Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Trickle-Down Artistry: On Leonard Jacobs and Michael Kaiser

Leonard Jacobs has written a lengthy rebuttal on the Clyde Fitch Report of my comments concerning Michael Kaiser's post on HuffPo "Where Are the Arts Important?", and Tom Loughlin has weighed on his blog "A Poor Player" in with a post entitled "Theatrical Wealth." (These literature reviews are getting longer and longer lately. I suspect it would be helpful for you to read these posts before continuing, if you can do so, but I will do my best to provide a fair representation of the arguments presented by others.)

First of all, I'd like to thank Leonard for taking the time to seriously discuss the issues I raised, and for presenting my ideas fairly -- that is not always something that happens in the blogging community, which often sets arguments a-spinning as a way of attacking an argument without having to provide actual thoughts of one's own. I also thank Leonard for referring to me as an "articulate blogger." I take that as high praise from someone who makes a living as a writer. He also predicts, quite accurately, that I will "attempt to refute [his] argument at every turn." Welcome to the refutation.

The title of his post makes his first argument: "Michael Kaiser ÷ Scott Walters ≤ U.S. Senate." What he means is that, if there are too many differing viewpoints being expressed, "noise and instability" is the result, which is an "open invitation for our common enemies to strike." This argument sounds an awful lot like the arguments used to condemn dissent in the run-up to the Iraq War (I guess the NEA is the artistic World Trade Center), but the analogy Jacobs explicitly makes is the grid-locked U.S. Senate, where nothing is able to get done because everybody is pushing their own ego-driven agenda ala our good friens Ben Nelson or Joe Lieberman. He concludes with an Obama-like "can gridlock yield to compromise? Can cacophonies harmonize into the collective good?"

My answer would be "of course it can," but agreement without discussion of the issues is simply rubber-stamping the status quo. As Tom Loughlin points out, this is an issue of fairness and justice, two terms that used to be the foundation of our democratic society, but which in this age of easy cynicism have often been dismissed as naive. So call me naive. The point that Tom Loughlin makes is central: what we currently have is a system that has concentrated artistic wealth in the hands of a very small portion of the community. In the case of arts that are not able to be distributed on a mass basis, as is the case with live performances, such centralization privileges certain populations and excludes large segments of society that are equally deserving of artistic experience and participation. This situation is not fair, not just, and directly results in arts funding being seen as yet another pork barrel. I am not surprised that Jacobs, who lives within the theatrical version of the beltway, thinks that this issue is a "canard" that was "dismissed long ago," but I can assure him the issue is alive and well west of the Hudson -- and rightly so.

In fact, Jacobs defends the status quo by pointing out that states like South Carolina and Texas, through their Republican governors, don't really want government money anyway. I would remind him, however, that it was a Senator from New York, Alphonse D'Amato, who was one of the leaders of anti-NEA forces during the 1990s. Following Jacobs' logic, that would be an indication that government money should have shifted to more supportive places -- say, to Rhode Island, where Claiborne Pell played such an important role in supporting the arts. Needless to say, that didn't happen. Because it is irrelevant.

Continuing his defense of centralized, urbanized arts funding, Jacobs trots out a canard of his own: "How many studies does the arts community need," Jacobs asks, "regarding the impossibility of making a living as an artist in, say, Dayton or Missoula or Little Rock or Providence or Portland, as evidence for why planeloads of artists still head to New York or Los Angeles or Chicago each year?" I suppose there are several ways to approach this question. For instance, a look at the annual report of the Actors Equity Association shows that just under 50% of its membership didn't work at all in the 2008-2009 season, that during any particular week a little more than 86% were unemployed, and the median annual earnings was less than $7700 -- which is hardly "making a living," in my book. I might also suggest that Jacobs not make this assertion about the impossibility of making a living to, say, Michael Fields at Dell Arte in Blue Lake CA (pop 1135) or Dudley Cocke at Appalshop in Whitesburg KY (pop 1600).

But the real thing that the arts community needs to learn from all those studies, it seems to me, is that what doesn't work is the current system that depends on artist-specialists creating products built with a lot of resources and sold at high prices to passive, middle-class spectators who sit in large, expensive pieces of real estate -- and it doesn't take more than a glance at a theatre's balance sheet to see how much unearned income is required to keep the H. M. S. Arts Status Quo afloat. Regardless, none of these statistics justifies anyone whistling their way to Nylachi in the hopes of "making a living." That's a myth that needs to be retired altogether.

Referring to my supposed "anti-New York bias," Jacobs asks why my argument is "always “either/or” — either New York or the rest of the nation? Why is it never “and” — New York and the rest of the nation? Why is it better to be a divider and not a uniter?" I must admit, this puzzles me, since my conclusion that "If you want a democratic society to support the arts, distribute the money democratically" says nothing about taking all the money away from NY and handing it out to everybody else. What I am saying is that giving most of the money to NYC and a handful of other urban areas is not the same thing as distributing the money democratically.

Jacobs and Kaiser are both relying on an artistic verison of trickle-down economics, in which money given to the wealthiest will eventually trickle down to those who are poorer. It is an idea that has been conclusively disproven in econmics (as our increasingly appalling income gap in the US demonstrates), and it doesn't work in the arts either. The fact is that Las Vegas' slogan reflects the current artistic status quo: what happens in Nylachi, stays in Nylachi, Leontyne Price's visit to Rochester notwithstanding.

What I am calling for is an admission from the likes of Kaiser and Jacobs, and frankly the rest of the artistic community, that the current system privileges certain areas, describes it as inevitable when it is not, then reifies that privilege by focusing additional funding within those areas. So, for instance, the Mellon Foundation's theatre program chooses a handful of metropolitan areas within which to concentrate its funding, including predictably New York, and within those areas devotes most of its money to "leading" arts institutions, i.e., the corporate rich, who use it to make bigger, brighter, shinier products for the privileged few. This privilege is then brazenly presented as based on "merit" (rather than financial privilege) and artistic "enlightenment" (in opposition to the great unwashed in the "flyover" part of the country). Further, defying all logic, the concentration of money is dismissed as having no connection with the concentration of artists in these places: Jacobs trots out the old canard (I love using that word) that nobody "forced" artists "at artistic or physical gunpoint, to abandon their hometowns," which of course ignores the collective power of ideology (communicated constantly, but most nakedly by Frank Sinatra in his signature song "New York, New York") and economic coercion through the aforementioned financial concentration. And then Kaiser tours the country telling everyone how the arts are so important because their local talent got an opportunity to perform in New York. It is narrow parochialism masquerading as open-minded generosity. The wealthy seeking a cheerful handout from the poor.

So if Jacobs thinks we should all unite behind an idea, I suggest it be behind the idea of the broadening and deepening the importance of the arts by supporting participation and creation throughout this country. To put it in slogan form: artistic democracy, not plutocracy.


99 said...

Nice piece and good points all. I do have a question, and this is an honest one, not a "gotcha:" how do you envision this democratic support of the arts working? Would all states be given the same amount of money, regardless of population? Would rural areas be favored to rectify the years of inequity? If that is the case, would that be a permanent situation, and, if so, how do we keep the status quo from re-emerging, but with a new center?

Okay, that's a couple of questions. But seriously, not a gotcha.

Scott Walters said...

Not a gotcha at all. I suspect that there would need to be some earmarks over a number of years, both by the NEA and also, through NEA leadership, by other funders. Towns and orgainzations would apply for the money. No, I'm not wild about passing the money to the state arts boards, who all too often reflect cronyism both political, economic, and artistic. Of course, I would like to think CRADLE could serve as a clearing house for some of these projects, training and funding. I also think we would need to redefine the types of organizations that are eligible to receive funding, so that artists are being funded yes, but also those artists are being asked to facilitate the expressive lives (to use Bill Ivey's term) of the community.

99 said...

That makes some sense to me, in terms of mechanisms. But I guess, in a way, part of the "either/or vs. both/and" question is about the redistribution of wealth. I guess if I have a quibble with what you're talking about, it's the way you call it "democracy". Tom hits the nail on the head in his post when he talks about the redistribution of artistic wealth. It's not necessarily democratic. We don't really want to divide the arts budget in fifty parts and give the same to each state...or do you? Actually, I shouldn't assume.

It does call into a question a number of the general criteria we use to determine granting. Which is, in my opinion, a good thing. But I think we should be clear-eyed about those choices.

Tom Kephart said...

I'm not getting rich acting, directing and teaching in Port Huron, Michigan, but I'm doing better than $7700 a year and I'm doing what I want to do rather than waiting tables, tending bar or stocking shelves.

I suspect Messrs. Jacobs and Kaiser have very little idea what artists do outside of New York and are unqualified to make such comments in the first place. Whenever I read such silliness I'm reminded of Saul Steinberg's iconic New Yorker cover "View of the World from 9th Avenue."

Keep the conversation coming, it gives me tools to defuse the myth my students have been fed that they need to escape Michigan and head for the two coasts. There may be other reasons to leave Michigan -- the overall economy comes to mind -- hitting the big time on Broadway or in Hollywod ain't one of 'em.

Tom Kephart said...

"Hollywod" may have been a Freudian slip.

Scott Walters said...

I don't use democracy as a synonym for "everybody gets the same." Democracy, to me, means each vote is equal, and no vote counts more because of the place someone lives or the money they possess. Plutocracy is rule by the wealthy, or power provided by wealth. That is our current situation: the rich get richer.

In our current system, the grantsmakers, whether government or private foundations, privilege those institutions who already have the most money, and most of the money flows to the same few places. The income gap gets ever wider. And huge swaths of the country are virtually ignored. In a democracy, that just isn't right.

Scott Walters said...

Tom -- Thanks for the view from Michigan. Yes, the New Yorker cover does map out certain New Yorker's view of the world. And the economic ignorance is pretty stunning.

Unknown said...

On democracy and money: I once wrote an essay that no one would publish addressing this. My argument was that the NEA and all states arts councils should be shut down. Each state would then vote on what artistic discipline interested them most, and how they would like to see this interest realized (festivals, competitions, theaters, etc).

Then money would be distributed to each state to support the various "elected" arts. The results (as I saw it in the essay) would be centers for different disciplines growing up in different parts of the country -- communities of writers in one state, potters in another, theater artists here and painters there.

Obviously there's are lots wrong with this idea but the notion of "democratic money" brought it to mind.

Btw, I truly believe the current system works just fine if you're a member of the plutocratic elite.

99 said...

I definitely agree with all of that. For myself, personally, I don't really associate those things with democracy, but with a fair, healthy society.

When we get into democracy, we start talking about majority rule. That's not what we're talking about here. Like I said, I'm okay with that. Fairness isn't always compatible with democracy.

Scott Walters said...

Your promptings, 99, has led me to reconsider my terminology. Perhaps the proper slogan is pluralism, not plutocracy.

Ian Thal said...

Part of the reason that so much arts funding goes to Nylachi is because there's significant artistic infrastructure there (venues, schools.)

There is a critical mass of infrastructure in other metropolitan areas that allows those places to also have significant, albeit smaller arts scenes. Now the question becomes geographically speaking, where can you build the sort of infrastructure where artists can do their work? Providence, RI, from what I have seen from my visits there has a pretty vibrant scene for such a small city, but how much smaller can a city be and still support the sort of infrastructure we want to see?

I think there are simply going to be some places where due to low population or population density, and general lack of venue and transportation infrastructure are simply not going to support a vibrant scene no matter how much funding one throws at the problem...

Scott Walters said...

Ian -- I hate to ask this, because I generally hate this tactic, but in this case I think it will help the discussion: what do you mean by "infrastructure" and "vibrant"?

Ian Thal said...


Walls to hang stuff on, stages for performances, chairs for audiences to sit, transportation for artists and artists to get to venues, secondary venues for workers (artists) to network and exchange ideas and services.


A critical mass of art being produced and presented to a critical audience mass so that the artists and producers can feel that their ongoing efforts are worth it and the audience continues feeling that supporting the arts is worth it.

Ian Thal said...

I should also add that vibrancy should also include at least some aesthetic pluralism both in terms of media and forms and modes within a given medium.

Scott Walters said...

Yeah, that's what I thought. You have the current model in your head -- one that has a bunch of artists hanging around (i.e., critical mass) providing a "pool" from which productions are cast to be sold to an audience in a variety of spaces. That's not what I'm talking about. I don't happen to think that the current system is worthwhile enough to transport into other places.

Smaller places demand a different model, one that involves artists who commit to the place long-term, and a place that commits to them; a model where artists are not specialists who create products to be sold, but rather are generalists who create work but also teach others to do their own work and facilitate the expressive lives of the community. Critical mass, in this instance, is however many it takes to keep the arts space filled and active. This will likely be a single place -- the infrastructure doesn't have to be extensive, just sufficient. And the production aesthetic needs to focus on the sustainable and the reusable. In other words, eliminating waste in all things -- space, artists, and productions -- is central.

Ian Thal said...

How is that at all incompatible with my model? Do you believe that even a multi-purpose, low-rent, loft space can function for long if it's too much of a pain for both the artists and audience to get to it?

I realize that much of the theatrical blogosphere has just discovered the idea of self-production but I've been operating mostly in "alternative art spaces" for well over a decade and I've seen plenty of communities either thrive or die. If the facility is too geographically isolated from the audience that would most appreciate the work being made, it does not last for long.

I've seen a few quixiotic arts activists, who would likely have thrived had they set up shop in a more centralized neighborhood, defeated only by geography and demographics. A small (say ~100,000 people?) city might be able to support a multiple media venue alongside several specialized venues-- but the suburban sprawl where a lot of Americans live might not.

Whether the artists are specialists or generalists, they still have certain structural needs that must be fulfilled to keep them happily working wherever it is that they are. If the performing arts are part of the picture, you still need some minimal infrastructure (even generalized loft spaces) and you need an audience. If painting is part of the picture, you still need walls and a roof.

My point about Providence is that it is very small as far as cities go (much smaller than the Boston metropolitan area where I operate) but it has a critical mass of facilities close together that artists can use them and expect to have some chance of a good-sized audience.

Scott Walters said...

My point is that a theatre in a town like Blue Lake CA (Dell Arte -- pop 1100) or Whitesburg KY (Appalshop, pop 1600), or Amery WI (Northern Lakes Center for the Arts, pop 2600) or Washburn WI (Stage North, pop 2400) requires a different model. Stage North, which is not even a non-profit, just did a production that had attendance that was nearly 80% of the population of Washburn. My focus, as always, is on theatres in places with populations under 20,000. I know it can be done, but not using the current model.

Ian Thal said...

But are these examples easily replicable or are they weird statistical outliers? How many other arts organizations have floundered when they attempted to set up shop in similarly sized communities?

What are the other relevant statistics? What's the population density for those 2400 people in Washburn? How do they travel to the event? How far do they have to travel? What sort of support does the event have from other community organizations?

Scott Walters said...

I believe they are replicable. More than that, I have created a new business model that I believe will work effectively in smaller communities.

As far as companies floudering, I suspect I could find way more companies that have floundered and folded in NYC than in small communities, yet that doesn't stop foolhardy theatre people from starting yet another company there. Coals to Newcastle. Time to try something new.

Check out Stage North ( and Northern Lakes Center for the Arts (, and then Dell Arte and Appalshop

Nick said...

Hi Scott,

You've referenced Dell Arte and Appalshop before. Dell Arte has its school, touring productions and Appalshop has its endowment; neither is very dependent on local economy and/or audience for sustaining or supporting their work. So you are extending the notion of community and patronage to non-local individuals and entities.

The two new groups you present as models seem to have theatre only as adjunct to their activity and mission. The Wisconsin group appears to rely on its bar scene for support. The would-be actor there might want to attend bartender school, not theatre school, to qualify for employment by the group. I have not looked real close, but are these groups really community groups, or are they are more like facilities. Are there artists actually on payroll with these groups?

Scott Walters said...

silent_nic -- I'm very puzzled by your comments. Is it your opinion that an arts organization should confine its energies solely to the production of individual plays and the selling of tickets? Because I don't. I think that is one of the major problems of our current system: specialist artists who think they should only have to do the one thing they specialize in: act, direct, design, etc. I think that artists who are part of a company -- and that is a foundational premise for me; I'm not talking about freelancers who come and go -- should provide auxiliary income for the organization. For Dell Arte, that is the school -- so why does that disqualify them as being a successful arts organization in a small place? Appalshop has their endowment -- how do you think they got that endowment? It didn't drop out of the sky, it was contributed, mostly by local people. They also have a public radio station, a documentary filmmaker program, a program to teach high school students how to create radio, film, and theatre work, and other programs. This is what makes them valuable in their towns.

I don't believe that an arts organization should be totally reliant on ticket sales for survival -- that is a dysfunction of the current system, which relies on ticket sales and grants. I think that arts organizations should run additional businesses for supplementary income. So, yes, a bar in the case of Stage North; music lessons and the operation of a local newspaper in the case of Northern Lakes Center for the Arts. I could imagine an arts organization where the artists grow their own food, or lead bus trips to visit big city museums and performances, or make radio commercials for local businesses, or run an after school program, or operate a coffee shop, or... All of which is to say: if all you wanna do is act/direct/design, then this is not the place for you -- stick to the big cities where you can tend bar and wait tables for somebody else and do your theatre work on the side.

There are artists who are full-time employees for each organization AND there are local non-professionals who volunteer their time. As I have said in the past, I do not believe in the idea of artist-specialists who do all the creating and then sell it to a passive audience; I believe in artists who facilitate the expressive life of the community. Artists have stolen the expressive life of citizens to the detriment of our sense of independence and community.

Unknown said...

"Artists have stolen the expressive life of citizens to the detriment of our sense of independence and community."

Really? Not television? Not corporations? Not plutocratic foundations? Not video games, incessant violence in popular culture, or NASCAR?

The artists did it. Glad to be set straight on that one.

Scott Walters said...

Uke -- I consider people who create mass media (TV, music, film, even video games) artists. We have taken the attitude that we are trained professionals, don't try this at home. We have turned the arts into things to be consumed, not created. I think that impoverishes individuals and communities.

Unknown said...

Scott, I agree that arts have been made into commodities -- but I think that was done by socie3ty. Remember, this country has been nothing but a business proposition since the Hudson Bay Company.

Musicians were recorded and profits realized for others long before the artists enjoyed their fair share.

Reality TV doesn't take any artists to make and it suggests that everyone CAN do this. Has it enriched the culture?

Scott Walters said...

Reality TV has nothing to do with creating art. It says "people live and have conflicts, ain't that interesting?"

And I don't really give a damn who is to blame, I want it to stop. I want people to tell their own stories, instead of relying on TV to tell them for them; I want them to sing their own songs together, instead of buying a CD; I want them to dance together, instead of watching dancers. And I want the ideology that says that you can only do an art if you can do it as well as the "professionals" to stop. The number of people who blush and say, "oh, I don't sing" is disturbing. But if we all realized that we CAN sing or dance or tell stories or draw, then we'd be less likely to BUY things, and we can't have that, can we? There would be people being creative all over the place!

Unknown said...

Music used to be a unifying force. Everyone went to the park and stood around the gazebo while the band played. There was community singing. Even radio had a certain unifying element.

Now everyone has an iPod and listens to their own soundtrack.

Hey, it's not my culture. I just ,live here.

Ian Thal said...

"Artists have stolen the expressive life of citizens to the detriment of our sense of independence and community."

Really? What about the politicians and school administrators who cut funding for music, theatre, dance, and visual arts in public schools?

I'd place the blame there before I started attacking the artists or newer media-- and even if I were to blame the artists who work in the television, film, and videogame industries, I'd have to note that their work is often heavily mediated by corporate who have a non-aesthetic agenda.

Scott Walters said...

Let me repeat: I don't give a damn who is to blame -- I want it to stop. Period.

Scott Walters said...

Uke -- Hey, it IS your culture. And until we reclaim it, until we create arts organizations that INVITE the community to participate, until we see part of an artist's job as FACILITATING that participation, then we are reinforcing the passivity.

Scott Walters said...

Ian, meet Uke; Uke, Ian.

Ian Thal said...

Well, if you don't care to diagnose the problem, I'm not sure I can have confidence that you've really thought through the model that proves to be a solution.

I'm also a bit suspicious that this is transforming itself from "how to bring artists and artistic activity to underserved areas" into an anti-modernist rant.

Ian Thal said...

"until we create arts organizations that INVITE the community to participate, until we see part of an artist's job as FACILITATING that participation, then we are reinforcing the passivity."

Welcome to my world. I may be a playwright, but I am also a student of kathak, and I teach mime and commedia dell'arte at a local youth circus. I've also been working a lot with grassroots/DIY alternative arts organizations throughout my artistic career. It's only in the last few years that I've had much contact with the more institutional side of the art world.

So congratulations on discovering "participation" and "community" and "facilitation"-- but I've been here all along.

Oh, and nice to meet you, Uke.

Scott Walters said...

The problem is that art has been made into a product to be consumed, and the expressive act has now become something that is done by specialists and put up for sale to consumers. That IS the diagnosis. The CAUSE of the problem is over-determined: there are many culprits. Including artists themselves.

And yes, it IS an anti-modernist rant. I don't think these particular social changes have benefited our society. In the same way that the values of the Industrial Revolution has destroyed our physical environment, the values of our society has destroyed our expressive life and sense of community. I make no apologies for that belief.

Scott Walters said...

Ian, have I ever claimed to have discovered anything? There have been arts organizations in small communities for decades. The problem is that many artists, if they do the things you mention at all, do them simply to make money until they get a chance to STOP doing them. I am contending that arts orgainzations in small communities commit to both creation and facilitation equally, and with an equal sense of mission.

Nick said...

“The problem is that art has been made into a product to be consumed, and the expressive act has now become something that is done by specialists and put up for sale to consumers. That IS the diagnosis. The CAUSE of the problem is over-determined: there are many culprits. Including artists themselves.”

Of course there is no denying that your two models also have products to sell. Dell Arte is selling their unique physical training and aesthetic as well as their touring productions. How different is that from Broadway selling its product to a national audience/consumer, or one of the many theatre MFA programs selling its training?

You seem to know more about Appalshop patrons than the public record I had looked at showed me. So I’ll take your word they are local patrons. And, yes, sugar daddies don’t fall out of the sky, so good for Appalshop in securing their endowment. And I am not disputing the value of their work, but like getting funding for any do-good community cause, some patron other than those who you are serving is needed. In these kind of proposals theatres are competing with other service such as soup kitchens or free medical clinics for its patronage. Turning theatre from a product into a service doesn’t magically somehow fund it.

Scott Walters said...

I have this uncomfortable feeling that we're trying to have two conversations at once.

Dell Arte and Appalshop are examples to illustrate that it is possible to have healthy arts organizations in rural areas. That was an early question of yours. Dell Arte is not a model for what I propose -- while it has diverse activities, it is still pretty traditionally structured. Appalshop is closer, and the other two closer still, with Northern Lakes the closest to the model I prefer.

I am interested in the idea of social entrepreneurship, an approach which breaks out of the reliance on grants. I think it is possible.

Unknown said...

Hi Ian. Nice to meet you, too.

Scott, arts as recreation (community participation for fun) doesn't preclude a role for "Professional artists." As a performer, I get calls to play old folks homes, leading singalongs, and I get paid to do it.

Sure, anybody could stand up and sing with a group. However, as a professional, I practice music and singing a couple hours a day. That professionalism makes my presentations a pleasurable experience for my mostly shut-in audiences (when I'm playing these sort of gigs). The community wants me precisely because I am a professional.

I understand what you're saying about excluding people who want to be part of something. And I know you don't care who is to blame and want it to stop. But you threw down the gauntlet when you said "Artists have stolen the expressive life of citizens to the detriment of our sense of independence and community."

Maybe it's the local arts administrators who did that? (That's certainly been my experience in rural PA.) Or any and all of the other suspects already named.

There are people with very real stakes in keeping the system as it is. Very few of them are artists, and artists are all too often easy targets. Here in PA, artists no longer get art council money. It goes to arts institutions and, in turn, arts admins.

Scott Walters said...

"As a performer, I get calls to play old folks homes, leading singalongs, and I get paid to do it.
Sure, anybody could stand up and sing with a group. However, as a professional, I practice music and singing a couple hours a day. That professionalism makes my presentations a pleasurable experience for my mostly shut-in audiences (when I'm playing these sort of gigs). The community wants me precisely because I am a professional."

Exactly! That's what I'm saying! I'm not saying exclude people who have training, but I'm saying they need to use their training, in part, to encourage OTHERS to express themselves. If you just went to a nursing home and did a little concert, then I'm not as crazy about it -- it's nice, yes, and a step in the right direction. But you get the shut-in to themselves sing, and that's key. The next step is to get the shut-ins to do a concert themselves under your guidance!

But I'm not talking about doing things "for fun" (although fun is certainly part of it), but in doing things to create social capital, to pass stories from generation to generation, to make place more vivid, to encourage leadership and creativity.

As far as artists stealing the expressive life, you have to admit that most artists look down their nose on so-called non-professionals, and would prefer that they just sit quietly and applaud loudly at the end. We get all bent out of shape if somebody has the temerity to talk while they're acting, as if theatre is church and the actors are high priests. But our history -- history that most artists know only superficially -- involves a very lively, interactive actor-audience relationship. We have created what I call sit-down-and-shut-up arts. In an interactive society, this spells death. That's how we teach 'em in college, and that's how we like it. Until the ticket sales tank.

Unknown said...

Some of the folks are too out of it to sing along but they enjoy it. I almost always get some kind of response out of everybody in the room.

I don't do it so much anymore. Even private places cut their budgets back. Lots of it was county money and they have definitely had funding cuts -- speaking of trickle down.

lucia said...

Scott - Bravo! And thanks to all three (Ian and Uke also) as eavesdropping on this conversation was very helpful to understanding Scott's proposal. I'm a scientist interested in theatre and I keep thinking how people used to make their own science but now everyone seems to expect high priests in white lab coats...

Ian Thal said...

Ironically, Lucia, I think science is at its most de-mystified state ever in our era. There may still be people scared of it and there may be a steep learning curve towards actually doing original research, but the general public can follow much of the current methodologies, discoveries, and theories and come away with at least some understanding.

As far as Scott's comments on professional artists: I think most of the ones I know maintain some community involvement, including teaching. I love teaching theatre and the only reason I don't do more is because of limits on the umbrella organizations that allow me to conduct my teaching since I can't afford the financial risk of opening up my own studio.

I should also note that all of the theatre troupes I know of that are based in rural areas are so based due to the dollar to square feet ratio-- but they also tour a lot: performing in cities or universities-- so they are only really "rurally based" when they are in pre-production, training, or rehearsal-- and often live together.

Scott Walters said...

One of the reasons I have created CRADLE is to make more widely known those rural arts organizations who don't fit the model Ian describes. There are many out there, each with a little different way of doing things, each adapted to their own communities. The other reason I created CRADLE was to develop a unique model that I believe will make arts organizations more sustainable in smaller communities. I described my first draft here: Theatre is smaller communities suffer from a lack of distribution of information about them, which leads the urban myth to portray such arts organizations as unsustainable. Not true. And I don;t believe I have just accidently stumbled on the only organizations who are making it. But it requires a different mindset, and that is the biggest hurtle.

Think Again: Funding and Budgets in the Arts

Every once in a while, I think I'll post a link or two to posts written earlier in the life of Theatre Ideas that seem worth revisiting ...