My Arms Are Too Short

Lots and lots of great conversation going on over at’s A Better Case For The Arts. It is somewhat heartening to see that so many people agree that the attitude arts professionals have about what they do has to change as does the approach to attracting and retaining audiences in this day and age. (The disheartening thing of course is that no one has the answer.)

It is tough to comment on the breadth of the discussion at this point, but since part of it had some significance to the experience of the last couple days I have had, I wanted to cite them. (They are also among the more interesting discussion and commentary) One of the post and accompanying commentary is titled The Public View. The other came under the heading The Enemy?.

The latter was very interesting because it pointed out in the changing political landscape that seems the harbinger of a culture war, people who have not been exposed to the arts may no longer be uninformed with the potential to be an attendee once introduced to it, but instead may be pre-disposed to be hostile to the arts.

A sobering thought, but still, education and exposure is the best solution for a great many of the world’s ills. (Though some will point out there are plenty of people out there ready to spin your education to reinforce what you already believe.) The Public View promotes this idea of education and exposure. Writes Jim Kelly:

I don’t believe the “case for the arts” can be made to the general public. Our duty to the public is not to explain to them why they should enjoy the arts, not to tell them the many ways it will improve them as individuals. Our duty is to involve them in the arts on some level in the belief that they too will experience the benefits of the arts first-hand and will become new advocates for the cause. In other words, we have stop talking about the arts and start doing art.

We have limited public dollars at our disposal, but we’re constantly asked to support another study, plan, reseach project, etc. Instead, my agency made a conscious decision to support art projects that increase audiences exposure to and participation in the arts. Most of us agree that you will never appreciate the intrinsic value of the arts if you’ve never experienced the arts. So let’s dedicate ourselves to increasing people’s exposure to the arts in all their permutations.

There were some great comments to this entry, but the one I liked best came from Jane Deschner:

Yes, you’re exactly right. I find people are often “afraid” of their own creativity and imagination. If they can become engaged in some way (whether by performance in a furniture store, embellished fiberglass animals on the street, musical performance in a hospital lobby) in a quality experience, they may develop an interest and gain the confidence to participate. But it has to have substance, be good. Who said art has to be on in a theater or museum or concert hall?

The bit about people being afraid of their own creativity really rings so true in my experience.

So how does this all connect with the events of my last few days?
Well, I have been trying to set up outreach programs for a performance group coming in during the next few weeks. Problem is, they arrive right in the middle of most of the local school’s Spring Break! Eek!

I did find a couple school who were in session and offered the opportunity to them. A few turned me down, but another couple never returned my multiple calls. The unreturned calls were surprising because these were schools that actually had well funded arts programs and would have been able to pay (and often had for similiar groups) for the program I was bringing in even though I was offering it for free.

Just today, I discovered all of my plans for outreach programs to the at risk schools with few or no arts classes are sort of falling apart. Because I schedule with the state booking consortium, the tight travel and performing itinerary leaves one group with no time to do a lecture/demo outreach and the another with only a Sunday afternoon. A third group wants as much for a one hour lecture/demo as for a performance (about $10,000) so that is pretty much out. Though, hey, if you can get that sorta money, more power to ya!

This is rather distressing since I actually wrote letters of intent at the request of some agents so that a funding group that supports outreach to my type of community would provide money to support their touring. Now granted, this is all a year away, things change and I am looking to do some out of the box thinking to put together a program to make this happen. (Perhaps go to churches that serve this sort of community?)

I am also starting a conversation with local arts groups who haven’t really thought about organizing enough to do joint performances about doing some and perhaps hooking up an outreach on there too.

Though I will probably be able to bring rewarding experience to local populations in the end, it is rather frustrating to be having such a hard time bringing free programs to my community. There is no real financial reward to it. The grant monies it will yield for me are pretty negilible and hardly cover the additional fees I am paying for the outreach (not to mention the extra day of lodging). I would get more work done in the day if I wasn’t trying to make all these arrangements.

But damned if I don’t believe it will actually have a beneficial impact on a fair number of the lives I am trying to serve. I am not quite sure if it will bring audiences in to theatre, gallery and museum doors. But I do think at some point in their lives, the people who see the programs will stop and contemplate truth and beauty in their lives, if only secretly, if only for a few minutes.

A Measure of Entry

I had some people from the state disabilities board come visit my theatre at my request today. When they visited last about 6 years ago to provide input into renovations, there were apparently some miscommunications. I was told that my predecessors were told we couldn’t have reserved seating in the theatre because of ADA standards. The people from the board told me the only reason they would advise that would be if people with disabilities couldn’t order reserved seats and everyone else could. Certainly that is not the case with my theatre.

They also came to assess two locations on row E that clearly appear to be seating for people in wheelchairs. Six years ago we were told that we couldn’t have people in wheelchairs there because it wasn’t up to code. Unfortunately, it was a verbal comment so no one knew how the problem could be fixed. In addition, because it appears to be a place for wheelchairs, is closer to the stage and doesn’t require a slow ride up on a chair lift, people really want to sit there.

The preliminary comments of the gentlemen who were assessing the space was that it can clearly accommodate wheelchairs without fear of them falling to the level below. However, other people in the row might not be able to pass them. This was sort of disheartening because my theatre pretty much has the widest row of any theatre on the island.

If they are right, it may require knocking a couple seats off near the location and building an extension so that people could pass in front of them. I would really consider losing the 2 seats on either side of the theatre because the locations really make it easy for everyone involved, theatre staff and customers both. We rarely have to use the chair lift because we only have 2-3 wheelchairs at any one time in the theatre. And we haven’t sold the theatre out so often that we would be wishing we had those last 4 seats to sell.

Now I just have to wait for the official report. At least if they say I can’t seat people there, I will finally have it in writing.

Of course, while they were there, they noticed a few other little problems. None of them were really serious and a few of them are fairly easy to fix by simply moving some signs a few inches. One of them ironically was a very specific fix that their office had suggested 6 years earlier.

Interestingly enough the ADA standards are a little racist and sexist. A lot of them seem to be based on the size of white Anglo-Saxon males. As a result, to be in compliance, I have to move some Braille signs to a place that is natural for someone of my build to read, but could be a little stretch for the generally shorter Asian and Polynesian population which comprise the majority here on Oahu.
It never occurred to me until the guy pointed the spot out and I realized it would be above the heads of quite a few of those who use the restrooms. He commented that the standards were based on Mainland norms.

I also learned that there is no grandfather clause exemptions for ADA requirements. While age of a building will exempt a building of other architectural requirements, the best you can do with ADA requirements is meet them to the fullest extent possible.

Overall I felt good about having them come out. For every little flaw they found, they also found an element of our set up which most other companies did not have.

Also, it is probably good to have an assessment like this periodically so that one can be a little proactive about making changes and show good faith effort if someone accuses your organization of being deficient.

Discussing Controversy

I found an article from the Rocky Mountain News noting that a local PBS station had chosen to air the controversial “Sugartime” episode of Postcards from Buster.

In case you have missed the hordes of articles and news stories on the subject, Buster is a cartoon rabbit who travels the country sending back reports as it were on different activities around the country. The episode in question depicted maple sugar making on Vermont farms headed by lesbians. Though there is apparently no mention or appearance of any sort of romantic relationship between the women, the Secretary of Education applied pressure to PBS to yank the episode. A number of stations have chosen to show it anyway.

What made this article so interesting to me was that one station on Channel 6 chose to show the episode at 11:30 at night so parents could judge whether to allow their children to see it. (There was an implication that it would air again at some point) However, PBS channel 12 (KBDI) which is apparently the other Denver PBS station chose to air it at 7 pm and follow it with a 90 call in panel discussion show.

Thinking that perhaps there was a lesson here for arts organizations to perhaps use controversy to move regularly scheduled talk back/Q&A sessions away from mundane questions like “how do you remember all your lines” to more gripping discussions, I visited KBDI’s website to see how the Feb. 9 experiment turned out. I figured being a PBS audience there might not be the explosive confrontations one would find on Jerry Springer and some good discussion might emerge.

There wasn’t any video footage to be viewed, but they did have a comments board. Most of the comments fall between Feb 9-11 (just so those of you visiting in a few months can get a sense of how far you may have to scroll down.)

The biggest lesson that one might derive from the feedback is that when hosting an opportunity for discussion about a controversial event so that you can convince people you don’t champion the causes of a perceived liberal elite — you should actually include people on the panel that represent both sides of the issue.

It is not entirely clear whether the host was berating people because of their views or if he was always like that and people who complained hadn’t watched the show before. It does seem like the views represented by the panel itself were decidefly one sided.

It is tough to be yelled at in ones own house to be sure. It seems to me that in an age where the public can change the channel to one that expresses the views of the niche to which one subscribes, there is an opportunity and perhaps duty placed upon live performance venues to provide a forum for intelligent discourse since their settings are not so easily escaped.

But–it needs to be well-balanced and moderated and I imagine that would be tough to do these days. When you see and hear people relentlessly berating each other on television because that holds the ratings, you think that is the way one engages in discussion about topics with which one disagrees.

I am sure our Founding Fathers were not as cordial in their dealings as we imagine them to have been. (Just think of how many must have muttered something about going Aaron Burr on someone’s butt) I imagine they might have held themselves to some level of civility though.

This could be a great service arts organizations provide to society. Live discussion doesn’t allow you the anonymity of the internet or a phone call in. Done with the proper respect and care, arts events could become a welcoming venue for people who don’t necessarily view themselves as arts intellectuals, but who crave balanced intelligent conversations about issues of the day.

Doesn’t this happen on college campuses one asks. Well, currently Ohio is considering a student bill of rights to ensure those with views that conflict with those of their professor aren’t intimidated into keeping quiet.

Besides, as much as tickets to arts events cost. It is still cheaper and more accessible to a wider portion of the population than paying for college credits.

Accessible Facilities

Okay, an abbreviated entry today. I wrote a fairly long entry detailing why I was researching the Americans with Disabilities Act but my web browser decided to cut out leaving me to start all over again. I was going to wait another day, but tomorrow I am going to see Dana Gioia, Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, speak so I most likely won’t be able to make an entry tomorrow.

So any, the resources I cited in my disappearing entry were the National Endowment’s Design for Accessibility: A Cultural Administrator’s Handbook which was extremely complete. It not only had information on the act, but had illustrations of dimensions of theatre seating, ramps, placement and lighting of signers in signed performances. It discussed training of staff and volunteers and even included a suggested format of a meeting to discuss accessibility issues for facilities. As the title suggests, it also gives guidelines for planning for a facility to be accessible if you are building or renovating one.

Each chapter includes helpful links and references books one might want to read. I found this helpful because I didn’t feel that their guidelines on interaction with persons with disabilities was complete enough. The ironic thing is, I judge it incomplete in comparison with a list of guidelines I once had that the NEA itself had put out.

The links, however, direct you to the San Antonio, TX city website that has a good list of terminology to use. A link to the United Cerebral Palsy Association had a good listing of basic etiquette. The Community Resources for Independence, while not listed in the NEA document, also has a good site for interaction guidelines.

Okay, that is about it right now. I will let you know what I think of Dana Gioia on Wednesday.