Binding of Art and Science

Some positive movements lately on the job search front kept me from posting yesterday. We will see what develops.

I came across an essay by John Eger titled “The Future of Work in the Creative Age.” It sort of added another piece to the puzzle of how to attain Richard Florida’s creative communities. In a time where outsourcing fears cause anxiety about one’s job future, Eger says the US should focus its efforts on cultivating creativity.

Many, like the Nomura Research Institute, argue that the stage is set for the advance of the “Creative Age,” a period in which America should once again thrive and prosper because of our tolerance for dissent, respect for individual enterprise, freedom of expression and recognition that innovation is the driving force for the U.S. economy, not mass production of low value goods and services.

Today, the demand for creativity has outpaced our nation’s ability to create enough workers simply to meet our needs. Seven years ago, for example, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers asked the governor of California to “declare a state of emergency” to help Hollywood find digital artists. There were people aplenty who were computer literate, they claimed, but could not draw. In the New Economy, they argued, such talents are vital to all industries dependent on the marriage of computers and telecommunications.

He goes on to mention a couple schools which are rearranging their cirriculum to integrate an arts focus. He also quotes HP CEO Carly Fiorina as saying soon pools of skilled creatives will replace tax incentives and infrastructure as the elements which entice industry to a locality.

He suggests that divorcing the arts from math and science of the last couple decades has actually been detrimental to America’s ability to compete in these areas. He points out that Einstein played violin, Galileo wrote poetry and Samuel Morse painted portraits. They may not have had the time and talent to become virtuosos in these pursuits, but the implication is that they supplemented the quality of the scientific products of these men.

Unfortunately, the subtle influence of arts upon scientific accomplishment and vice versa is one of those areas that resists precise measurement by standardized testing and other empirical measures. Only after a sustained shift in policy are we likely to realize the benefits of a more holistic education and exposure.

Who’ll Stop the Rain?

My apologies to my readers, my days since my last entry have been rather full with the preparation and execution of the festival. On Thursday at about 4pm, the forecast for Saturday changed from sunny to rain. To avoid the problems of past years, the executive director cancelled the craft portion of the festival and had the craft fair coordinator call all the vendors to tell them not to come. This decision was not popular with many people, including some board members. The real strange thing was, despite the change in the forecast, there was actually a surge in ticket orders on Friday.

The festival coordinator wisely moved some of the tasks to be completed on Friday to Thursday and we spent most of Friday moving sheets of aspenite to staging areas to be used if the grounds got too muddy on Saturday. The executive director also had crushed concrete laid down the length of one of our parking fields. We had done this a couple years ago in another field, but there has been a desire to preserve the green space of that particular field for a few years now. Given that the executive director helped tow 150 cars out last year, I believe he decided the paved lane across the meadow was the lesser evil.

In the end, it did rain, but the mantra of the day was “This isn’t as bad as last year.” It was rather muddy, but because of the preparations and lower volume of rain, only three cars actually had to be towed out. (Other cars got stuck, but they extracted themselves before the tow vehicle could arrive.)

The fact we had less rain didn’t keep the lighting and sound trucks from becoming embedded in the ground. Last year nearly everyone was freed by 10:30 pm, but mysteriously this time I was up until 1:30 am getting the two equipment trucks pulled out. (My contribution actually consisted of shivering in the drizzle while the tow truck crew winched trucks forward, pulled ahead, winched them along a bit more, pulled ahead, etc. However, there had to be a representative of the organization on hand until the grounds were vacated.)

Sunday morning I had to run to Philadelphia to pick up performers at their hotel and transport them to the train station. This probably wouldn’t have been necessary in most cases except they were hauling equipment and instruments which a taxi wouldn’t have been able to accomodate. Then it was back to the festival grounds to start the clean up. As usual, few of the volunteers who signed up to help clean up showed up. We seldom give festival admission to people who only sign up for the day after so we weren’t cheated out of tickets.

The day was long and hard, but fortunately this year I am not a full time employee so I got to go home at the end of the day when my contract was up. The full time coordinator and her assistant will be tackling the remaining portion of the clean up over the course of the week. Most of the heavy work was completed yesterday so they will be faced with tedious chores like putting signs and tables back to where they are usually stored.

I, on the other hand, am returning to my job search and will go back to writing more from a research point of view. As I suspected, if any arts organization tries to have a person blog about their experiences during the process of creating a work, the product might be intermittantly produced due to the demands of the job exhausting the writer.

All in all of course, an enjoyable experience.

Watchin the Skies

So with the 5 day forecast out today, ticket sales for the festival started to pick up. I had already been consulting Accuweather, Weather Underground and Weather Channel websites for the last couple days to see what the festival weather would be like.

Because it rained rather extensively last year, we really need good weather this year to maintain people’s faith in the event. Even if it does rain and the rain insurance helps defray the losses, if the weather is lovely next year and no one buys tickets because they have been disappointed two years in a row, there is nothing to help stave off losses. So far Thursday through Saturday looks beautiful. Sunday looks a little iffy so we are praying the weather system doesn’t speed up any.

Because Appel Farm’s residential arts and music summer camp starts 2 weeks after the festival ends, we will be rushing to clean up the grounds on Sunday. It won’t be too productive if it does rain or have thunderstorms that day. Though the worst thing to have happen is to have a rainy festival day and then a rainy clean up day. It sort of adds insult to injury. You are miserable the day of the event and then miserable cleaning it all up.

I am rather proud of the festival coordinator this year. Not only has she been good about planning the event, she has started dreaming about the festival and waking up in the middle of the night to make notes to remember things. I would be worried if this wasn’t happening to her. It would be a sign she didn’t really “get” the scope of what she was about to create.

In years past I would actually wake up in the middle of the night and call my office voice mail with notes for the next day. Unfortunately, since I didn’t have to actually get up and turn the light on, I would be in a half daze while I dictated notes over the phone and consequently had to replay the messages the next day to figure out what the heck I was mumbling.

Most of today was spent handling rather boring, picayune but necessary details of the festival. I stuffed all sorts of support information into volunteer packets so they would know how to do their jobs better. I moved tents and other equipment to staging areas so that the Saturday morning set up crew will have a straightforward job.

Tomorrow is the big shopping day. While we have someone to cater the volunteer and performer meals, there are quite a number of items that performers request that it would cost too much to have the caterer provide. Tomorrow we will be running to a food warehouse and grocery store to pick up cases of water, soda, beer, milk, breakfast foods, cookies, etc, etc, etc.

We actually had the road manager of one of our performers call today because she was concerned about how closely we were paying attention to the hospitality rider she provided. This is a valid concern because often festivals skimp on such details and treat the performers rather poorly. While we don’t go overboard to ingratiate ourselves to performers, we do pay attention to detail. We have actually had bands announce from the stage that they just had the best meal they had ever eaten at a festival.

We make sure we take care of performers because we are a small festival and there isn’t the prestige associated with playing here as there might be at other festivals where artists will put up with the poor treatment just for the exposure. Taking care of the performers helps us attract bigger and better artists in subsequent years because word gets around that we offer a good experience and people are more apt to say yes.

In any case, we had the woman who heads up the hospitality area call the road manager to discuss any concerns she might have. When our coordinator said she had received the hospitality rider two weeks ago and had been supplied with the shopping list I am going to use tomorrow and that the list specifically noted which items were for the artist’s personal use, the road manager was apparently really relieved.

To some degree it is puzzling to me that performers have such negative experiences in their travels. The type of treatment we offer is not difficult to implement. If it wasn’t for the praise we receive, I would generally assume we are sort of bumbling along at about average. I guess it is a matter of being in the habit of being attentive that makes it so easy to offer good service.

Now A Word From Our Sponsors

Festivals being fairly expensive to run, especially with the vagarities of weather, Appel Farm has had sponsors for a number of years. At one time it was a bank, but now it is Comcast Cable with Target Stores sponsoring the Children’s Village.

There are some who don’t like the fact we accept money from the evil cable behemoth. I have to say in dealing with them that this is a case where the parts are actually greater than the sum. The festival doesn’t get its money directly from the corporate offices but rather through the local offices. The corporate offices allocate a certain amount of money to the local regional offices to distribute as they see fit. The amount the festival recieves is closer to the amount a theatre or ballet might receive from a production sponsor than the amount stadiums receive for naming rights.

The local folks are really wonderful to work with. They very cooperative and not at all demanding for attention or special treatment. The biggest problem one might say we have with them is that after sponsoring us for 4 years, ironically there is no cable service to Appel Farm. The cable stops a mile down the road which has meant that the intern house and summer camp staff has had to rely on rabbit ears to get any reception.

In return for their money, Comcast gets to put some banners up, places a big bus on the grounds where they distribute literature, has a couple people running around in Nickeloden and Cartoon Network cartoon character costumes and use one of our buildings for a reception. They also get a block of tickets for the event which they use to invite government officials and other they want to woo to the festival. These folks also get to go to the reception they hold.

They order whatever tents, tables, chairs and linens they need from the same tent vendor we use so we take responsibility for pointing out where these things need to be placed when the delivery truck rolls up and that is the extent of our involvement with the technical details of their reception. (Though there are about 4-5 meetings in the winter to review the previous festival and to hammer these details out well in advance of the event.)

Once the festival is running, they are really pretty low key. We only have 2 people assigned to help Comcast the entire day. One makes sure they have all the tables and extension cords they need, the other helps them process the VIPs they invite to the reception. In some regard the reception is almost an added bonus for the Farm because the executive and development directors have the opportunity to do a little lobbying of state lawmakers about the arts funding situation.

Last year they even did a documentary on the festival and recorded mini-concert/Q&As with 6 musicians for their programming line up. This year they are coming back to get a few more shots for the documentary because the rain last year didn’t make for the best representation of the festival.

All in all the relationship has been fairly productive for all parties. There hasn’t been any pressure brought to bear in order to influence artist selection. Other than some star struck autograph seeking, no one has thrown their weight around to get special access to performers or uttered an arrogant “Do you know who I AM!” Some of this is due to the atmosphere of the festival and the fact that the people who are fans of our line up aren’t usually the type that use bullying to get what they seek. The rest is just because at least this particular segment of the corporation is staffed by nice people.