Artistic Citizenship – Is It Valued, Who Will Teach It?

A couple months back, Arts Professional had an article by Jonathan Vaughan, Principal of Guildhall School of Music & Drama, asking if “artistic citizenship” could be taught.

Defining artistic citizenship, the academic David Elliott takes Aristotle’s concept of Praxis (‘to do’ or ‘to make’) and expands it to mean active reflection and action “dedicated to human well-being… the ethical care of others, and the positive empowerment and transformation of people and their everyday lives”.

Vaughan cites things like activism, critical thinking, disruption, civic responsibility, social value. Just as he comes around to mentioning a parallel with liberal arts education, I had a similar thought about liberal arts education having many of these same goals. The fact that I have been reading about the shrinking of liberal arts degree programs in colleges across the country made me question if these were qualities that were actually valued any more. There is certainly the ability to teach these skills, but does the will to instill these qualities still exist?

Vaughan asks an additional question about whether people would pursue an artistic curriculum focused on cultivating better citizenship over artistic excellence.

“Questions remain about how to include this training in an already busy, arguably overcrowded, curriculum. Where does it fit when the primary imperative of performance training must always be the production of outstanding performers who excel in their craft and artistry?

How can institutions avoid indoctrinating their students when introducing political or ideological concepts? Can the development of students’ independent critical thinking avoid that? And is the very concept of citizenship problematic or limiting to those it excludes?

To be clear, I don’t doubt for a moment that there are people who do want to acquire these skillsets in order to improve civil society. I just wonder if they will look to these institutions to provide this training as well as if the institutions, embroiled as they are in various levels of politics and internal inertia, would be prepared to provide the training students seek.

Got A Good Beat, You Can Dance To It…And It’s Taking Our Jobs

I was listening to an episode of the Code Switch podcast this weekend while I was out walking. The topic was about how merengue was the basis for a culture war in Puerto Rico.  What, at first on the surface seemed to be a resistance to the introduction of a new type of pop music to compete with salsa gets entangled with cultural identity.

Merengue was essentially carried to Puerto Rico by waves of immigration from the Dominican Republic. The music had a different energy and was easier to dance to than salsa. One of the hosts mentioned her mother was embarrassed by how poorly her husband danced, but that he was able to do a passable job dancing to merengue rhythms.

However, in time there were violent protests and demands that merengue be outlawed because it was putting salsa musicians out of work. One merengue musician had his car set on fire. There was a lot of suspicion that it was salsa musicians, but the owner had no proof and so never filed a complaint.

The podcast hosts admit there may have been some nationalism and classism associated with the resistance since merengue was initially being introduced and performed by immigrants who may not arrived in Puerto Rico legally. Many of them seeking to use the island as a way to continue on to the U.S.  There may have been a sense that these folks from the Dominican Republic were interlopers who were not invested in advancing the future of the island.

The most interesting element is that in time Puerto Rican musicians made merengue their own.  The merengue song, “Suavemente,” which became ubiquitous in the late nineties was performed by a Puerto Rican musician. The guy whose car was burned was invited to the home of one of the prime suspects for the arson who admitted merengue ultimately made it possible to own the house he had.

I have been trying to think if there have been similar stories with other music forms. I know there have been plenty of protests about music being obscene or diverging from standard expectations, but has there been other instances where performers of an emerging music style have been accused of robbing other musicians of their livelihood by virtue of being more popular?


Unexpected Headline – Black Sabbath The Ballet Premieres In September

In a case of “not something I had imagined”, the Birmingham Royal Ballet recently decided to create a ballet set to the music of Black Sabbath, who got their start in the city. Lead guitarist Tony Iommi described the show as a “rags to riches” tale will attract “both our fans and ballet fans”.

Say what you want about whether a ballet set to heavy metal music is appropriate, my first thought was that from what I know of Birmingham the concept is suited to the history and socio-economic dynamics of the city and it is population. Obviously, these are the very forces that gave rise to the band in the first place. It may be an unorthodox pairing, but it is aligned to the community rather than an attempt at shoehorning something presumed to be good for the audiences or that they will learn to like.

I don’t doubt there will be cries of sacrilege. I am just suggesting Black Sabbath is more closely aligned to Birmingham than something like Aaron Copland & Agnes DeMille’s “Rodeo,” which has more resonance with American cowboy culture.

My thoughts about the continued timeliness of the song “War Pigs” preceded me reading Ballet director Carlos Acosta’s parallel thoughts on the song:

“”War Pigs is so relevant today, how sometimes politicians and governments hide behind words. And all the wars happening at the moment… it’s timeless.”

Videogame Inspired Tourism

I saw this tweet the beginning of the month and was engaged by the idea of video game inspired tourism.

I tried to see if there was a recording made of her talk, but haven’t been able to find it. Given that people have trekked to see the locations appearing in Star Wars films and episodes of shows like Game of Thrones, it isn’t surprising that people want to see these places in real life. What is a bit more interesting is that a video game about a post-apocalyptic world would take the pains to accurately depict real life locations.

Does this reflect a tension between the pursuit of creating fictional worlds and scenarios and a desire for authenticity? What drives the desire for authenticity, the gaming company, the players, a combination of both? With the emergence of AI created art, which can presumably integrate elements of real locations as well as generate completely new environments, will the drive for authenticity continue or will gaming studios and players be satisfied with AI generated worlds?

Not to mention, will those artist jobs continue to exist?

The fact that people are traveling to these locations suggests people have an interest/curiosity in extending their virtual explorations into the physical realm. This bodes well on many levels if game designers continue to actively seek new interesting places in the real world to translate into the games.