brass foundries and work with enamel. They put their equipment and materials at your disposal 24 hours a day. Only 4 people are usually in residence at any one time so accessibility to the facilities is more limited than at the Steel Yard. But everything is free to those chosen for the program, including housing, round trip transportation, materials and technical assistance. Plus you get a weekly honorarium.

The most amusing part is that many of these pieces make it back to the washrooms at the arts center. According to the arts center website, there tends to be an invasion of the opposite gender’s washroom to view these works.

Explore the washrooms yourself. It is pretty cool stuff.

Meeting from Afar

Alright! With Andrew Taylor’s Artful Manager blog in reruns this week, I get to talk about a technological gizmo I noticed. (I just hate it when I find an article and he already blogged on it. I mean, then I have to find something else interesting to write about that day! The pressure!! Guess that is the price of living 4-5 hours behind him.)

Anyhow, while reading over at, I came across a story about a company that provides people with the ability to discuss and organize projects on the web.

The software is called Basecamp created by a company called 37 Signals. The software is web based and hosted so it doesn’t matter what platform or versions of software you have (other than up to date browser software). You can use Basecamp to organize everything from weddings to building skyscrapers.

The software provides a secure central site for people to plan and discuss projects. Everyone can be aware of due dates, to do lists and contact lists. They can share and get feedback on the progress they have made and start fitting things together.

So what does this have to do with the arts? Well if you are starting discussions on an opera, ballet or play, your directors and designers may be working in places hundreds of miles from each other and in turn may be thousands of miles from the theatre the production will take place at. With this service, designs and concepts can be shared at great distances enabling progress even though one person may be going to bed when the sun is rising in the window of another.

Designers may actually be able to take on more commissions because they don’t necessarily have to travel to oversee some stages of development when digital photos will suffice. And when they do have to travel, they can be providing input on the next couple far-flung projects with which they are involved.

Travel and housing expenses will be lower for all involved because designers need not move about so much and be present at the theatre for so long a time as they have in the past.

The cost of this service is very reasonable, spanning from $12 to $99 a month. Given that the $99 rate is for 100 projects, I imagine a theatre would find that they could coordinate their entire season of 12-15 shows for a very reasonable rate. The first 30 days are free which takes a little bit of the risk away. Actually, you can set up one project for not cost at all so an organization could conceivably use it to complete an entire production as a test.

Actually, as I look back at the Basecamp website, I notice there is a link to suggested uses. They actually list theatre applications. Among their suggestions are using it for auditions storing headshots, resumes and audio files. I hadn’t thought of that! A director could actually provide guidelines for casting to someone at a theatre, have them weed out those who didn’t meet the criteria and then upload video recordings of the promising auditions for him/her to review from hundreds of miles away.

Granted, a poor quality recording could cheat many a good actor of a chance at fame if not chosen far a call back. Certainly, a camera would blunt subtle skill and charisma that is clearly apparent in person. The casting director would have to be really insistent that they really thought an actor should be called back if the show director wants to pass him/her by. But again, if the auditions are Wednesday and the call backs are on Saturday, that is time and money saved.

I would really be interested to see if arts organizations start using this sort of service. I am sure there are applications of its use no one has conceived of yet.

Audience Reviews

Looking to revisit the idea of audiences reviewing performances, I took a look at some research Greg Beuthin over at Extension 311 had done on the subject. Though I did a Google search similar to the one he lists in addition to using some keywords of my own, I didn’t find much more than he. Even worse, the one theatre I found in my last search that appeared to be setting up a way for performers and directors to blog has removed their website entirely. Though others like My London Life , a chronicle of a London based director’s experiences, are going ahead strong. (Though understandably with some commentary on the recent bombings.)

In fact, of the sites he links, many of those that offer the opportunity to review don’t have any posted. The exceptions are fringe festivals (which he says really encourage their audiences to do so). He uses the examples of San Francisco Fringe and Edinburgh Fringe (The Edinburgh ones are more like advertisements from people who have seen the pieces elsewhere since the festival doesn’t actually start for another week.)

One of the best audience review sites in terms of the detail to which people go in discussing the experiences is On The Boards. I have been critical of their editorial policy in the past, but I have never questioned the quality of their entries which seems to remain high.

Rating Your Tour

New York Times had a terrific story (picked up by today) about a website that will do for traveling artists what does for hotel seekers. (hosted/sponsored by The Field) provides a place where artists can post and receive advice about how to go about performing at certain venues, how audiences in different parts of North America react to different types of music, where good eats can be found, etc. You can search venues by state or by region–a helpful feature if you are considering regional tours.

The website is well organized and attractive. However, its biggest strength is also its biggest weakness–it depends on people to enter the information. This is a strength in that you get some good practical advice from people who have been there. Their experience is subjective perhaps, but it is much better advice than you will get from buying a book on touring North America.

Depending on user input is also a weakness because, well, there is nothing entered in the website. While there are local guides for New York City, there isn’t a single venue listed for the place, nothing at all listed for Philadelphia (or any part of PA except Allentown). I found listing for venues that no longer exist. (The NYT article says the website is celebrating its first anniversary, but I found entries from 2001 and the site has a 2003 copyright.)

Regardless of the shape it is in now, I am posting about it in the hope that readers will contribute to it and flesh it out a bit. It has a great potential for being useful to artists so everyone do your bit and update it!