Exposing Yourself…

…To the Arts

Thanks to a link from Adaptistration last week, I had more visitors on the first two days of April than I had all of March. In order to retain the interest of all those who visited last week, I figured I had better start using salacious titles for my entries.

Seriously though, I am glad to see so many people interested in some of the things I have to say. I must say I was surprised to see someone from India has been regularly reading the blog since last month. Welcome to you all.

With all the writing and article citing I have been doing regarding the importance of education and exposure in determining willingness/interest in arts attendance and participation, I thought I would do a little research of my own. I decided to speak with my family about how our upbringing has shaped our view of the arts. The process was decidely unscientific, but I present the results in order to generate some thought on the matter.

I have never really had a conversation about the arts with my family. My sisters and mother have seen me perform and discussed those events with me. My mother has often mentioned the many things she used to do to give us fond memories of our childhood and some of those instances involved the arts. I often discuss my siblings’ and mother’s jobs with them, but I think because so much of what I do is behind the scenes, my jobs may be a bit hard for them to understand. The process proved to be an interesting experience and I have to admit to being surprised by some of the things I learned about my family.

Because this is likely to be long, I will give the general results of my survey today and then talk about the implications and surprises that occurred in the course of my discussions tomorrow.

A little background–I am the eldest of 4 children. Because a gentleman never reveals the age of a woman, I will simply say that I am in my mid-30s and my sisters are in their early 30s. My adopted brother is in his late 20s. A year and nine months separate the elder of the two sisters and I and five years separate me from the younger. My mother and sister #1 are both social workers in schools and have master’s degrees. Sister #2 works for one of the biggest ad agencies in NYC and has a bachelors. I didn’t include my brother in this because his educational disabilities and social development have created some obstacles to his arts education and exposure.

I essentially asked some basic questions-Last attended events, gallery, museum; impetus to attend; current participation in arts; importance of attendance in life; impediments to attendance; would background info available in advance online make them more likely to attend.

Mother

I spoke to my mother about her exposure to the arts as a child. She didn’t go to any events until she reached adulthood, but my grandfather would constantly watch and listen to opera and musicals. She also babysat for our family doctor and had access to his record library of classical music and opera.

In bringing us up, she felt the arts were an important thing to expose us to. In addition to playing recording of musicals (no wonder I could sing everything from Camelot 20 years later), she took us to see modern dance (my sister shouted “Mommy they are naked” when members of the Eric Hawkins dance troupe appeared on stage in body suits), children’s theatre, circuses, historic sites, Chinese acrobats and museums. We didn’t have a lot of money so my parents would save Christmas and birthday money an aunt sent to underwrite these trips. My mother played guitar at church services and played oldies songs at retirement homes and street fairs so our house was often filled with the music of practice sessions.

Today she takes singing lessons and sings with a choral group. She doesn’t attend too many full scale professional productions because of the distance, time and money involved. The last production of this type she attended was an Andrea Bocelli concert because I gave her tickets as a gift. However, she does attend school productions and will go to summer concerts at the bandshell in the park and various town and ethnic festivals in the area.

She said having information about the thought process that went into the development of a production would definitely enhance the experience and might cause her to attend something more often. She actually cited examples of how much better she understood something when she knew the director and felt she could approach them to talk about aspects of the show.

Sister #1
Has recently seen the Blue Man Group, Stomp!, Riverdance and a number of jazz shows and festivals with a (now) ex-boyfriend. The impetus to attend was mixed. Some times it was personal interest, other times it was because people invited her. Some of the jazz shows she went to because there were opportunities for her foster children to interact. She also attends ethnic festivals and summer concert in the park type events because she can bring her dog. As far as arts participation, she has been active in a belly dancing troupe for a number of years and intermittently performs at festivals and on cruise ships.

It is important to her that she is able to attend arts events. She says she was a little concerned when she moved from the NY City area to Tampa that there wouldn’t be enough opportunities to these types of things. She said she goes to the Florida Holocaust Museum and various art museums even though the experience might not be the most comfortable and she may not understand the pieces she is looking at.

She often watches how other people there interact with the displays and will attend with people who have more knowledge and interest than she does so that she emerges a little more educated. The biggest impediment to her attendance is cost. She often looks for coupons or discounted performances and dates.

She feels that having information available about a performance in advance enhances her experience and provides a reason to attend. She stated reading about how the Florida Holocaust Museum was created and about the process of collecting the items, interviews and photographs made her interested in seeing the place. She said that learning about the process gave her insight into the passion of the curators and stresses the importance of keeping such opportunities alive. I gave her a greater appreciation of the organization and the effort that was invested in creating the exhibition.

Sister #2

The last things she saw were all in NYC- Christmas Carol, Beauty and the Beast, Rent, Chicago and De La Guarda The impetus for seeing each of them was mixed-friends and in laws invited her to Christmas Carol and Rent, her husband got tickets for Beauty and the Beast and the others she attended with clients.

She doesn’t feel it is particularly important that she attend shows. She did express an interest in seeing The Lion King and Aida, though she wasn’t sure why in regard to the latter. (Perhaps the Disney/Elton John/Tim Rice connection of the two shows.) She also said she was uncomfortable with any show that broke the 4th wall like De La Guarda or Tony and Tina’s Wedding. She isn’t personally involved in any arts activities, though she was in the chorus for a few high school musicals.

The biggest impediment to her attendance is cost and time. (While she works in NYC, she lives in Central Jersey near Princeton. She formerly lived in Hoboken, NJ) She feels the only place to see shows is in the city. She doubts anyone who sees a show outside of the city (be it a tour, a production at a professional house or community theatre) has really seen the true show. She doesn’t often have the time or energy to attend after work. Returning to NYC on the weekends seems too much of a chore.

She might look up background information for a production in advance online, but hasn’t attempted to do so at this time.

That is about all the information I have collected in my interviews. Tomorrow I will discuss what I see as possible contributors to each person’s views and practices and the information about my own family that surprised me.

Right Place for Credit

Since I am getting some positive support and feedback for my blog, I have thought that mentioning it on my resume might be beneficial in my job search. However, I have no idea where an appropriate place might be to position the information. To that end, I contacted Anne Fisher who writes a job advice column for Fortune.

I wrote the following:

Dear Annie-

I am unemployed and in order to keep my skills sharp and synthesize my ideas about management in my particular field, I have been writing them down in a web log. I have received some compliments on the quality of my writing and research from some objective writers and managers in the field. I am thinking about referring to my blog on my resume and wonder what the etiquette and rules might be. Since blogging is such a new (but potentially influential), method of publishing and communication this isn’t something covered in the usual resume guidebooks.

I am not sure where to place a reference to my work either. Since it isn’t a volunteer or employment position, I don’t want to include it in that section. But I also want to show off my skills and innovation because it will set me apart from other applicants so don’t want to list it at the end of my resume near my applicable software skills.

My final concern is that like any quasi-journalistic endeavor, some days I am more profound than others. I want to present my magnificence, but I will never know when a potential employer will view my site and the first entry they see may not be the work of genius the previous entry was. From my point of view, it is still worth it for an employer to see a good entry rather than a fabulous one, but I wonder if there are variables I am not considering.

Any advice?

To which she responded by email:

This is a really interesting question (and one that, as you note, is on the “cutting edge”, so no real protocol exists for it — yet!). You know what I’d do? List the blog address on your resume at the top, right under your contact info, but set apart by a line or two so it stands out. It might just catch someone’s eye. You can’t stop them from going online and perusing your less-brilliant stuff (hey, I can’t stop that either!), but this is something that may intrigue just the sort of interviewer you *want* to be hired by: Up to date, open to new ideas, respectful of individual initiative. But also, I’d like to get an expert opinion — assuming I can find one, on so new a thing…! 😉 Thanks! A.

I will update the blog if she does find someone who feels confident in giving an expert opinion.

It occurs to me that this may become a new trend in the employment process. Not everyone will create a blog on a topic of interest to their industry, of course. However, people may be quoted in articles or have published papers that appear online and will want to make potential employers aware that the information is available. Rather than write out long, hard to accurately type URL addresses on their resumes, candidates can provide a simple web address that contains links to the relevant articles.

If anyone has some thoughts, I would be interested in hearing them. Either click on the comment line at the end of this entry or click on my name to email me. I would especially be interested in knowing if anyone outside of internet, graphic design and publishing industries are placing web addresses to their work on resumes and in what industries is this happening.

Qui suis-je?

Between the length of yesterday’s post and some technical difficulties that necessitated a few rewrites, I didn’t spend much time on the all important task of finding a job. Today will be dedicated to doing more research and mailing resumes.

However, since I am doing so much work telling people about my background so they will give me a job, I figured it wouldn’t be too tough to add some “who am I” information to the site. For those who are interested, a very brief precis of my professional life appears to the right. (For those who know French, I know the entry title isn’t technically correct. I just like the way it rolls of my tongue.)

For those who are wondering how I got into arts administration having started in acting and tech, I offer you this brief and mildly amusing story…

In high school I was BMOC in the school plays and planned to do the same in college. Once I got into college, I was devastated when I wasn’t cast in the first few shows for which I auditioned. I swore then that I would never been involved with theatre again which was an awkward thing given that I had my work study assignment in the theatre department.

One day I got a call asking if I wanted to help hang lights. I said I didn’t know how, they said they would train me and I ended up becoming a resident tech god. Despite the expertise I developed, I knew I couldn’t make a long term go as a technician much less a designer. (I have a hard enough time matching my socks to what I am wearing much less trying to do it for a full production.)

At the time I was writing press releases and running the box office for the theatre department and enjoyed it. I was also helping the department chair, Mark Heckler, coordinate some details of two Association of Theatre In Higher Education conferences since he was VP of Conferences at the Time. (He has since moved on to become Vice Chancellor at Colorado Univ.) I enjoyed the whole organizational process and so with Mark’s support, applied to the Theatre Management program at FSU.

The rest, of course, is history. I think I have a fairly good mind and disposition for arts management so the whole not getting cast episode turned out okay in the end. My hat off to Mark Heckler for putting up with a mixed up young man and guiding me to this path.

How Did We Get Into This Mess?

I got an email from Drew McManus today regarding some of my past posts (I knew there had to be someone out there reading this! Thank god I was complimentary of him.) He had quite a few observations about the subjects of my entries. Perhaps I will integrate some of them in future postings.

One of the things he mentioned was an article he did for Partial Observer which further supplements the (on going) discussion I noted yesterday about the importance of providing interesting information in press kits and releases.

He also made mention of the similarities between breakdown of position duties in my entry, Executives Without Direction, and the American Symphony Orchestra League. Thinking again about how much of an executive director’s focus is on fundraising these days reminded me of a paper I read on the history of arts funding in the US.

I went back and read the article, “Leverage Lost
The Nonprofit Arts in the Post-Ford Era”
by John Kreidler, which appeared in In Motion magazine. (Note: There is a mistake in the link to the 3rd section that takes you back to the first section of the article. The correct link is http://inmotionmagazine.com/lost3.html) In rereading the article, a number of interesting points caught my eye.

First, I was reminded that at one time in US theatre history the “executive director” of a proprietary theatre company didn’t have much time to do strategic planning at all because they were acting, doing publicity, backstage work and financial management. Things have certainly improved since then, but obviously, I think there is still a bit to go.

The education aspect also caught my eye. In the article it says of the time between the Industrial Revolution and 1957:


“The rise of public education during the industrial revolution surely contributed much to the development of both artistic labor and arts consumerism during that time.

The studies that link education to arts participation usually use grade levels as the measure of educational attainment. Thus, college graduates are far more likely to attend museums or become poets than high school dropouts. It is quite likely, however, that nonformal educational attainment also correlates closely with arts participation. For example, children who are encouraged to sing in the home are probably more inclined to sing or attend choral concerts as adults . In the 19th century, amateur and church-based choral ensembles flourished, and it is likely that this movement helped to stimulate public demand for the services of professional orchestras that were beginning to form in the latter decades of the nineteenth century.”

It was both amusing and of some concern to me to think that TV, movies and other technologies might indeed be to blame for some of the ills of the world (as is so often claimed) and for the possible degradation of arts appreciation because they supplanted the piano as the center of family life.

The article also talks about how industry created the middle class, provided them increased wealth and leisure time and increased the population of cities. This population shift to cities along with increased wealth and leisure time created environments for creative expression to thrive in many metropolitan areas.

The author illustrates the shift from proprietary ownership of arts companies to formations of arts organizations with boards of directors and professional managers with an orchestra example.

“The experience of American symphony orchestras provides one illustration of the evolution of arts organizations during the pre-Ford era. By the mid 19th century, musical literacy was relatively high among Americans. Children learned to sing and play instruments at an early age, and performance within families was a popular form of entertainment. Amateur choruses began to form, and some of these hired musicians for accompaniment. The musicians, in turn, formed themselves into orchestras, hired conductors and began to produce public concerts as proprietary organizations independent of the choral societies. Many orchestras continued to operate in this manner until the end of the 19th and early 20th century when a transition gradually was made to nonprofit organizations as the primary organizational model. In the nonprofit model, the orchestra came under the control of a lay board of directors, usually prominent citizens, which employed a professional conductor and manager. The conductors were given responsibility for hiring the musicians in the nonprofit orchestras, whereas the musicians had often controlled the proprietary orchestras in the early pre-Ford era. Whether operating as proprietary or nonprofit organizations, however, all orchestras remained heavily dependent on ticket sales in the marketplace for much of their income.”

He goes on to talk about how the dearth of proprietary companies was seen as a harbinger of the end of arts activity.

“The traditional commercial forms of theater, vaudeville and circus declined or vanished in the face of the new medium of movies. Other performing arts forms were also affected by the new technologies of recorded music and radio, and ultimately by television. Some observers viewed these developments as the death of the live performing arts, and while it is evident that many proprietary performing arts organizations dissolved, it is not so clear that the overall output of arts goods and services was declining at all.”

The last sentence implying that the format and organization of artistic expression was evolving into something new while the output remained fairly constant seems an important one. Today arts people see the decline and closing of established arts companies and venues as a destruction of their way of life. The truth may be that there is a change similar to the transition from the proprietary system to the non-profit situation we have today. We just need to be aware of what the trend is toward.

By the same token, during this period there was apparently a loss of attendance to technology. This would certainly be of concern when looking at the implications of the next evolution in the arts environment. The author writes:

“Whereas broad-based audiences, comprised of both commoners and educated, well-to-do elites had once attended proprietary productions of Shakespeare, even in small towns and mining camps across the nation, in the twentieth century the commoners began to gravitate toward the movie houses and other new technologies, leaving only the elite to patronize an assortment of proprietary high art.

Given this substantially smaller base of customers, the laws of supply and demand would allow only one outcome: the high art sector had to diminish substantially in rough proportion to the diversion of demand toward the popularized new forms of art and entertainment, and the remaining high art consumers had to accept increased prices to maintain their favored art forms. In large measure, these increased prices took the form of organizational subsidies (donations), rather than user fees. Prior to the arrival of the new technologies, the basic model of the proprietary arts organization had served reasonably well. At this juncture in history, however, popular art continued to follow the proprietary pattern, while high art, cut off from much of its consumer base, started to adopt a new model: the subsidized nonprofit organization.”

The author continues into the period between 1957-1990 which he characterizes as a sort of golden age for the arts in modern times. The author cities the philanthrophy of the Ford Foundation and the embracing of high culture during the Kennedy administration as the impetus for the formation of the NEA and the widespread rise of corporate and foundation support of the arts.

He also points to education, more leisure time and change in demographics as contributors to an arts boom:

“The era had truly arrived when the baby boom generation appeared in vast numbers on college campuses throughout the nation. This large, mostly white, and relatively affluent generation not only provided most of the discounted labor for the surge of arts production and formation of new nonprofit arts organizations, but also contributed substantially to the enlargement of consumer demand for the arts…”

“…an even more pronounced shift developed in the late 1950’s and early 1960s in reaction to the widely held perception of cultural inferiority that marked the post war years. This shift in favor of open expression (free speech, free art, free love) was accompanied by a complementary change in attitudes toward public service. The notion that work in public service was virtuous, in comparison to work in private enterprise, gained currency…”

“Another planet that aligned at the beginning of the Ford era was the pinnacle of the American public education system, and a heightened emphasis on the liberal arts. A greater proportion of the population was enrolled in higher education than at any previous time and, according to some authorities, the quality of the public educational system reached its peak. It is also significant that, given the values and prosperity of this time, unprecedented numbers of college students chose to study the liberal arts. Comparative literature, drama, fine arts, art history, music and a host of other arts-related disciplines flourished.

Probably the majority of liberal arts students had no particular career ambition in these fields. The number of drama graduates in any given year, for example, substantially exceeded the supply of full time acting jobs in the entire nation. Still, at the time it was widely believed by students that any college degree, even in the arts, was a passport to an entry level job in some reasonably well-paid profession. Until the early 1970s, a seller’s market prevailed for holders of undergraduate degrees, so one could afford to obtain a college degree for its own sake rather than committing oneself as an undergraduate to a business or technical degree. Thus, institutions of higher learning were producing legions of students, many of whom, whether they realized it or not, were becoming prepared to work in the nonprofit arts or to become arts consumers.”

The author then goes into the post-Ford era of 1990-present and talks about issues arts people are very much aware of as elements in the decline of the non-profit system: cut backs in private/government/foundation funding; rise in cost of living/drop in disposable income; expectation of higher pay and job security; dimmer view of public service; decline in education, focus on 3 Rs to detriment of arts education; lack of leisure time; and technology displacing arts attendance as an entertainment activity.

The author pretty much echos the finding of the PARC survey I cited in an earlier entry–education matters. It seems to me that if the other two elements common to past growth in interest of the arts–change in demographics and increase in leisure time–are present and education and exposure are not, there is little hope of a revitalized interest of arts in the future.

What is to be done then? I have made a number of suggestions in past entries about employing technology to this end (quick index found here). There are plenty of constructive solutions discussed by arts administrators. The author of “Leverage” mentions some practices arts organizations can adopt to make themselves less vulnerable to the changes and more aware of shifting expectations.

There was one section of “Leverage” that especially resonated with me.

“This generation also may be reluctant to purchase even a single ticket to a high art event that requires arrival at a set time, and constrains the audience to a silent, passive posture until the performance ends. Rather, the increasing preference may be shifting to forms of performance, such as comedy, literary salons and jazz, that are more interactive, flexible with regard to arrival and departure times, and less constraining on one’s behavior during the course of the event.”

This was almost verbatim the opening of my talk, “Arts in an Age of Technology” (which I originally wrote in 1999. I am sure I didn’t read “Leverage” until 2003) It had additional significance in that it was also a topic Drew McManus addressed in the Partial Observer article I cited above. “The audience � and therefore the community – won because they were presented with a concert experience that included them as opposed to the stereotypical �sit, listen, and go home� occasion most people relate to. ”

While I regret that I am not the genius I thought I was when I first expressed that sentiment back in 1999, it is good to know that others in the arts world are thinking along similar lines. This way I don’t have to bear the burden of evangelizing to the entire world alone!

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