Thursday, October 11, 2012

Robert Gard Redux

Today, I will be discussing arts pioneer Robert E. Gard in my course on community arts development, which gives me an excuse to report this essay I wrote about two years ago on Robert Gard's 100th birthday.


Today is grassroots theatre pioneer Robert Gard's 100th birthday, which I would like to commemorate by reprinting this post from Theatre Ideas two years ago:
As the book description explains, "Robert Gard’s timeless book is a moving account of one man’s struggle to bring his dream of community-building through creative theater to citizens around the country. He traveled across America—from New York’s Finger Lakes to the prairies of Alberta, Canada, to the backwoods of northern Wisconsin—discovering and nurturing the folklore, legends, history, and drama of the region. He talked to ballad singers, painters, the tellers of tall tales, and farm women, whose poetry and painting reflected the elemental violence of nature and quiet joys of neighborliness. Grassroots Theater reminds us that an individual’s creative vision transcends technology, current events, and changing demographics." Originally published in 1955 and re-released by the University of Wisconsin Press in 1999, this book still has the power to inspire and refresh. Gard's vision of a theater rooted in a community and committed to works created by citizens who live within that community was realized through the Wisconsin Idea Theater housed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Extension, and the Wisconsin Rural Writers' Association. This very personal and engaging book gives insights into the trials and victories, and the people and ideas that Gard encountered as he brought his ideas into existence.

A quotation that I found inspiring:

"It seems to me that a stream of fine new community arts leaders should be issuing from the University of Wisconsin and, indeed, from all universities and colleges of the nation. The universities and colleges are training artists, many of them, and training teachers. The theater departments are training actors, technicians, directors, and writers for whom there is at present little place in the profession for which they are being trained. No consideration is given to the fact that a profession might be developed in community life in theater. The young person graduating from the university has little concept of the scope of te theater to be developed, of the delicate social problems of fitting himself and his talents successfully into community life. He is too frequently a failure when he attempts it."

The Wisconsin Arts Board has acknowledged the Gard Centenary with the following:
Wisconsin community arts pioneer Robert Gard was born 100 years ago, on July 3, 2010. To learn more about Robert Gard and his work, visit the Robert E. Gard Wisconsin Idea Foundation’s web site.

We would like to celebrate Gard through two of his famous quotes. The first is well known to Wisconsin’s arts community as the Wisconsin Arts Board adopted it as its vision statement:
"If we are seeking in America, let it be for the reality of democracy in the arts. Let art begin at home and let it spread through the children and the parents, and through the schools and the institutions, and through government. And let us start by acceptance, not negation-acceptance that the arts are important everywhere, and that they can exist and flourish in small places as well as large, with money or without it, according to the will of the people. Let us put firmly and permanently aside the cliché that the arts are a frill. Let us accept the goodness of art where we are now, and expand its worth in the places where people live."

The second quote is the closing poem from The Arts in the Small Community: A National Plan. We have used part of this poem as the title for the Gard Symposium to be held September 24 and 25, 2010 in Madison. The Symposium will address the question “Where is community arts headed?” and it will be one of many events over the next year to mark the Gard Centenary.

If you try, what may you expect?
First a community
Welded through art to a new consciousness of self:
A new being, perhaps a new appearance…
A people proud
Of achievements which lift them through the creative
Above the ordinary…
A new opportunity for children
To find exciting experiences in art
And to carry this excitement on
Throughout their lives…
A mixing of peoples and backgrounds
Through art; a new view
Of hope for mankind and an elevation
Of man…not degradation.
New values for individual and community
Life, and a sense
That here, in our place,
We are contributing to the maturity
Of a great nation.
If you try, you can indeed
Alter the face and the heart
Of America.

Celebrate the arts in community this July 4th weekend, remember Robert Gard, and all who work to develop communities through the arts.
Change the story, change the future. Gard wrote, presciently:

America is coming of age. Note the many changing aspects of America.

A maturing America means a nation conscious of its arts among all its people. Communities east, west, north, and south are searching for ways to make community life more attractive.

The arts are at the very center of community development in this time of change...change for the better.

The frontier and all that it once meant in economic development and in the sheer necessity of building a nation is being replaced by the frontier of the arts. In no other way can Americans so well express the core and blood of their democracy; for in the communities lies the final test of the acceptance of the arts as a necessity of everyday life.

In terms of American democracy, the arts are for everyone.They are not reserved for the wealthy, or for the well-endowed museum, the gallery, or the ever-subsidized regional professional theatre. As America emerges into a different understanding of her strength, it becomes clear that her strength is in the people and in the places where the people live.

The people, if shown the way, can create art in and of themselves.

The springs of the American spirit are at the grass roots. Opportunities must exist in places where they never have existed before. A consciousness of the people, a knowledge of their power to generate and nourish art, and a provision of ways in which they may do so are essential for our time.

If we are seeking in America, let it be a seeking for the reality of democracy in art. Let art begin at home, and let it spread through the children and their parents, and through the schools, the institutions, and through government.

And let us start by acceptance, not negation--acceptance that the arts are important everywhere, and that they can exist and flourish in small places as well as in large; with money, or without, according to the will of the people. Let us put firmly and permanently aside as a cliché of an expired moment in time that art is a frill. Let us accept the goodness of art where we are now, and expand its worth in the places where people live."

Robert Gard, Arts in the Small Community (1969)
When I read this ringing endorsement of the power of the arts in the lives of ordinary people, and the power of ordinary people in the arts, and then I think of so many of the conversations we have here in the theatrosphere and face-to-face, I am reminded of the minister's funeral oration over the body of Alex, a young man who has committed suicide, in the movie The Big Chill. The minister looks out into the assembled mourners, mostly baby boomers who have lost their idealism, and he asks, "Where did Alex's hope go?" When did we become so convinced that what we do is so little desired, so little respected? When did we lose sight of our importance to a community's understanding of who it is and what it believes?

But those are the wrong questions. Those are questions based in blame and retribution, questions that points us to the past: how did we get here? It is what Carolynn Myss calls "woundology," a focusing on one's injuries and wrongs, a dwelling in the past instead of the future. How we got here is unimportant; where we are going is crucial. As artists, we need to commit to a conversation about possibility.

Peter Block, in his excellent book Community: The Structure of Belonging, describes what such a conversation is like:
The possibility conversation frees us to be pulled by a new future. The distinction is between possibility, which lives into the future, and problem solving, which makes improvements on the past. This distinction takes its value from an understanding that living systems are propelled by the force of the future, and possibility as we use it one way of speaking of the future.

Possibility occurs as a declaration, and declaring a possibility wholeheartedly can, in fact, be the transformation. The leadership task is to postpone problem solving and stay focused on possibility until it is spoken with resonance and passion. The good news is that once we have fully declared a possibility, it works on us -- we do not have to work on it.

The challenge with possibility is it gets confused with goals, predictions, and optimism. Possibility is not about what we plan to happen, or what we think will happen, or whether things will get better. Goals, prediction, and optimism don't create anything; they just might make things a little better and cheer us up in the process. Nor is possibility simply a dream. Dreaming leaves us bystanders or observers of our lives. Possibility creates something new. It is a declaration of a future that has thye quality of being and aliveness that we choose to live into. It is framed as a declaration of the world that I want to inhabit. It is a statement of who I am that transcends our history, our story, our usual demographics. The power is in the act of declaring...The future is created through a declaration of what is the possibility we stand for.
What possibility do you stand for? Block asks, "What is the crossroads where you find yourself at this stage of your life or in the project around which we are assembled?" Or more directly, and to my mind even more powerfully: "What declaration of possibility can you make that has the power to transform the community and inspire you?" And the two "overarching questions" that point to the future: "What do we want to create together that would make the difference?" And "What can we create together than we cannot create alone?"

For me, I find myself at a crossroads in this project of expanding the reach of theatre throughout America where the artist and the community meets; where virtuosity and specialization meets human creativity and common wisdom; where fear meets trust.

In a chapter near the end of Patrick Overton's outstanding book Rebuilding the Front Porch of America called "The Deep Voice: The Relationship Between Art, Spirituality, and Healing," Overton, who testified in front of Congress during the hearings about the NEA's support of controversial art in 1990, makes a declaration of possibility:
The arts aren't the cause of the crisis facing our culture, they are a cure. The arts aren't the source of the hurting in our society, they are a way of healing the pain. The arts are not in and of themselves, evil; they are an authentic expression of self that manifest in an individual's courage to face life as it really is. Art that is not an authentic expression of self is not art -- it is propaganda, or a product -- but it is not art. Art is the voice of the soul struggling to express what it means to be human.
He discusses participating in a think tank meeting for the Theatre Program of the NEA where there were two members who had a history together, and what seemed opposite visions of the arts.
One, from a very prestigious private foundation, kept talking about the beauty and magnificence of art because it lifted her spirit. To her, art makes meaning and beauty and this is the kind of art her foundation was interested in funding, This is art that inspires transcendence. The other person was from a theatre company from the south and he talked about art as that which must challenge the status quo. To him, art is not something created to be beautiful, or to make people pleasant or happy or comfortable. Art is something that confronts what is wrong and unjust in our society and is designed to make people feel uncomfortable. To him art reveals what is wrong with out world and, in so doing. demands something be done to change it. This is art that inspires transformation.

As I listened to them, it seemed to me they weren't really disagreeing. In essence, they were both saying the same thing, but in a different weay. To understand the nature of art, we have to understand it in both its "ascendant" and "descendant" purpose. Art can, through ascendance, through the elevation of the human spirit, help us transcend what we know, what we see, what we understand. When art does this it is "awful" (that is, full of awe). This is when art lifts the spirit. It is the exhale -- art that empties us and sucks the air out of our lungs because of its power and the truth of the simple/complexity it protrays in such a profound way. This is when art reveals mystery and truth and grasps us with such intensity that it transcends the human condition, and leaves us changed, forever. Art is one of the few things left in our world that can create this much-needed sense of "awe-fullness" in us.

But there is another function in art, art as descendence. Art can be an invitation (sometimes compelling) to descend from the surface of our lives -- beyond the facade and the masks, to the depths of our existence -- the deep place where truth exists. When art does this, it is the inhale -- driving us into ourselves, forcing us to gasp for air, taking in the force and intensity of the experience inside of us because of the power and the truth of the simple/compelcity it portrays in such a powerful way.

The one, the descendent function, reveals what is and shouldn't be. The other, the ascendent function, reveals what isn't but could be. Art can be beautiful and lift our spirits -- but art can also force us to face the truth -- to descend to the deep place and see the world as it is and shouldn't be. They both do the same thing -- they are a way we can transcend the condition of our lives -- a way we are transformed. These two functions cannot be separated -- they are converse images of the same creative force -- the same truth.
He then, in one of the most powerful descriptions of what art can do to heal, describes when he was invited to speak at the dedication of the Huntsville Vietnam Memorial in 1994. A Vietnam veteran himself, Overton had not spoken about his experience in Vietnam since his return to the US in 1968. Reluctantly, he agreed. He stood up in front of a crowd of older and younger people, mostly veterans of various wars, and he talked about his experiences on a flagship in the Gulf of Tonkin, and later in a naval hospital in Japan. He closed his speech by reading a poem that he wrote specifically for the dedication ceremony about his experiences with the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC. The poem, entitled The Healing Wall, is stunning and deeply felt, and while I would like to share it with you, it is much too long for this already-long post. But in it, he describes his unwillingness to experience the wall, and then his eventual visit in which he looked for a name that he did not find -- his own, and he felt the pain of having survived. He ended the poem with this line: "No more walls, please, no more walls."

He writes:
I will never forget that afternoon in Huntsville. It was an emotional experience for all of us. Following my speech, people were very quiet, still. It reminded me of my visit to the Wall in DC. Slowly, people began to move, looking through the crowd for someone to hold, to hug. There was a need to touch. There was not a lot of talking. I saw men of my father's generation with tears running down their faces, something that is all too rare for them. I saw sons and fathers embrace -- with a kind of knowing and understanding that may not have existed before. That afternoon in May invited a small community, deeply wounded by the war, to heal. My speech and poetry did not do the healing. The people did. What I did was extend the invitation. What writing the poem did was invite me to name my own healing and celebrate it. And, by sharing the poem with that community, I invited others to name their own healing and celebrate it with each other as well.
After I read his poem, and imagined his reading of it, and after I finished the essay, I wondered whether it was ascendant or descendent art, and the more I thought about it, the more I felt that it was both, like a descent into hell and a resurrection. In Ireland, Frank Delaney tells a story of an Ulster king who always had his cart pulled by two horses, a black horse and a white horse, because they represented both sides of himself that he must always ride yoked together. Perhaps that is when art is truly transcendent and inspired.

Overton describes a possibility for theatre and for the arts -- a possibility of healing. Sometimes healing requires surgery -- the cutting of flesh and the inflicting of pain in order to remove that which is diseased. Other times, what is required is nursing, care-full tending and attention. But the motivation is the same: to heal. That is an attitude of goodwill, of caring.

And so I declare here the possibility of caring as a relationship between artist and community, a mutual healing to be shared through descendence and ascendance, inhaling and exhaling, together. I declare the possibility that our fellow citizens hunger for what we can create together, by bringing our imaginations together in one place, and that like Jesus with the loaves and fishes, we can feed everyone through an attitude of abundance. I declare the possibility that all people everywhere share this hunger, and deserve to be fed what will most nourish them.

What is your possibility? What is the crossroads where you find yourself at this stage of your life or work in the project around which we are assembled? What declaration of possibility can you make that has the power to transform the community and inspire you?

Monday, October 01, 2012

Rural Arts at

The first article of a weeklong series at about rural arts has appeared: Dudley Cocke's Rural Theatre in a Democracy

As the week continues, you will find the following:

  • Monday, 5pm EDT: Donna Neuwirth (WormFarm)
  • Tuesday, 5pm EDT: Scott Walters (CRADLE)
  • Wednesday, 11:30a EDT: Nikiko Masumoto (Independent Artist)
  • Wednesday, 5pm EDT: Patrick Overton (Front Porch Institute)
  • Thursday, 5pm EDT: Friday Phone Call Podcast with Noah Siegler (Stage North)
  • Friday, 5pm EDT: LaMoine MacLaughlin (Northern Lakes Center for the Arts)
  • Saturday, 11am EDT: Matthew Fluharty, Rural Arts & Culture Conference Wrap Up (Art of the Rural)

I have enjoyed curating this series, and would like to thank all the authors who wroked so quickly to provide excellent articles on the state of rural arts in America. I hope my readers will check it out.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


So I just got the following press release. After all this time, I don't really need to spell this out, do I? I'll highlight the cities and link to their counties. Bottom line: rich get richer. Same ole same ole. Thanks TCG and Met Life for continuing to define "innovative idea development" in terms of the same people doing the same thing: in-school theatre classes, expanding upon already existing theatre engagement practices, exchanging artists. Seriously? This is what passes for innovation at TCG?

August 23, 2012                                                                                                            

MetLife Foundation and Theatre Communications Group Announce Fifth Round Recipients of the A-ha! Program

New YorkNY – MetLife Foundation and Theatre Communications Group (TCG) announce the fifth round of recipients for theMetLife/TCG A-ha! Program: Think It, Do It, which supports the creative thinking and action of TCG Member Theatres with the goal of impacting the larger theatre community. Five theatres were awarded grants totaling $225,000 to either research and develop new ideas or experiment and implement innovative concepts.

The A-ha! Program has two components: Think It grants ($25,000), which give theatre professionals the time and space for research and development and Do It grants ($50,000), which support the implementation and testing of new ideas. The projects supported by the A-ha! Program will go on to impact more than just the recipient theatres. Successful initiatives will serve as models for theatre and arts professionals across the country.  

“Theatres are filled with creative and entrepreneurial minds that rarely have access to the risk capitol needed to conceive and test out new ideas,” said Teresa Eyring, executive director of TCG. “This round of the A-ha! Program will empower innovative idea development and action in areas like artisan exchange, community engagement and arts education.”

“The recipients of the fifth round of the A-ha! Program exemplify MetLife Foundation’s commitment to building livable communities through access to the arts,” said Dennis White, president and CEO, MetLife Foundation. “We are proud to continue our partnership with TCG and serve as a catalyst for the creativity and risk-taking that are essential to the growth of the not-for-profit theatre field.”

The 2012 MetLife/TCG A-ha! Program recipients are:

  • California Shakespeare Theater, BerkeleyCA
    California Shakespeare Theater’s Artist as Investigator project will invite 10 artists to lead experiments in new methodologies in how theatre is made, with whom it is made, and to what end it is made.

Atlantic Theater Company and Park Slope Collegiate, a public high school in Brooklyn, will partner on Staging Success, providing four years of in-school theatre classes to more than 300 students and an intensive afterschool mentorship for select seniors.

Cornerstone Theatre Company will expand upon their existing community-engagement efforts by providing tools and resources to community participants for ongoing impact, thereby improving economic viability in the communities they serve.

Mixed Blood will assemble a comprehensive national database of both artists with disabilities and English-language plays that explore worlds of disability in content, as central theme or via character.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival will develop an Artisan Exchange of production skills and resources with three to five other theatres. Three to five OSF craftspeople will work eight to twelve weeks at those theatres, and will in turn host three to five artisans to assume parallel jobs at OSF.
For more information about the program and previous recipients, visit:

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Eating the Economic Orange

Leo Hwang-Carlos, who will be at Double Edge Theatre in Ashfield MA this weekend to participate in a rural arts work group discussion, does a great job explaining why the economy is more than the numbers reported by economists. I was particularly impressed by his description of all the ways he participates in the economy, and wonder how young people in high school or college might be educated to think of different ways of making ends meet than simply using a paycheck to pay for goods and services. A more varied approach might free up time for creativity.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The WAITlist

Traditional writers in the mainstream media (and, as I found out a while ago, many leaders of prominent arts organizations) see bloggers as, to quote Spiro Agnew (I can't believe I am quoting Spiro Agnew), "nattering nabobs of negativity" -- people with uniformed opinions, loud voices, and a free platform. As a long-time blogger myself, I not surprisingly don't see it that way. Nevertheless, I do find myself drawn to bloggers who make connections to other thinkers.

At one time, there was a badge that labeled blogs as (as I remember) "thinkers blog." I think you were nominated, and then could claim the badge. Theatre Ideas had such a badge, which is evidence that the moniker "thinker" was pretty loose. Nevertheless, the goal was worthy.

I'd like to replace my own blogroll with a more selective list of bloggers whose writings about theatre and the arts are thoughtful, well-read, articulate and broad (not that  my current blogroll lacks such bloggers). For a variety of reasons, over the last year or so I have lost track of what is happening in the arts blogging world and am no longer au courant, a dismal thing indeed for a blogger. So I need your help.

In the comments, I'd appreciate it if you would nominate blogs that you feel have the following characteristics for inclusion in this new blogroll, which I will call my WAITlist. The characteristics I am looking for are:

  • Well-read: the blogger references the ideas of other thinkers, not only within the arts world but, even better, in other disciplines; 
  • Articulate: the blogger writes well and communicates ideas clearly and with energy;
  • Innovative: the blogger addresses issues in the arts with originality and a questioning mind that is willing to question conventional wisdom;
  • Thoughtful: the blogger tends to consider issues fully and doesn't simply shoot from the hip.

Below are a few examples of bloggers of who I am aware that meet the criteria above -- I hope you'll add to my list:

  • Diane Ragsdale at Jumper ( I became aware of Diane when she served as the facilitator for Rocco Landesman's now-infamous "supply and demand" comments at the Arena Stage convening I attended. I love her unflinching willingness to ask the scary question while drawing my attention to the ideas of other thinkers from a variety of fields. For instance, in a recent post she used, to great effect, the 1989 book Permanently Failing Organizations by Marshall W. Meyer and Lynne G. Zucker to discuss the way that non-profit organizations might be encouraged to "persist even though they are no longer achieving their goals."
  • George Hunka at Superfluities Redux ( George, a long-time blogger who was responsible for my having become a blogger myself (so blame him), has a taste in theatre that doesn't often match up with mine, but I always find his writing passionate and deeply knowledgeable. A recent post drove me to the dictionary to find out what this "pensum" is that has been laid upon me from birth. I must confess, however, that I remain unpersuaded by George's love of Howard Barker...
  • Ian David Moss at Createquity ( Ian is a numbers guy, which I love even though it sometimes gives me a headache. (Actually, it makes me regret having taken formal logic instead of statistics for my undergraduate math requirement.) Sometimes, I wish for a few broad hacks by Ian at some sacred cows, but I forgive this because Ian has sifted through so many reports, summarizes them clearly, and provides links so I can investigate them more thoroughly myself. His writing is clear and passionate.

So there are three WAITlist bloggers. Who else should I be reading? Tell me in the comments.


  • Arlene Goldbard ( ). Arlene is a major figure in the community arts development movement. Her blog is alternately personal and global in scope. The questions she asks, and the way that she asks them, encourages me to be more generous in my thoughts.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Double Edge Theatre -- Ashfield, MA

In a few weeks, I will be traveling to Ashfield, MA for a rural arts working group meeting at Double Edge Theatre. I am looking forward not only to the conversations, but to hearing how the artists who make up Double Edge approach the creation of performances within a rural context. Matthew Glassman, a member of the company, says in the video below that the general approach is that of a kibbutz; others might characterize it as a commune. What I see are people who have figured out a way to create art by sharing resources that would normally be paid separately by individual company members.

If Michael Kaiser was truly interested in new models, I suspect that Double Edge might present one possibility. While this approach is certainly not new in the sense of never before seen, it certainly presents a way of making theatre that is ensemble-based, ongoing, international in focus, mythic in subject matter, and rooted in values very different from the mainstream theatre community. It also occurs outside of a major metropolitan area. I am very much looking forward to learning more about them.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

2012 Our Town Grants -- A Step Forward

I have finally had an opportunity to take a look at the NEA's announcement of the 2012 Our Town grants, and a quick overview makes me pleased. First of all, the press release very explicitly addresses the issue of population: "Forty-one of the 80 grants are going to communities with populations of less than 50,000 and five grants are made to communities with less than 1,000 residents (Teller, AK; Last Chance, CO; Star, NC; Uniontown, WA; Dufur, OR)." A quick visit to the Wikipedia pages for the five communities mentioned reveals that they all reside within small counties as well, and are not simply bedroom communities of metropolitan areas.

While I have not had an opportunity to analyze all of the data, I am heartened by not only the awards themselves, but also the awareness of the issue demonstrated in the press release, and I applaud Jason Schupbach, who oversees the Our Town project, and also Mr. Landesman whose leadership has led to such a shift in thinking. While it may be too much to ask for a similar distribution in all the NEA grants, this round of Our Town grants represents to my mind a step forward toward the NEA being truly a National Endowment for the Arts.

I am also very much behind in noting the announcement of a partnership between the NEA, the Department of Agriculture, the Project for Public Spaces, the Orton Family Foundation and the CommunityMatters Partnership in leading the Citizens Institute for Rural Design. I am very impressed with the NEA's pursuit of partnerships with other agencies and organizations as a way of increasing the amount of money going to the arts in this country without having to ask politicians to vote for it. Another such partnership is the ArtPlace initiative.

Over the years, and even recently, I have been grumping about the NEA's support for small and rural communities, so it is with high hopes that I applaud these recent developments as harbingers of a more decentralized and diverse arts scene here in the US.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Stone Soup

From the opening pages of Robert Theobald's book Reworking Success: New Communities at the Millenium.  

 A stranger comes to a starving town,
 Promising to make stone soup.

 He finds some firewood,
 Uses his own pot,
 Puts water on to boil.  

 As the water heats,
 He wanders around,

He adds them to the pot,
With strange muttered recipes.  

The villagers gather round.
 This is the best entertainment
 Their village has had since the famine began.  

As they listen,
They hear the stranger admit
That while stone soup is good,
It does taste better with a pinch of salt.  

 One of the crazier people,
(Or is she actually more caring?)
Brings out some salt she has hoarded.  

The stranger
 Gets bolder,
Suggests carrots,
And potatoes,
And swedes,
And dried tomatoes
And herbs.
As each one is added,
Others remember their own stores
And bring them to the common stew.  

We have all made something out of nothing,
By remembering the old, old lesson,
That together we can create opportunities
Which escape us when we hide
Our resources and skills from others.  

It is time to build community again,
To share what we have,
And to experience miracles.  

It is time to live,
Expecting grace
And finding it,
Even hourly,
In the midst
Of our harried lives.
            ----Robert Theobald

This is what participatory arts are about. It isn't about having a chef bring a great meal from somewhere else for people to eat, but rather it is about contributing what you have, no matter how meager, to the common stew. I believe that most people have artistic salt, carrots, or potatoes to bring to the table and that when we encourage them to throw it in the pot, we "experience miracles." It is time to "make something out of nothing," to bring the arts back home.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Georgia Arts Network Info

Dear Georgia Arts Network attendees,

First of all, thank you so much for your enthusiastic welcome at the conference. I truly enjoyed spending a few days with you, and found your energy and commitment inspiring.

I was asked if I would supply some information about some of the books I mentioned in the talk I gave. Here are the ones I remember:

1. Clay Shirky -- Here Comes Everybody and Cognitive Surplus. These are the books that explore the idea that people want to consume, produce, and share. A good place to start is his speech at the 2008 Web 2.0 Expo, which is on YouTube in two parts: Part One and Part Two. I think he is right in so many ways, and that we are seeing a major shift to a more participatory orientation.

2. Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson on the "Homecoming Major." Wes Jackson first floated the idea of a "Major in Homecoming" in his book Becoming Native to This Place, and Wendell Berry elaborated in his book What Matters?

3. The local economy stuff I mentioned is by Michael Shuman: The Small-Mart Revolution and Going Local. For my money, I'd start with The Small-Mart Revolution, where TINA and LOIS is described.

4. You can find the Netflix + YouTube minus (Time = Money) business model fully described here, and the general URL for CRADLE is Click on blog for Bakersville updates. Update: The book I mentioned that talked about the Denmark health club is by Chris Anderson, and is called Free: The Future of a Radical Price.

5. If you would like to listen to the Studio 360 interview that caught Jim Coleman's attention, you can do so here.

6. Also, I mentioned a blog post that attracted Studio 360: "Off to See the Wizard."

If I referred to something else that isn't mentioned here, please leave a comment or email me at Also, if you are interested in receiving a newsletter from me (I haven't actually started writing one yet), please email me and I'll put you on a list.

Again, thank you for your support!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Defending Mr. Daisey (part 2: Big Fact, Little Fact)

[cross-posted at Huffington Post]

A little over a week ago, I began this series about the flap over This American Life's hour-long "Retraction" of its January broadcast of excerpts of Mike Daisey's The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Lobs. In Act One, entitled "Lies Like Truth," I made the fairly obvious observation that theatre and journalism are not the same thing, and that we should be looking a bit more critically at Ira Glass' inability to distinguish between the two. Judging from the comments on that post, there are quite a few people who are obsessed with the "lies" that Mike Daisey told in his performance, and they fail to see that the question of "journalistic fact" in the realm of memoir and creative nonfiction is not quite as settled and cut-and-dried as they would like to make out.

Which brings us to

Act Two, "Big Fact, Little Fact."

Let's begin by revisiting the statement Ira Glass makes at the very beginning of "Retraction": "in fact-checking, our main concern was whether the things that Mike says about Apple and about its supplier, Foxconn, which makes this stuff, were true. That stuff is true. It's been corroborated by independent investigations by other journalists and studies by advocacy groups. And much of it has been corroborated by Apple itself in its own audit reports." Indeed, less than two weeks after "Retraction" was broadcast, a new report by the Fair Labor Association, a worker's rights group hired by Apple to monitor its Foxxconn operation, found, in the words of Gizmodo's Sam Biddle "Illegal working hours, legal pay, crooked unions, and danger."

Conspiracy Theory?

I tend to not be a proponent of conspiracy theories, mainly because my experience has been that people just aren't smart enough to pull conspiracies off. However, I do waver in this belief when it comes to corporations, which history has shown have repeatedly done their best to attack and undermine anyone who threatens their bottom line. So it is with some suspicion that I note the timing of TAL's "Retraction" just two weeks prior to the release of the FLA's newest report, and almost simultaneous with Apple's release of the iPad3 or whatever it is being called. And alarm bells really start going off when I read TheVerge's Niley Patel saying in his March 16th story about "Retraction," "Our sources at Apple have told us for months that the company viewed Daisey as untrustworthy..."

This week Rob Schmitz, the Marketplace reporter who worked with Ira Glass in preparing TAL's "Retraction," has a report on -- you guessed it -- Foxxconn. In the show notes, we find that Schmitz was able to visit "the carefully guarded and usually completely secret Apple supply chain...because the company wanted him to. After his story last month exposing the fabrications of high-profile critic Mike Daisey, Apple invited Rob to see its production line at the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen." This is particularly significant because Schmitz is only the second Western journalist to be allowed in Foxxconn since Daisey's exposure of the factory's conditions. To be clear, I am not suggesting a quid pro quo. On the other hand, now that Marketplace has indicated the connection between its invitation to tour Foxxconn and its attack on Daisey, the message seems pretty clear: you help Apple, and Apple will help you.

Marketplace, however, seems not in the least bit concerned that they might be perceived as a corporate lapdog. In the introduction to the part of the report on "bosses" they acknowledged that "what you're about to hear was a tour arranged by Apple and Foxconn," i.e., that what they are reporting runs the danger of having been manipulated. Nevertheless, they say,. "we thought the access was worth it." One would assume that Schmitz, taking these factors into consideration, would be particularly skeptical about what he sees. Nevertheless, he provides what amounts to an apologia for Apple by trotting out the usual story about how much worse it is to work on a Chinese farm than work 60-hour weeks on an Apple assembly line.

And so we are treated to the spectacle of Schmitz nearly absolving Apple of guilt. Again, from the Marketplace transcript: "Last week, Marketplace's Rob Schmitz actually got inside a Foxconn factory in the southern city of Shenzhen. He didn't meet anybody who was poisoned on the job. He didn't meet any 13-year-old workers. Nobody he talked to had been hurt in an explosion. He says the stories he heard were more about China than Apple."

Did he really think that, on a tour of the facility arranged by Apple and Foxxconn that he would meet underaged workers, people poisoned on the job, or people who had been hurt in a explosion?

Political and Economic Pressures

Before we examine the specific issues, I'd like to mention something that, to my knowledge, hasn't been discussed much in relation to this story: Mike Daisey's translator, Cathy, who is used as the primary source for discrediting Daisey's stories. Given all the journalistic bravado on display in "Retraction," I was a little puzzled to find that Cathy, a single source who like Daisey didn't keep any notes from two years ago, was being treated as if her statements were God's truth. While I am not myself a journalist, it seems to me that at best a journalist might create a "he-said-she-said" scenario in which readers are asked to weigh the statements and decide for ourselves who to believe. Yet Ira Glass and Robert Schmitz treat each of Cathy's memories unquestioningly as objective fact. And while I have no evidence to discount the veracity of her statements or the accuracy of her memory, it seems to me a salient fact that she is a citizen of what can most generously be described as a totalitarian Chinese state who makes her living serving as a translator for businessmen visiting China. Her life and livelihood may, in fact, be dependent on denying the very things that Daisey was committed to exposing. Nevertheless, Schmitz doesn't even hint at the possibility that Cathy's memory might be influenced by political and economic pressure. Yet in Schmitz's Foxxconn report on Marketplace, he reports about an interview with a Foxxconn worker whose boyfriend (a Foxxconn supervisor), when she complained about her job, "steps in and whispers to her: 'You shouldn't be saying this to a foreign journalist.'" Is it too far-fetched to imagine a similar pressure, perhaps less direct, being applied to Cathy?

Nevertheless, if, as TAL acknowledges, the big facts about Foxxconn are true, then what lies are there that could undermine them so thoroughly that even someone at The Nation took potshots at Daisey? Let's take a look, and for each let's examine whether it calls into question the center of Daisey's narrative about working conditions at Foxxconn.

Little Facts

Right off the bat, Schmitz mentions the two things that made him and other overseas reporters begin questioning Daisey's narrative: guns and Starbucks. Daisey remembers Foxxconn security guards with guns, whereas Schmitz tells us that guards are not allowed to have guns in China, a fact which Cathy confirms. This one does seem to be a problem, and while Daisey continues to be puzzled that he remembers guns, the legal prohibition seems persuasive. It is a good issue to start out with, since it seems unshakeable.

But the Starbucks issue seems flimsy at best. Daisey says that members of an illegal union with whom he met said they talk a lot at coffee houses and Starbucks. Schmitz: "Factory workers who make $15, $20 a day are sipping coffee at Starbucks? Starbucks is pricier in China than in the US." Seriously? Apparently, this is the level of journalistic "fact" that Schmitz is going to deal with. Daisey has always been very clear that he doesn't take detailed notes, and creates his performances each night from an outline scenario not a memorized text. But in going on TAL, he apparently opens himself to attack because, in trying to communicate with an American audience, he uses a common coffee shop brand to create recognition? As the basis for an expose, this seems pretty skimpy.

In fact, this is the point where my internal warning alarm began going off. Because Schmitz follows this non-revelation with the following: "We all noticed these errors. And it made us wonder, what else in Daisey's monologue wasn't true?" And what follows is guilt by accretion: the building up of little fact after little fact to imply that the big facts are untrue. Here is a list of the litle facts that Schmitz uncovered -- and let's keep in mind the Big Question: do these details really undermine the issues surrounding Foxxconn employment practices?:
  • Whether Daisey decided to portray a businessman before or after he visited Foxxconn's gates.
  • Whether or not a blacklist Daisey was given by a "bird-like woman" whom both he and Cathy agree gave him said blacklist had an "official government stamp."
  • Was Cathy with Daisey on a cab ride that ended up on an exit ramp 85 feet in the air? Or was Daisey all alone?
  • Was the "emotional conversation" that Daisey said he had with Cathy really emotional?
  • Did Cathy warn Daisey that interviewing workers at the Foxxconn gate wouldn't work?
  • These are trivial details that are part of the narrative frame used to tell a story -- they have no bearing on the reality of Foxxconn abuses. They certainly don't establish that Daisey is a "liar," but rather that he is a storyteller. And no, those are not the same thing (see Act One). Other damning details according to Schmitz:
  • Daisey says he met hundreds of workers, Cathy says fifty -- both agree he met workers.
  • Daisey says he went to ten factories, Cathy says three -- both agree he visited factories.
  • Daisey said he met with 25-30 illegal union members, Cathy says two to five -- both agree he visited with illegal union members. (And in this particular case, given that the union is illegal, might not Cathy be inclined to downplay the numbers just a bit?)

Nibbled by Ducks

Eric Severeid famously said that dealing with network executives was like being nibbled to death by ducks. I suspect Daisey knows how he feels. All of these are details within the narrative frame that really don't touch on the central purpose of Daisey's performance, all journalistic huffing and puffing to contrary. I continue to be astonished by the number of people who seem willing to dismiss Daisey's performance in toto because of a difference in memory between two people, neither of whom have notes, and one of whom might have political reasons for downplaying abuses. It seems an extreme over-reaction.

But the effect on the national discussion of this issue is significant: Daisey has been removed from the picture as far as the latest FLA report on Foxxconn. Instead of Daisey's moral outrage being included in news reports, we have a collective sigh of boredom from the journalist class, one best characterized again by Gizmodo's Sam Biddle, who writes about the FLA report: "Nothing shocking -- mostly just the confirmation of what we've been reading and seeing for months, though it's certainly possible workers held back form fear of corporate retribution." Ho hum. Another day, another sweatshop.

Underage Workers and the Claw-Handed Man

There are two main "facts" that Daisey's critics regularly bring up: the claw-handed man, and the underage workers. We'll start with the latter.

Schmitz admits, "Underage workers are sometimes caught working at Apple suppliers. Apple's own audit says in 2010, when Daisey was in China, Apple found 10 facilities, where 91 underage workers were hired." But Schmitz says Cathy doesn't remember an underaged worker. Cathy says, "I think if she said she was 13 or 12, then I would be surprised. I would be very surprised. Then I'd be remembering for sure." And Schmitz fills in, "She'd be surprised because, she says, in the 10 years she's visited factories in Shenzhen, she's hardly ever seen underage workers." And Schmitz -- surprise surprise -- didn't see any either. So they must not exist. Except for, you know, those workers Apple mentioned in their own 2010 audit -- the year that Daisey visited.

And the Claw-Handed Man -- the man whose hand had been damaged in an industrial accident and who was fired thereafter for working too slowly. "Cathy does remember this guy," Schmitz admits. "But she says the man never told them he had ever worked at Foxconn." She doesn't remember where he worked, but just that she didn't think it was Foxxconn. In Daisey's story, he reaches into his bag and hands his iPad to the man, who looks at it in awe because in China iPads are outlawed, and he says "It's a kind of magic." I can imagine this moment onstage, and I can imagine that it is powerful. It is a moment of pure theatre, one that takes reality and compresses it into an image that burns into the memory and singes the heart. And whether this man worked at Foxxconn or Wintek is irrelevant to the moment's power, or the bedrock truth of that moment.

But what seems to really irritate Schmitz is that this story is "the most dramatic point in Daisey's monologue. Apparently, on stage, it's one of the most emotional moments in the show." And so it's effect is magnified, which is the purpose of theatre. Indeed, Cathy suggests that because Daisey's a writer, "I know what he says, maybe only half of them or less are true. But he's allowed to do that, right? Because he's not a journalist." To which Schmitz replies: "I don't know. You're right. He's a writer. He's a writer and an actor. However, his play is helping form the opinions of many Americans." And we can' t have that -- that's the role of journalists.

Why Daisey Is Important

Glass finishes "Retraction" with an interview with New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg, who shortly after TAL's original Foxxconn broadcast, published a front page story entitled "In China, Work Hazards Reveal the Human Costs of the iPad." The synopsis of Duhigg's feature reads as follows: "The workers assembling iPhones, iPads and other devices often labor in harsh conditions. Problems are as varied as onerous work environments and sometimes deadly safety problems. In some cases, employees work seven days a week. They live in crowded dorms and some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk. Under-age workers have helped build Apple's products, and the company's suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and falsified records." Sounds familiar, right? Sounds like something that "liar" Mike Daisey said.

Nevertheless, Glass uses Duhigg as a contrast to Daisey to discuss what he calls "the news that's fit to print.". After Duhigg has mentioned that many Chinese workers want to work as many hours as possible because they need to send money back home to their impoverished familiy, and how incredibly quickly Chinese industry is able to bring together 8,700 industrial engineers to oversee 200,000 workers, Glass addresses the elephant in the room: "To get to the normative question that's kind of underlying all the reporting and all the discussion of this, the thing that we all want to know when we hear this is, like, wait, should I feel bad about this? You know what I mean? As somebody who owns these products, should I feel bad? And I don't know that I feel so bad when I hear this." And Duhigg responds, "So it's not my job to tell you whether you should feel bad or not, right? I'm a reporter for the New York Times."

I would suggest that, when it comes to a humanitarian question, that isn't good enough. In the midst of all this breast-beating about the niggling details of Daisey's story, what has been lost is the true moral outrage that the Foxxconn factory represented in 2010 and, if the FLA report is to be believed, still represents in 2012. Daisey's performance made these abuses powerful and personal, and he made people feel a sense of responsibility. He knew whether his audiences were supposed to feel bad or not, and he didn't back away from acting on that knowledge. Without that voice, which Schmitz and Glass have removed from the discussion, the pressure on Apple has lessened -- and that is a shame.

Steve Wozniak said, after seeing The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, "I will never be the same after seeing that show." That should be the goal. When Ira Glass invited Mike Daisey to do an excerpt of his performance, he acknowledged the moral significance of that goal. And Daisey was right to say "everything I have done in making this monologue for the theater was bent toward that end, to make people care. I'm not going to say that I didn't take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard. But I stand behind the work. My mistake, the mistake I truly regret, is that I had it on your show as journalism. And it's not journalism. It's theater. It uses the tools of theater and memoir to achieve its dramatic arc. And of that arc and that work I'm very proud. Because I think it made you care, Ira. And I think it made you want to delve. And my hope is it has made other people delve."

And that is what has been lost thanks to TAL's "Retraction." Now it is up to journalists to make people care and make people want to delve. Do we really think that will happen?

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Defending Mr. Daisey (part 1 of 3)

[Also posted on Huffington Post]


On March 16, Ira Glass devoted an entire episode of This American Life to doing that which newspapers do with a few sentences in a small box buried on an inside page: retracting an error. In this case, the error was the January 6th episode entitled Mike Daisey and the Apple Factory, a broadcast devoted to the working conditions at Apple's supplier Foxxconn. Since then, following Glass' lead, there has been a great deal of commentary condemning Daisey for his "fabrications." Nevertheless, recent news reports have confirmed that the conditions at Foxxconn are as bad or worse than Daisey described.

Over three days, here on the Huffington Post Culture page, we'll look at this controversy from three different perspectives. Act One: Lies Like Truth, in which we look at the difference between art and journalism. Act Two: Big Fact, Little Fact, in which we examine the importance of the "fabrications" and the basis for labeling them as such. And finally, Act Three: The Full Winfrey, in which we explore Glass' seeming attempt to claim a spot as the next Oprah.

I'm Scott Walters. Stay with us.

Act One: Lies Like Truth

When Ira Glass and This American Life broadcast its "Retraction" of their story that featured Mike Daisey's The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, I was in rehearsal and didn't have the time to write. I've spent my adult life doing and teaching theatre, and I've even done research into the traditions of one-person shows. So my reaction was perhaps a little bit different than most: I laughed out loud, and then I got angry. Both reactions were directed at Ira Glass. Let me explain.

When I first heard Glass' quavering opening remarks, as if he were announcing to the world the death of Tinkerbell right there on his show, all I could think of was all of the bad actors I've heard over my career desperately trying to sound "distraught" during a Henrik Ibsen or Tennessee Williams audition monologue. "I'm coming to you today to say something that I've never had to say on our program," he intoned, voice uninflected as if he were trying to maintain control of his emotions. "Two months ago, we broadcast a story that we've come to believe [deep, deep breath] is not true." Oh, spare me.

But when he mentioned the story was Daisey's, I pricked up my ears. Could it be that all those stories Daisey had been telling about the horrendous conditions at Foxxconn weren't true after all? I listened, trying to ignore the delivery and focus on the words themselves.

Glass went on, "We did fact-check the story before we put it on the radio." Oh, well, OK, I thought, did you miss one? "But in fact-checking,,." he continued, "our main concern was whether the things that Mike says about Apple and about its supplier, Foxconn, which makes this stuff, were true. That stuff is true. It's been corroborated by independent investigations by other journalists and studies by advocacy groups. And much of it has been corroborated by Apple itself in its own audit reports."

At this moment, I felt myself doing a blink take made famous by George Burns back in the Golden Age of Television, when his wife Gracie would say something incomprehensible and George would turn to camera with a confused look on his face and cigar suspended mid-puff.

I listened with growing incredulity as Glass said, "But what's not true is what Mike said about his own trip to China." Did Daisey not actually go to China? Did he make the whole thing up? Surely it has to be something as major as this to require an entire hour to retract. Glass turned the program over to Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz, who to my amazement outlined the "issues" that were causing Daisey's story to "unravel." We'll talk about these in Act Two, but right now I'd like to rewind to the original January broadcast.

In the Prologue, Glass tells his listeners, "A couple weeks ago I saw this one-man show where this guy did something on stage I thought was really kind of amazing. He took this fact that we all already know, right, this fact that our stuff is made overseas in maybe not the greatest working conditions, and he made the audience actually feel something about that fact. Which is really quite a trick. You really have to know how to tell a story to be able to pull something like that off. And I bring this up because today we are excerpting that story here on the radio show.... What you are about to hear is an excerpt of Mike Daisey's show which he adapted for the radio and performed for a small audience." By the way, those italics were mine.

So let's stop right there. Glass, someone who has spent 17 years telling stories on This American Life, saw Daisey's show -- a show done on a stage in a theatre where tickets are sold -- and he was emotionally affected. Through his talents as a storyteller, Daisey was able to turn facts that "we all already know" into something that made the audience "actually feel something about that fact." Which is sort of what theatre is all about, right? And Glass was so impressed that he asked Daisey to do an excerpt of the play on the radio. And excerpt. Of a play. By a storyteller.

And they fact-checked the stuff about Apple, and it all checked out. In fact, the second part of the broadcast was a bunch of experts confirming the details of Foxxconn and its ilk. All good.
What made it necessary to retract, then? Because the details of the framing story, Daisey's trip to China, didn't happen exactly as he said. Things were altered a bit in order to make the audience "actually feel something" about the issue. Daisey explained, "It's theater. It uses the tools of theater and memoir to achieve its dramatic arc. And of that arc and that work I'm very proud. Because I think it made you care, Ira. And I think it made you want to delve. And my hope is it has made other people delve.... I don't know that I would say in a theatrical context that it isn't true. I believe that when I perform it in a theatrical context in the theater, that when people hear the story in those terms, that we have different languages for what the truth means." Yes, those italics were mine again.

In response to this explanation, Glass utters a few sentences that made me whoop with laughter. This oh-so-sophisticated Ira Glass, the hipster who has spent years smirking through my radio at the absurdities of common folks, blurts out "normal people who go to see a person talk-- people take it as a literal truth. I thought the story was literally true seeing it in the theater....I took you at your word. But I feel like I have the normal worldview. The normal worldview is somebody stands on a stage and says, "This happened to me," I think it happened to them, unless it's clearly labeled, "Here's a work of fiction." Yes, those italics are mine again.

I'm sorry, but as a theatre historian, I find absurd the idea that someone standing on a stage using the first person singular is speaking literal truth. Samuel Taylor Coleridge talked about the "willing suspension of disbelief," the idea that we pretend what we're seeing on the stage is really happening. Did Glass believe that everything Spalding Gray said in, say, Swimming to Cambodia or Monster in the Box literally happened in that order and just as he said it? Gray uses the first person singular, after all, just as Daisey does. I wondered whether Glass also believed that reality TV was, you know, actually reality.

To reiterate: Daisey is using the tools of theater and memoir. Why is that significant? In 1996, Frank McCourt's memoir Angela's Ashes won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction. As Jack Hart points out in his book Story Craft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction, "only a few voices questioned how McCourt could remember exact dialogue from his early childhood. Aggrieved citizens of Limerick, the Irish city where much of McCourt's action takes place, did step forward to point out dozens of errors in his description of the city.... Nobody claimed McCourt's memoir was invented from the ground up, but much of his dialogue was obviously invented and he clearly didn't apply [journalistic] standards to verify historical accuracy." To my knowledge, McCourt still possesses the Pulitzer for nonfiction, and his book doesn't reside among the novels on the shelves of my local independent bookstore. Certainly nobody devoted an entire hour of radio to "exposing" McCourt.

As Hart points out, "Creative nonfiction textbooks differ widely on their standards of accuracy," and he quotes Sondra Perl's and Mimi Schwartz's Writing True:The Art and Craft of Creative Nonfiction when they say, "Go to a writers' conference on creative nonfiction and two terms - emotional truth and factual truth -- create a storm of controversy." Indeed, Perl and Schwarts argue, "If we stick only to hard, verifiable facts, our past is as skeletal as line drawings in a coloring book. We must color them in," which includes letting "imagination fill in details we only vaguely remember." Indeed, that's what makes "facts that we already know" into something we "actually feel something about," the very thing that drew Glass to Daisey in the first place.

We find a similar situation when examining the Latin American form known as testimonia, which Kimberly A. Nance, in Can Literature Promote Justice?, defines as "a first-person narrative of injustice, an insistence that the subject's experience is representative of a larger class, and an intent to work toward a more just future..." She goes on, "Although the genre is frequently characterized as didactic, that description fails to recognize that the goal of testimonia is not only to educate readers about injustice, but to persuade those readers to act." Nance finds roots for the genre in Aristotle's writings on rhetoric, which characterized "deliberative speech" as speech that "asks decision-makers to determine whether or not to undertake a future action; its means are persuasion and dissuasion." In other words, testimonio shapes facts into a narrative that makes people actually feel something about those facts, and actually encourages them to do something about it. Which is precisely what Daisey's work does.

The point is that this issue of truth and fact, memoir and journalism, and theater for God's sake is not quite as simple as Glass and Schmitz would like to make it. At a time when another emotionally affecting work, Kony 2012, is being hammered for "over-simplifying" a complex topic, I find it ironic that Ira Glass is being allowed to get away with the over-simplification of this issue, and the artistic community is allowing it to occur. Yes, it makes sense to expect that the most important aspects of Daisey's monologue be able to stand up to scrutiny -- and I repeat that reports continue to verify the truth of Daisey's assertions about Foxxconn, and Ira Glass does not deny those facts -- but to expect that they should be able to excerpt a theatre piece, a work of testimonia, a memoir, a performance by a storyteller on the radio and suddenly expect it to stand up to journalistic standards in every particular is naïve at best and dishonest at worst. What drew Glass to Daisey's performance was his ability to tell a story in a way that affected an audience and moved them to delve further. As Adam Matthews says in his recent article at the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, "Blaming Mike Daisey for lying about Steve Jobs misses the point... Foxconn does need to reform its high-pressure environment. And so do a staggering number of Chinese manufacturers, across various categories."

Stay tuned for Act Two: Big Fact, Little Fact. Next.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Counting New Beans Update

I have heard from a couple people involved with the Counting New Beans book that was just released with information that pertains to my previous post. Clayton Lord, the director of communications and audience development at Theatre Bay, wrote:
I wanted to let you know that we continue adding stops on the tour, and that, while they still remain somewhat city-based, we are trying in particular to reach south (and north). I will be speaking on the work in Toronto and Kitchner-Waterloo in April, and in St. Louis and Nashville in May. We are also hoping to line up stops in Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Seattle, San Diego and others - all still cities of course, but as Aaron kindly pointed out, we are limited in our money for the dissemination part of this work, and are trying to reach as many people as we can in one fell swoop. To that point, however, both the DC and San Francisco events will be streamed live on the Internet, and at least one of those will be made available afterward for anyone, anywhere to watch. We are grateful for the amazing amount of attention the work is getting, and I personally hope that as many people in as many places, urban and rural, as possible will hear about it. Info on future dates will be posted and publicized as we confirm details at
I appreciate the streaming of the events, which allows greater dissemination to a wider audience. I will note, however, that one of the problems in rural areas is that broadband is not widely available, so a streaming video often isn't very helpful. This is one of the ways, in addition to little arts funding, that small and rural areas are not simply ignored by our urban-oriented society, but actually hindered in their development. I would urge those city folk who every once in a while get grumpy about the government money given to corporate agri-business for agriculture to keep in mind that, for large chunks of rural America it is still in the mid-90s when dial-up was the norm. Which is not to say that streaming isn't valuable, but rather that it is not a solution. The "trying to reach as many people as we can" argument is, of course, understandable, but it also reflects the kind of thinking that has worked against rural arts funding since its inception. I think advocates for rural arts, as I am, cannot be expected to always be "understanding" of a situation that discriminates against us.

Arlene Goldbard, who I admire without reservation, emailed to point out that, while she contributed an essay to the volume, she "had no role in formulating or conducting the research, nor in the roll-out of the book." I apologize if I implied that she did. What I meant to say is that both she and Dudley Cocke of Roadside/Appalshop, two giants in the field of rural arts, have a presence in the book, and it might have been a good idea to acknowledge that by scheduling a meeting in such a venue. The authors might be surprised -- while there may not be a crowd of "theatre professionals" there, they might find quite a bit of interest from "just folks" who have an interest in the arts, and who actually might be a valuable audience to speak to.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Counting New Beans Data Dissemination Sessions

I just received in the mail today a copy of Theatre Bay Area's newly released Counting New Beans: Intrinsic Impact and the Value of Art. While I am opening a show Thursday and won't get to reading the book until later, the letter that was included with the book, dated March 5 2012, had a sentence that confirmed once again the centralization of the arts in America. This sentence read as follows:

Please consider attending one of the data dissemination sessions happening across the country in the month of March: Chicago (3/12), Minneapolis (3/13), Boston (3/20), Washington DC (3/22), Philadelphia (3/23), Los Angeles (3/27) and San Francisco (3/30).
1. I received this book in the mail today, March 16 after two of the sessions have already been held.
2. Each of those sessions are scheduled in major metropolitan areas -- no attempt is made to even hint that a small or rural community might be interested in this, despite the prominent participation of Arlene Goldbard, for whom rural arts development is a major issue. I might have suggested Whiteburg KY, home of Appalshop, as a worthy site.
3. Every one of those are northern cities. Apparently these new beans have nothing to do with anyplace below the Mason-Dixon line.

I find it disappointing that I have to assume such a petty tone when these things happen, but until I see that the issue of geographical diversity is being considered by governmental and private arts organizations and foundations I guess I will have to continue to do so.

I appreciate receiving the book. I hope its scope will be wider than its publicity. Arlene? Diane Ragsdale? Any response?

Friday, March 09, 2012

Thursday, March 08, 2012

My TEDxMichiagnAve Talk Now on the TED Site

I was surprised and pleased to see that my TEDxMichigan Ave talk from last May entitled "Bringing the Arts Back Home" has been transferred to the TED site.There seem to be 13 of the presentations posted (I don't know if that is all of them). In case you missed it:

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Theatre Ideas and Huffington Post

Dear Readers -- I have just been invited to be a contributor to the theater section of the Huffington Post. I am honored and happy to accept. This will not affect this blog -- my writing will be cross-posted. But look for me there within a week or so.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Film Subsidies

Let me get this straight: the State of Texas gave the producers of The Tree of Life $434,252.79 as a subsidy for them to shoot a single film in Texas. And the NEA annual budget is how much?

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 ...