naked democracy and other news

Okay so I went to see Democracy In America at PS122 tonight. And I don’t want to give anything away but, um, I earned this tequila by taking off all my clothes. Onstage. That’s right. Totally Naked Culturebot. Culture-Butt! Heh-heh.

I think there’s going to be a lot of drinking going on downtown. I debated a lot about reporting this, but I got a phone call from a techie friend of mine in Brooklyn, and then received emails from several other people about what happened, so I figured its going to be public anyway, eventually. One of the prominent downtown theaters let go of its entire production staff. I heard rumors from the artistic director of a well-regarded downtown company that the theater was facing some financial challenges but was surprised to hear about the drastic staff reduction. I mean, I’ve seen it happen at other places recently, but still, this is a surprise. It seems to be going around in various arts orgs. What does this portend? With many of the major “downtown” arts presenting organizations facing serious accumulated deficits, staff reductions, restructuring, executive transitions and, quite possibly reduced programming, how will this effect the arts landscape? How is this related to the larger, national fiscal crises? It seems weird that there could be a bust when there never was a boom! (at least in the arts).

And please remember, I’m writing this as someone who LOVES LOVES LOVES theater and arts in NYC! Having been an artist, employee and administrator, having been involved in organizational transitions and having an understanding of the circumstances the bring about financial challenges, I’m not writing this to point the finger at anyone. What I’m ultimately doing, I hope,  is encouraging a public discussion of the state of arts institutions in NYC.

Not to get all “therapy-speak” on this, but finances, and the organizational dysfunction that lead to crisis, are like alcoholism or incest in some way, its always a family’s dirty little secret. But things will only get better if people are willing to discuss this stuff in public. Each little “arts organization family” deals with it in their own way, people get hurt, the organizations get bollixed up and in the end its the art and the audience that loses most. Which is not to dismiss the emotional pain of being someone who poured their heart and soul and sweat into an institution for not a lot of money because they love the art and then …

Okay. But seriously – there should be a serious study done by one of the big funders/foundations into organizational dysfunction in the arts sector. And there should be a serious program – way beyond an MFA in arts management, which to be perfectly honest is total bullshit. We should  go back to an apprentice system where you learn by actually doing. (He says, lacking an MFA). But there should be a program of leadership development and assisting individual to increase organizational capacity both from a programmatic and financial perspective. AND a serious discuss of wage disparity… all kinds of stuff. I’m getting all worked up and losing the thread…

But its not like the business sector where people are ruthless because there’s big money involved. We KNOW there’s no money in the arts. We should consciously create a different type of working culture that embraces organization, planning and accountability, while also encouraging the values that the arts foster – collaboration, communication and understanding.


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