Friday, February 25, 2011

Off to See the Wizard

As Teresa Eyring notes in her TCG blog, there was a small group of arts "service organization" leaders invited to DC to discuss the recent #supplydemand issue with NEA leader Rocco Landesman. I was one of those invited. I must admit, I felt honored to be invited to the table.

Prior to the meeting, which had no agenda beyond that it was about #supplydemand, we were sent a compendium of the conversations that had occurred since Landesman's address at the Arena Stage "From Scarcity to Abundance" convening caused the flap to begin. Most of the writings were blog posts, but there was some MSM articles as well, and I think even some tweets. I printed out the whole thing -- it came to 266 pages. I must admit, when I read these writings back to back, I found myself increasingly depressed at the level of discourse, which rarely rose above the depth of a child's plastic swimming pool. When "who will decide" is the most you can muster as an argument against the idea that we need to decrease the supply of theatres, it's an indication that you're not particularly serious. But my attitude changed when I entered the NEA conference room at 3:00 Tuesday afternoon following an eight hour drive from Asheville.

I must confess, I don't know what I expected from this meeting. The night before, I had received a phone call from Teresa Eyring wanting to talk about what the upcoming discussion. It seems that most didn't want to talk about "supply and demand," but rather wanted to get Landesman to stop talking about supply and demand and instead focus on something more "positive" about the arts. Given the political situation, many people thought that this wasn't the time to raise such issues, which might get picked up by foundations as an excuse to cut their arts funding, and legislators looking to do the same thing. I listened, and said I understood, but also pointed out that, from my perspective with CRADLE, the discussion of supply and demand actually opened up a space for discussion that applied to my work in small and rural communities, and that the status quo worked against what I valued. The next morning, as I rose at 5:00 to hit the road by six, I became increasingly convinced that we needed to have the supply and demand conversation as originally planned. I stopped at a McDonalds and wrote Teresa an email expressing my intention to keep the focus on that conversation, and expressing my resentment about the prospect of the conversation being hijacked.

I arrived ten minutes late (parking in DC is horrendous), and the meeting had begun. And so had the attempt to refocus the discussion. I tried unsuccessfully to control my anger, but after a few minutes I expressed my opinion, passionately and probably a wee bit too strongly. I often find, when I am among long-time arts leaders, that I express myself a bit too strongly. I always feel decidedly working class in such gatherings.

Anyway, I'm not certain what I expected from the meeting. I think I usually set my expectations too high, and go in hoping that just this once a group of leaders might actually do some innovative problem-solving, that, given the assembled experience and intelligence in the room, a breakthrough might occur. I don't know why I always hope this will happen -- it has never happened before in my entire life, and I've attended a whole lot of meetings. And it didn't happen at the NEA, either, I'm sorry to say.

I'm not sure what Landesman was hoping for, but he seemed to think it as a good meeting. He did a lot of clarifying about what he meant and didn't mean, trying to mollify the assembled leaders. And maybe that's what he wanted to accomplish. Anyway, whatever it was he wanted, I hope he got it. What I heard was a lot of the same old same old. But I was happy to be at the table, and apparently enough of a wild card that people would occasionally say something about small and rural communities, lest I speak too strongly again.

The one thing I heard that did make me cock my head to the side, however, was the way that bloggers and tweeters were talked about by the assembled leaders. It wasn't good. Many of them seemed to see the whole on-line conversation as airing dirty laundry and working against the field, as people just speaking off the top of their heads and engaging in crazy talk. This came up again and again. And that's when I became a more confirmed blogger and tweeter.

These leaders are used to controlling the conversation from their privileged positions. If they think it ought to be talked about, it will be; if not, it will be silenced. Things should be decided behind closed doors, away from the prying eyes of the public and preferably not within earshot of artists. All this on-line democratization of conversation just works against creating a unified message to the general public. And just who is it who thinks there might be too many theatres in New York and coined the term Nylachi? (Ahem.)

Now, this attitude wasn't universal -- there were some people, like Mark Valdez of the Network of Ensemble Theatres, who didn't seem to think blogging and tweeting was out of bounds. But it came up frequently enough to be a theme. And as I said above, I wouldn't say that references to "death panels" and getting all oogly-googly because some blogger posted (gasp) charts from Econ 101 to make a point really was our best work, but damn it, I read a lot more new ideas on-line than I heard in that room on Pennsylvania Avenue. And those charts were helpful in clarifying the debate a bit.

So dammit, blog on, tweet away, be heard, share ideas, come up with crazy suggestions, innovate like mad because innovation isn't going to happen top-down; innovation never happens top-down. The top is committed to the status quo, and has lost the sense of the necessity for change. I may feel sometimes like we can do better in the theatrosphere, but even what we do is superior to the well-worn thoughts of most arts leaders.

Oh, by the way, when I left the meeting, I found that my car had been towed. Which, when all is said and done, just seemed sort of fitting...

UPDATE: I should probably publish the list of attendees:

Linda Parris Bailey, National Performance Network
Victoria Bailey, Theatre Development Fund
David Dik, Young Audiences, Inc. (by phone)
Mario Garcia Durham, National Endowment for the Arts
Kathy Evans, National Alliance for Musical Theatre
Teresa Eyring, Theatre Communications Group
Sandra Gibson, Association of Performing Arts Presenters
Adam Huttler, Fractured Atlas
Rocco Landesman, National Endowment for the Arts
Jason Loewith , National New Play Network
Lesley Malin, Shakespeare Theatre Association of America
Susie Medak, League of Resident Theatres
Ralph Remington, National Endowment for the Arts
Mark Valdez, Network of Ensemble Theatres
Scott Walters, Center for Rural Arts Development and Leadership Education


Brian said...

That's a damn shame, Scott. It's a real damn shame.

Laura Sue said...

I'm confused. Are you talking about UNC Asheville? No? I thought you were.

Kate said...

We get some of the same crap working with social media in the federal government - and I heard teachers talking the same way about how I used social media in my classroom. The more entrenched people are in their position, the more likely they are to think they're above anything new.

Linda said...

Your write: "The one thing I heard that did make me cock my head to the side, however, was the way that bloggers and tweeters were talked about by the assembled leaders. It wasn't good." It's too bad that this conversation took place behind closed doors. I personally don't post on my blog "off the top of my head" but rather use it in the hope of getting preliminary feedback on real ideas that I'm developing for delivery in more "formal" venues. Blogging is, or can be, open democratic conversation.
(BTW, the only reason I posted one of those Econ 101 supply.demand curves at the end of one of my posts was in response to an NCA member who insisted we are at the market equilibrium point)

Pete Miller said...


Very glad you're a voice in this whole topic. Please don't let our baser natures disgust you so much you leave the fray. Artists arguing in favor of censorship is a horseman of the apocalypse as far as I'm concerned. Would love to talk with you about CRADLE in more detail, maybe get on the phone some day next week?

Keep your faith.

Aaron Andersen said...

I am very sorry to hear that this is how a high level discussion went down.

As for the distrust of bloggers and twitter, I suppose this may be because arts leaders are used to functioning as curators for ideas. But if these arts leaders intend to try to keep this role, they clearly still don't understand social media or the changing landscape of idea formation and thought leadership on their planet.

And as one of those bloggers who brings an economics perspective (though I didn't find econ 101 theory charts useful, myself), I would simply ask these frustrated arts leaders to think through their problems with a little more imagination. An inter-disciplinary approach doesn't mean we'll just find the answer in some previously despised corner of academia. But it is a very good bet that if we examine our big thorny problems from other perspectives, we will see something we previously missed, and our creative imagination will be spurred.

Aaron Andersen said...

I'm sorry the conversation wasn't more productive, when it is sort of a dream to get all those people in the same room.

I can't help but feel slightly defensive, as an arts blogger with an economics perspective, even though I did eschew simple supply-demand graphs from econ 101 textbooks as unhelpful.

In defense of blogging and twitter, if today's arts leaders think they are still curators of ideas, then they've misunderstood the ascendancy of the internet, and betray themselves as something like dinosaurs.

In defense of bringing economics to an arts policy discussion, are these leaders so lacking in imagination as to miss the potential value of an inter-disciplinary approach? We're only getting a highly condensed version of the discussion here, so maybe I'm wrong, but it sounds like the "not-invented-here" bias that I see so strongly in a particular, unnamed institutional arts nonprofit of great reputation with which I'm familiar. When we think that useful perspectives can't come from other fields and disciplines, it shows how isolated we've become in our comfortable patterns of thought.

It's sad.

Aaron Andersen said...

Oops! Sorry. I thought my first comment disappeared into the internet, so I rewrote it. I didn't mean to be redundant. Ignore whichever one is less convincing. ;)

Scott Walters said...

Aaron -- I liked them both, so I left them both posted. Thanks, and I agree with your points. As somsone who also is interested in economics -- especially the economics of the local economy movement -- I valued the discussion.

Linda -- I use my blog for the same thing -- a place to float ideas and sharpen them in discussion.

Pete -- No, I'll stay in the fray. Whenever a lot of people talk, there will be some things that are less interesting than others, and I have been on both sides of the qualitative line. As far as talking, email me and we can set something up:

Scott Walters said...

Laura Sue -- I think it is endemic to institutions...

Kit Baker said...

I'm curious as to who seemed to see blogging as "working against the field"?

If it was one of the NEA representatives, it's worth remembering that the considerable negative fallout from Yosi Sargent's conference call - which involved a similar gathering of stakeholders, just a few days before Landesman took up his post as I recall - came from a blog.

We may never know how much damage that blogger caused to the NEA (he managed to get himself and mention of his PR firm onto the Glenn Beck show, so he profited at the NEA's expense in that respect at the very least).

In the circumstances, I'm inclined to sympathize with the NEA, assuming they are the ones who cautioned against overheated blogging. I'm sure they understand the democratic value of blogs - they have one of their own, after all - but they stand to lose too much in their present state of political vulnerability from irresponsible or hostile blogging to either welcome or encourage a no-holes-barred approach.

Scott Walters said...

kit -- It wasn't coming from the NEA. After all, they created the #supplydemand Twitter hashtag and Rocco posted his thoughts on the NEA website, so it would be pretty hypocritical. No, this came from others. I don't really feel like naming them, especially since I didn't get everybody's name at the time or take copious notes.

However, I would also say that even if it was the NEA, self-censorship within political debate is the end of democracy. It is time to stop thinking strategically, and instead assert the basic principles that are important to discussion within a field and a culture.

AnitaLauricella said...

Scott, thank you for driving many hours, attending and participating. I don’t know you but I’m glad you were at the table. I was saddened to hear the disdain for blogging and not surprised that over 200 pages of posts didn’t yield a lot. I do think the deliberation and nuance are difficult to find on-line, not impossible, but difficult. It is just too easy to reply quickly rather than step back, be slow and think. I think the value of Twitter and blog posts is the multiplicity of voices. These multiple voices feed the creative rethinking I think is needed for the arts. Lots of ideas are good for growth, rethinking and hopefully new ideas. Big tables favor big conversations and big ideas.

I think the downside is that big ideas need to be filtered to be strategic and you need “curated” conversations to take action. As you noted it is not clear what the NEA wanted from the meeting, but as recent head of a small arts service organization I appreciate the desire to curate a conversation. I would probably have also tried to use the time in the way I thought was most efficient. Hard to say.

I had two concerns with Roscoe L’s comments. First, I think they implied a simple answer to a complex question. Theater folks and economists know that once you leave your econ 101 class the simple demand chart and that supply demand model do not neatly represent the complexity of real world interactions. This is particularly true of “goods” like the arts. You need a model that integrates many factors, ideas, and suggestions to get at good answers. The conversation requires nuance and deep understanding; taking time is not ducking a big issue but acknowledging it is a BIG issue.

When I talk with colleagues about the NEA Chairman appearing to make such simplistic and perhaps inflammatory comments I am told he wanted “to start a conversation”. I think this has been accomplished, but I would argue that the conversation that resulted reflects the shallowness of the opening comments.

I am also concerned his comments triggered the wrong question. I wrote this before but I think we want to talk about expanding and creating audience, not creating artificial mechanisms for assessing what it is the right supply. We do not know enough to mange supply, particularly in the arts. I can not estimate total audience demand and I think it is influenced by many factors (back to complexity again) but I do believe it can be grown. And this is the conversation I think we need to have; how do we nurture and grow our audiences. This is also where I think the power of on-line communication is invaluable. We need a really big table with lots of ideas and approaches and we need lots of folks taking risks, testing out ideas and letting us know how it goes.

Scott Walters said...

Anita -- I agree with almost everything that you say here. And I agree that what Landesman wanted to do was start a conversation. As a long-time blogger, I know that often the only way to blast people out of complacency is to write something outrageous, otherwise the conversation just totters along the same conversational ruts as always. My frustration at the meeting was that most of those assembled wanted to shift the conversation back into the same rut: "oh, the arts are so wonderful, art works, we contribute so much to the world blah blah blah."

Landesman responded to those of us who said we can increase demand: demand hasn't increased for decades -- why do you think it can now? That's a damn good question. One nobody had an answer for beyond, "Well, because it OUGHT to increase because art is so IMPORTANT."

I assert that one way to increase demand is to expand the market away from the upper middle-class, white urban dweller, a demographic that ISN'T growing. For me, the answer is rural communities; for someone else, it might be working class city communities or poor neighborhoods.

Your last sentence is key: "we need lots of folks taking risks, testing out ideas and letting us know how it goes." Put differently, we need 1) well-thought-out R & D, 2) documentation; 3) dissemination. In other words, we need some part of the arts world to get beyond thinking in terms of "doing shows" and instead focus on best practices.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the report, Scott! While I applaud the aims of CRADLE as far as providing a new/old approach to arts for everyone.

However, this kind of bothers me: "Put differently, we need 1) well-thought-out R & D, 2) documentation; 3) dissemination. In other words, we need some part of the arts world to get beyond thinking in terms of "doing shows" and instead focus on best practices."

This seems to me like more of the same old same old -- admin heavy organization rather than artist-led creativity (artist meaning creative person, pro or am). That's bothersome from where I sit.

Scott Walters said...

Hey, Uke! A valid concern. What I meant was that whoever does the R & D (it could easily be artists, and maybe ought to be), their FOCUS needs to be on research first and foremost, rather than the creation of a product. By analogy, the R & D department in a business is not, at the same time, focused on bringing products to market, but rather developing the NEXT product that will be brought to market.

Unknown said...

Aha! I misunderstood. Thanks for clarifying.

Jason Loewith said...

Hey Scott -

I sat next to you at that meeting, and am proud to own a comment that I suspect "cocked your head"... not sure if you're referring to it when you wrote:

The one thing I heard that did make me cock my head to the side, however, was the way that bloggers and tweeters were talked about by the assembled leaders. It wasn't good. Many of them seemed to see the whole on-line conversation as airing dirty laundry and working against the field, as people just speaking off the top of their heads and engaging in crazy talk…

These leaders are used to controlling the conversation from their privileged positions. If they think it ought to be talked about, it will be; if not, it will be silenced. Things should be decided behind closed doors, away from the prying eyes of the public and preferably not within earshot of artists.

Here's what I think I said, not word for word: You want to start a conversation about oversupply in the arts sector, and sent us 250 pages of blog posts to confirm you'd started that conversation. I read about half of them, and saw very little "conversation". Instead I saw a lot of one-sided, misinformed hysteria about "NEA death panels" masquerading as conversation. I don't see that as productive.

If my comment was one that made you feel this way, maybe I can clarify. Because your post seems to me unfair and oversimplified.

Blogging disseminates info, it's a lifeline for organizations and artists, and provides community where community is hard to come by. But it also provides safe harbor for hyperbole and misinformation which can be detrimental to productive discourse. And it doesn't replace - and rarely improves upon - actual face-to-face (or email-to-email) conversation.

In the 125 pages I read, the best conversation was the one on the NEA blog itself, in which Rocco actually responded to Tricia Mead's post. They presented their positions, and came closer to understanding each other. But many of the others I read were misinformed, they hadn't bothered to learn the context of Rocco’s speech, they reacted fearfully and not thoughtfully, and leapt to recrimination and "us against them" structures. I was demoralized, especially as I have gone to such length with my own organization - the National New Play Network - to create (and yes, curate) an informed and productive conversation about the topic.

Even browsing the comments above, some of your readers are now a) more convinced that "arts leaders" are "dinosaurs", (which is as much an oversimplification as Rocco's original comments were), and b) even suspect some sort of "censorship" is going on. I don’t mind airing dirty laundry, but I reject sowing seeds of suspicion where they don't belong.

From my point of view - as one of the new organizations at the table - I think there's more opportunity and energy for change and new thinking than there ever has been. And though I share some of your dissatisfaction (sure, there was plenty of same-old, same-old), I also saw a great deal of good. Rocco saw value in hearing from every one of us in that room, and wants to meet again. He heard how his comments were being misinterpreted in the field. You and I and Mark and Linda and all the small organizations were there on equal footing with the biggies. And I learned a great deal from my colleagues - the big and the small ones - that I didn't know before.

I wish you'd been at Woolly Mammoth earlier in the day. A question that another participant brought up really stumped me: "to what end?"

What really is the point of having a conversation about "oversupply" in the arts sector? No one is going to close down companies. The government isn't going to stop granting tax exemptions to new ones. So that's the conversation I want to have now – why talk about it, in any format: on a blog, at the National Endowment, or anywhere in between?

Scott Walters said...

Jason -- Thank you for your comment. I didn't specifically remember you making it, but I appreciate your coming forward and providing context.

I guess where we differ is on a basic premise -- and I speak as one who has been engaged in the blogging world for almost six years now (!) -- I believe that ALL conversation is good, and that the more distributed it is, the better it is. I'll take Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody over Ortega Y Gassett's Revolt of the Masses any day of the week. I didn't see anything in the blogging transcripts that was less intelligent than anything that was offered in the meeting room.

"To what end" is the kind of question that is often asked by traditional arts leaders who feel that, in order to have a conversation, it is important to have an agreed-upon "purpose" in advance, and make sure that purpose is productive. I don't think that, and I don't teach that in my classes. My teaching motto and my blogging motto is identical: Question Everything. I have seen a lot of conversations that started off pretty crazy come around to make some important discoveries. But you have to have faith in open conversation. I don't believe that people should "create and...curate an informed and productive conversation about the topic." I find that an example of exactly the kind of control that arts leaders think they have the right to exercise, and that I was complaining about in this post. Conversations should develop freely, and involve anyone with an idea.

To be honest, I am glad I wasn't at Woolly Mammoth prior to the meeting, because I suspect I would have come out even more frustrated than I was initially. My feeling was that if people didn't want to talk about "supply and demand," which was the stated topic of the discussion in the invitation, then they shouldn't have accepted the invitation. I did accept that invitation, despite the enormous strain it would put on me to attend, and I accepted it BECAUSE that was going to be the conversation, accepted it BECAUSE I had some things to say about the topic, and to have a different, and to me vastly less interesting and less relevant, discussion felt like a bait-and-switch. I felt like taking up a collection from those who wanted to change the subject to pay for my gas, motel room, and towing ticket.

As far as Rocco's comments being "misinterpreted in the field," I would question whether the people around that table can speak for "the field." But his comments were interpreted by the people at the Arena when he delivered them, and I didn't see anyone on-line saying anything different than they were.

I agree with you that there is more opportunity for change now than ever. But a big reason for that opportunity is the theatrosphere. Had I not had a blog, I would not have been at that table, because CRADLE is the result of Bill O'brien having read this blog and contacting me.

So what's point of talking about supply and demand? Well, from my perspective, there is a lot of the idea of supply and demand that is embedded in a centralized, corporatized, urbanized, institutionalized, upper-middle class idea of the arts audience that needs to be questioned and undermined. And those assumptions will NOT be questioned by most of the people around that table, but they WILL be questioned in the blogging world.

Jason Loewith said...

Hey Scott –

Thank YOU for engaging this conversation! I think we’ve got a real one going, though you may be disappointed to hear that I agree with lots of what you say.

I absolutely agree that all conversation is good conversation… I just don’t agree that all blogging is conversation. On this blog (which I never visited before today) I’m already benefitting from your points and point of view, and they’re challenging me. But some blogs I read are not interested in engaging with – or don’t invite, explicitly or implicitly - individuals from other points of view. Worse, their contributors comment and never come back to engage and hear other points of view. I certainly hope the commenters above come back to read this. We may not end up agreeing here, but that’s been my experience.

As far as “speaking for the field,” I don’t think anyone at that table presumes to be able to do so. I certainly don’t and never said I did. But if they run their membership organizations as I do, they talk to their members about issues like this one, get their input (and I got pages and pages of it) and then try as best they can to represent their members’ various viewpoints. What I did say was that Rocco’s comments were being misinterpreted IN the field – and the number of times I heard Rocco say, “Oh, that’s not what I meant”, “I would never suggest that” bears out my assertion – whether at the Arena or in the blogosphere.

“Creating and curating a conversation” – a matter of interpretation again. You on this blog create and curate a conversation simply by introducing a topic with a point of view and posting comments, even if you don’t edit them. When I say it’s my job at NNPN to “curate” a conversation to make it “productive”, I’m talking about summing up what I’ve learned and trying to present it in a digestible way. Does it have a point of view? Sure, no matter how hard I try to scrub my own ideas. Would those 26 artistic directors have read all 250 blog posts, or been as well-informed about the topic? No way.

Now, “to what end”? I hear you saying that’s a formulation to stop the conversation before it starts. You may be right – this is helpful to me. After reading your last paragraph, let me rephrase. There’s no doubt we should be talking about the “centralized, corporatized, urbanized, institutionalized, upper-middle class idea of the arts audience”. Yes yes yes. So maybe my question isn’t “to what end?”, but “is supply/demand the right question?” Because I disagree with you – I think a LOT of people in that room want to talk about the corporatized, urbanized, etc etc audience. Do they all want to “undermine” it as you say? That depends on what you mean by “undermine”.

But getting away from a homogenized view of audience and approaches to audience and where audiences live and how they interact with art and artists is precisely what makes the theaters in NNPN tick – and they (and I) would be very willing to continue that conversation with you and in the field.

Scott Walters said...

Jason -- Now we're getting somewhere!

As I said, I've been writing in the blogosphere for a long, long time in blog years (which are even longer than dog years). And over the years, I've been involved in quite a few on-line brawls, some that got plenty ugly. There are people who have said and would say today that I am too aggressive and argumentative on my blog. Maybe so. But aside from a few mainstream media critics whose blogs don't allow comments, most theatre bloggers engage commenters. In fact, many if not most have blogs in order to hone their ideas, which happens through the friction of the discussion. I can say from my own experience that most of the ideas for CRADLE developed right here on Theatre Ideas -- you can watch them come into being over time and in response to the conversation. I can also say, from my own experience, that mainstream theatre service leaders haven't exactly been making a bee-line to my blog to engage what I have to say. Why would they? To me, I am just a noisy nobody who, if I were more important, would be hanging out at the same cocktail parties that they are.

And when I started, and to some extent still today, I am seen as someone whose ideas seem counter-productive. When I raised the idea that the centralization of theatre in NYC was unhealthy and artistically destructive, I was accused of being envious, not talented enough for the "big time," a mere academic, and a variety of other personal and professional insults. I was told I was being irresponsible in attacking the Nylachi-centric system, and told that we should all be supportive of the status quo, which needed support. Without the democracy of the blogging world, the issues I raise would never have made their way into the discussion at all.

You are right that I have the power to curate and control a conversation by what I decide to write about. But the conversation happens between blogs, not in the comments, and that depends on what directions others want to go. So I can float an idea, but if nobody picks it up, links to it, or comments, that subject is dead. My reputation, such as it is, was grown through addressing issues I felt were being neglected, and that struck a core with others. Many other blogs are more traditional, looking more at what shows are opening or who is getting hired or whose plays are getting gone, and that provides a valuable part of the theatre blogging world, too.

At the moment, my focus is on expanding and diversifying not just the audience, but also our ideas of who ought to be creating art. I am not enamored of the single-minded focus on artist-specialists -- I think the NEA, for instance, ought to support not just so-called "professional" artists, but should be encouraging broader creativity and artistic participation. That, along with the idea that the arts are valuable in small and rural communities, is an idea that isn't likely to get carried by the people who surrounded that table.

So I guess that is why I am sensitive to people slighting those who take the time -- and believe me, it takes a LOT of time -- to share their ideas and opinions on a blog. To me, blogging represents an opportunity to break down the barriers of class, geography, education, and position and to let diverse voices be heard directly, without being filtered through other media. And if, in order to get that, it means I have to tolerate a variety of "quality" in the ideas and opinions, then so be it.

Since the Ford Foundation blue bloods started funding the arts fifty-some years ago, the discussion has been filtered by the wealthy and the educated. I'd like some other voices to be heard. I suspect you would too. But in order for that to happen, we have to open ourselves to letting everyone talk.

Aaron Andersen said...

Dear Jason Loewith, I'm the commenter who used the word "dinosaur," so I'm responding to you. Thank you for providing more context. I'd probably reduce the severity of my previously expressed opinion, though not the direction of it.

Scott replied on the value of unfiltered, non-curated voices from the crowd. I would like to add an example. The @MayorEmanuel twitter feed, a satire of Rahm Emanuel that was anonymously authored until it was over, is a fantastic example of new storytelling that would simply not have existed if the only models to develop new stories were curator-driven. The @MayorEmanuel feed is the best example I know of uncovering the potential of Twitter as a new medium. It mastered both the constraints and strengths embedded in Twitter, and over several months reveled in humor, sarcasm, pathos, inspiration, etc. And (maybe) most important, it showed that a smart-ass punk could care deeply about government, and tell us that we all should, too, in a totally fresh voice. This feed may or may not have been theater, but it was a very extended digital monologue, complete with cheering and heckling from, and spontaneous response to, the audience. And I have a hard time believing for one second that it ever would have been produced through a new play workshop, or the Onion editorial board, or any other media that includes or is managed by gatekeepers, editors, committees, etc... And yes, for every @MayorEmanuel there are thousands of Twitter accounts that are utterly bereft of interesting content, but that does not diminish this work.

I definitely understand your frustration at phrases like "death panels," which was tossed out with about as much veracity as when Sarah Palin invented the phrase. But I, as well as many other bloggers, called this out as hyperbole and phrasemongering. Throughout this conversation, I read a large volume of very useful thoughts and discussion, as well as some useless content. I'm sorry you think that the useless content drowned out the useful. I most heartily disagree. I think that anybody spending a lot of time reading theater blogs would have some experience filtering out the strong contributors from the less strong, though, and would not spend much time with the latter. We self-curate; we learn to sort the great links from the dead-ends. To be handed 250 pages of printouts is perhaps the worst possible way to engage with online discussions, so I'd recommend you not come to judgment on the quality of online discourse that way.

Aaron Andersen
Writing Fellow,

Aaron Andersen said...

And, by the way, here is an example of how to use the internet "crowd" to help foundations and granting organizations increase their evaluation bandwidth. Not only is the idea an example of how to use the internet productively, the quality of the discussion in the comments section is very high.

Scott Walters said...

Jason and Aaron -- Would you mind if I copied these comments to a new post, so we can open the discussion to others?

Jason Loewith said...

Yes, Scott, indeed, and thanks Aaron for your response and thoughts... all really helpful, and it's good to see this working the way one hopes... I appreciate the Rahm twitter example, and just read elsewhere that he met with his twitter doppelganger - I think you're right: that's a great example of the intersection of arts, technology and debate.

It sounds from your impassioned responses that the theater blogosphere (which I am not as well versed in) is more productive in creating conversations than my experience of the rest of it... but yes, onward with the conversation.

Aaron Andersen said...

Sure, Scott, no problem.

Jason, I appreciate your openness to this issue. Just in case... I'd like to be clear that I don't think curated content should be eliminated from our culture--that would be an egregious error. I think we're going to get more good, vital stuff in the end if we keep ALL avenues for content development and dissemination working and growing.

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 ...