Writing Elsewhere Tonight

I had a comment on the Artsjournal discussion I have been citing the last couple days. However, since the comment section didn’t register the links I painstakingly typed in HTML code in the entry, I am mirroring it here as it was meant to be seen.

The entry I was commenting on may be found here.

A week or so ago, Artsjournal linked to a Wired article that talked about people almost having an intrinsic need for art/beauty/meaning/purpose in their lives. I quoted the following bit in my blog:

For companies and entrepreneurs, it’s no longer enough to create a product, a service, or an experience that’s reasonably priced and adequately functional. In an age of abundance, consumers demand something more. Check out your bathroom. If you’re like a few million Americans, you’ve got a Michael Graves toilet brush or a Karim Rashid trash can that you bought at Target. Try explaining a designer garbage pail to the left side of your brain! Or consider illumination. Electric lighting was rare a century ago, but now it’s commonplace. Yet in the US, candles are a $2 billion a year business -for reasons that stretch beyond the logical need for luminosity to a prosperous country’s more inchoate desire for pleasure and transcendence.

Liberated by this prosperity but not fulfilled by it, more people are searching for meaning. From the mainstream embrace of such once-exotic practices as yoga and meditation to the rise of spirituality in the workplace to the influence of evangelism in pop culture and politics, the quest for meaning and purpose has become an integral part of everyday life.

And just recently I saw a great illustration of this as Target Stores rolled out their “Design for All” campaign. They know they can’t compete with WalMart on price, but they are plugging in to this craving people have. You can probably buy most of the same stuff at WalMart, but their message is, you will feel better about yourself if you shop here.

Now how the arts can manage to position themselves in the same manner against the convienence of cable TV, DVDs mailed to your home and all the rest, I don’t quite know.

If you think back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need, you know that safety issues like infant mortality will never be superceded by self-actualization activities like the arts, and it is silly to try as has been pointed out. At the same time, those needs Maslow cites are sort of hard wired into the human brain.

While I agree with Phil Kennicott that the current political/social environment may be making people who might have previously been just unfamiliar with the arts into people who are predisposed to view the topic with hate, they too have these deep seated needs. The closest they may ever come to supporting the arts is by attempting to fulfill the need by buying products at Target which in turn supports the arts. (I believe that was one of Ben Cameron’s jobs prior to joining TCG.)

I hate to engage in idealistic speculation that implies the utopian theoretical can be translated into the practical so here is what I think might be a doable suggestion which extends Joli’s thoughts-

Perhaps the entree for answering this need for potential audiences is the garage band approach rather than the massive performing arts center. Maybe organizations should be putting their money into storefront theatres and stand alone black boxes where insecurities about dress code and etiquette aren’t as big an issue because everyone is wearing jeans. (We tell people they don’t necessarily have to dress up, but then they arrive at the venue and the veteran attendees are looking snazzy which gives a contradictory message.)

Once people feel comfortable and good about themselves, then you point out that if they enjoyed this, maybe they want to try the mainstage over on 6th Street–or just keep coming back.

The alternative venue doesn’t necessarily need to be run by one organization. All the arts organizations of a community might go in and share the costs and use it as sort of an outreach facility. Theatre companies the first two weekends of the month, snippets of opera on the third, chamber music on the fourth.

Drive Through Art

Courtesy of Artsjournal.com, I read a partially satiric, partially serious article from The Guardian. The author pokes fun at the types of people who attend those mega-art shows that you have to reserve times to see.

But his more serious point is that these type of art shows are really no way to view art. Do you really get a chance to understand what you are viewing with hordes of people passing through and subtle encouragements to move along and make space for the next tour group.

He also points out, quite correctly, that there is something of a herd mentality about needing to see the works at a certain time and place when the show is in progress, but feeling no desire to do so when the pieces are ensconced in their home museums.

It attaches, also, to the self-defeating way in which we choose to appreciate art. That is not to say that we must have conditions that enable us to spend as much time in front of a painting as Wollheim, but the herd instinct the modern blockbuster show produces does not do the greatest paintings justice.

This point became clear to me the other day when, in the National Gallery, I shared a room of Titians with a security guard all but uninterrupted for half-an-hour. In that room were some of the same paintings that I had struggled to see at the National’s Sainsbury wing temporary exhibition of Titian in 2003.

The reason this piece caught my fancy today was that just last week I was thinking that I was glad I had taken the opportunity to visit the Dali Museum
when I was in Florida rather than having to be in a position of viewing his art with a horde now that the pieces are in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Okay, granted, I don’t live near Philly any more–but if I did…! Visiting the Dali in Florida would still be worth it after doing the Philly show since I presume the side of a barn size pieces found there didn’t make it to Philadelphia.

Going to see a Dali show at all would be worth it. I think that my visit to the Florida museum was the first time I realized just how crappy a job posters and other reproductions did at revealing the subtle and not so subtle elements of art work.

Search for More Theatre Blogs

I have really been looking high and low for more people who blog about their experiences in theatre. I haven’t been terribly successful, but I will admit, the signs look promising. People seem to be realizing the potential for the blogs.

For example, a Google search found this nascent blog for The Playmill Theatre in Montana. You can’t actually get to the blogs from the theatre’s homepage. In fact, the home page itself is rather undeveloped at the moment. It just goes to show though that someone was thinking and wanted to get the cast and director (and perhaps the community) writing about their experiences.

I also found a very short, sparse attempt at a production blog for Aristophanes’ Acharnians.

The British seem to be doing the best job of blogging about their lives in the theatre. In addition to My London Life which I cited in an earlier entry, I have found yet another British director faithfully chronicling his experiences running his own company. (Yeah, I know, I could be doing more of the same myself. I suppose you all want to hear about my shopping trips to buy cases of water and soda for performers, eh?)

I also found a culture blog by a Brit who is something of a Terry Teachout of England (though not as prolific an author/journalist/everything)

I was very happy to see that a theatre in San Francisco was taking the idea of bloggers as the new critics to heart and offering free tickets to bloggers with a fairly significant daily readership who agreed to write a review within 24 hours. May have to follow up with them to see how well it worked.

I also found a blog in Portland, OR that does nothing but list upcoming shows and provide links to many of the local theatres. One might think that this might be useless since the local paper prints essentially the same information. And that may be so. However, the format for the listings are so simple that it is very easy to log on one Friday night and scroll back through a page or so to find out what is going on–or follow the link to a favorite performance group to find out what in particular they are currently doing.

More to come…let me know if you have a favorite arts blog out there that has gone unmentioned by me.

Downside of Block Booking

Those of you who have been reading since October may be aware that I belong to a block booking consortium (some previous entries here and here)

Last Monday we had the longest meeting to date trying to hammer out schedules for performers. Near the end, one of the newer members asked if it was always this difficult to resolve the scheduling. Some of the other members said this was the worst because there were now more members than ever before and their organizations were becoming more ambitious and doing more performances.

For me, however, I somehow emerged worse off than I entered. I had come in expecting to make final arrangements for 7 groups and then having to contract another 3-4 on my own. Somehow I walked out with only 5 groups and the prospect of scheduling 5-6 more on my own.

What happened was this-my consortium and another consortium, the Hawaii Arts and Music Soceity, hold joint meetings because of the 90% overlap of membership. Since they tend to do a lot of classical, early music and opera, I am not a member. Most of the other big presenters hold dual membership and with more people wanting to do more, they easily filled their schedule and as a result decided to postpone presenting two of the people I wanted.

This actually might turn out for the best because I am thinking that instead of trying to make up the difference with acts whose airfare from the mainland I might have to do pay, I might look into putting together some sort of interesting programs with local performers. The Knight Foundation article I quoted last week mentioning the San Diego Symphony’s “Can Classical Music Be Fun” program got me to thinking that perhaps I could talk to the symphony or ballet about putting together an interactive/fun program to be presented on this side of the island. Who knows, perhaps it will grow into an annual event or lead to further partnerships.