When Voting Becomes An Intersection for Arts and Civics

You may have seen news about Ulster County, NY’s demon-spider I Voted sticker. It made national news because the design by 14 year old Hudson Rowan was so strikingly cool/strange and garnered a huge majority of votes last summer to become the official recognition sticker for the county.

But a lot of places have their own distinctive flavor they apply to the stickers. A Bloomberg News article lists a number of them. Some of them are the result of an official branding effort, others like those in Alaska, feature images of wildlife created by high school students.

Of course, one of the first things that occurred to me is that this is one of those places in which civics and art can intersect. It might be worth the effort for local arts organizations and schools to look into whether there are opportunities to contribute to state or even county level sticker design. Getting students and artists actively involved in creating images for election stickers can potentially have beneficial effects.

These stickers brought to mind an entry I did a decade ago about Japanese manhole cover designs which are specific to every city in the country and reflect some degree of local pride. (Happily the Flickr account housing photos of the covers still exists so you can check out the cool designs.)

That post reminded me about a post I wrote on efforts in Lanesboro, MN where they had placed cast iron medallions around the community so visitors could engage in a sort of scavenger hunt. Not to mention the poetry verses that appear on signposts in parking lots around town as well.

Germany Gives 18 Year Olds The Gift of Culture

Over the years, I have written a fair bit on culture passes that various European countries have distributed to young people.  In addition to passes for cultural experiences and goods, some of the passes have been focused on facilitating rail travel so young people can experience a wider swath of national and international places and events.

According to a Guardian article from last week, Germany is the most recent country to tee up a program.   When Germans turn 18 they will receive a €200 Kulturpass. The goal is to not only get young people engaged with cultural activities, but to also inject some economic vitality post-Covid.

…has twin aims: to encourage young adults to experience live culture and drop stay-at-home pandemic habits; and give a financial boost to the arts scene, which has yet to recover from repeated lockdowns.

[….]

The finance minister, Christian Lindner, described the pass as “cultural start-up capital” that its recipients can use within a two-year period for everything from theatre and concert tickets to books or music. It will be managed via an app and a website that provides a direct connection to a virtual marketplace of everything from bookshops to theatres.

Perhaps most interesting is that the program is intentionally designed to have the 18 year olds “shop locally” as it were and excludes large online platforms and purchases.

Online platforms such as Amazon and Spotify have been excluded from the scheme, which places an emphasis on smaller, often local organisations, such as independent cinemas and bookshops. Individual purchases will be limited in value to prevent someone from using the voucher to buy, for example, a single concert ticket for €200.

I am curious to know if the German government analyzed the programs in places like Spain, France and Italy for design problems. The goals of these other countries were similar in terms of stimulating interest in in-person experiences. The German program seems to have more restrictions built in to achieve that.

Toward A More Artistic European Union

As promised, I am following up on Monday’s post about about the first European Union (EU) wide survey of performing arts.

I wanted to note some of the recommendations made in the study. One of the most significant was to facilitate employment opportunities across the entire EU. The study noted that every country focused on their national performing arts entities.  Additionally, Covid restrictions have delayed the training and opportunities for younger artists to gain practical experience.

Among their proposals are to create more opportunities for artists to work across borders:

To address these concerns, the study calls for theatres around Europe to create so-called ‘third spaces’ at venues to support young artists.

Such a space would connect with theatre schools and academies to programme the work and support young artists to enter the professional theatre scene after graduating.

Similarly, the study suggests creating a ‘European Theatre Showcase’, potentially as an element added on to the European Theatre Forum, to offer a long-term perspective and provide the next generation of young artists from Europe a “much-needed industry networking space.”

Something that caught my eye were multiple statements that seemed to indicate a stark separation of interaction and dialogue between schools and training programs and performing arts venues. It hadn’t occurred to me that this might be the case given that universities can often be among the most prominent producers and presenters of performing arts in the U.S. (Association of Performing Arts Professionals which is essentially the national conference for presenters started out as Association of College, University and Community Arts Administrators (ACUCAA)) Among the proposals in this area were in regard to moving toward common standards of training and accreditation so that students were more easily employed in other countries.

Other proposals to facilitate cross-border employment included amending tax laws which often double-taxed artists; addressing sexual harassment, work environment, gender and racial disparities; mainstreaming the employment and depiction of sexual orientation, gender identity, physical and mental ability.

Another section discussed funding sustainable construction/renovation and practices with an eye to cutting energy consumption and impact on the environment.

It was interesting to read about all the factors that need to be navigated and sorted out among EU countries. Differences regarding discrimination, harassment and social standing of arts wasn’t particularly surprising. Nor was the idea that most countries focused on supporting their national arts entities.

There were many more administrative and legal hurdles noted than I imagined. If you have ever visited a European country and watched people breezing through the exit for citizens of Schengen Area countries while you queue up to be examined at customs, it is easy to think all these issues had been long settled.

More Europe Performing Arts Orgs During Covid

Last week German arts administrator Rainer Glaap made a Facebook post linking to the first ever study of theatres across the European Union (EU).  Additionally, some of the survey participants were non-EU members of the Creative Europe program.  Readers may recall I had made a number of posts looking at how various governments across Europe were providing financial support to artists during the height of the Covid pandemic.  So I was interested in seeing what this report had to say.

One of the biggest difficulties faced in putting the study together was all the differences that exist between European countries in terms of number of theatre, definitions of performing arts activities, funding policies, training practices, etc. There were numerous times the report noted the difficulty in making and apples to apples comparison.

However, there were a number of interesting things I pulled from the report. For instance, apparently France and Germany are the primary models for presenting/touring versus producing.

The so-called ‘French oriented system’ is based on productions, touring and selling plays to other venues making international co-production easier to fit in a programme. In a ‘German oriented system’ whereby theatres operate as production houses with in-house established ensembles, international co-production is less natural since the programme is set for the season.

Since the degree to which European governments subsidize the arts is a frequent topic of conversation in the U.S., having a EU-wide report on this number is obviously of some interest (recall this is an average from 39 participating countries):

“ticket sales in public funded theatres usually amounts to about 25% of the theatre budget. Commercially-oriented private theatres and independent companies however rely mostly on revenues generated from the box office and other commercial activities. Among the surveyed private theatre venues and companies, revenue from sales (tickets, admissions) constituted around 40% of their budgets before the COVID-19 pandemic.”

During Covid, many of the measures taken in European countries were similar to those in the U.S. Many shifted to streamed live or archived performances, with results ranging from innovative to downright disappointing. Others found ways to perform in outdoor or non-traditional spaces. Companies in a number of countries started working with hospitals, retirement homes, schools and universities to offer performances. Some organizations experimented with the drive-in theatre experience where people remained in their cars. There was an account of a festival in France which replaced the cancelled Avignon Festival which provided press exposure to smaller arts organizations which normally wouldn’t get it and apparently enabled the organizer, Theatre 14 to reach audiences not used to attending theatre. I am not sure how it was organized to encourage that. I assumed it might be outdoors in public spaces, but it appears the performances were held in physical performance spaces.

There were examples of efforts to provide better support for artists, both in terms of government policy:

Good practices are emerging, such as negotiating a minimum wage for artistic work in the theatre, also for people working on other terms than an employment contract e.g. in Austria or Finland. In some countries, such as Poland, new legal acts and wide-ranging regulations are created to support this professional group. In Belgium, the situation of artists resulting from the pandemic pushed the creation of a new type of ‘fair trade’ contract, in order to improve the contractual relations between artists and cultural operators. As a result of such a contract, a play can either be postponed or cancelled, but in the latter case part of the fees must be paid to the artists.

[…]

….The project was funded via the European Commission’s DG Employment and Social Affairs budget line for Information and Training Measures for Workers’ Organisations. It helped the unions to train and put in place a strategy in relation to organising, with a focus on freelance, self-employed and otherwise atypical workers in the Media Arts and Entertainment sectors.”83

As well as acts of solidarity:

Nau Ivanow, a cultural residence space in Spain that has a venue, decided that all income from ticket sales during the COVID-19 pandemic will be given to the performing companies and artists.
Also, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic they decided to offer their two rehearsal spaces for free for the interested artists/companies.

[..]

Some of the [Romanian] public cultural institutions (National Dance Centre, National Heritage Institute, Clujean Cultural Centre, National Museum Complex ASTRA Sibiu, Studio M Theatre in Sfantu Gheorghe) announced that they did not attend this funding session in order to show their solidarity with the independent cultural operators, whose resources have been drastically diminished, and who were less eligible for support than state funded institutions.

The report also made some recommendations for the future which I will probably cover in my post tomorrow.