The Digest: March 30, 2011

Arts Funding & Ethics: Leading off this week’s Digest is a pair of piece from art critic Eleanor Heartney. Back in 1996, following the last dust-up over the NEA and controversial arts, she wrote a piece for Artnet magazine called “Out of the Ivory Tower: Social Responsibility and the Critic.” It turns out, it’s every bit as applicable 15 years later, and she offers a contemporary addendum, “Art & Money: The Umbilical Cord of Gold.” Despite being about visual art, both are very relevant to the current moment, and both should be read in full.

Both pieces raise very powerful questions about the ethics and reality of arts funding, and the relationship of donors to art. I don’t have a lot to add, because neither piece is particularly prescriptive–instead, both suffice to pose questions, questions I’ve been mulling in one way or another for a while. What is the social value of art, for instance, if art is increasingly curtailed to supplicate the ideological whims of wealthy donors? And given the way in which art has become corrupted by dirty money, do we really have a claim to being part of the critical discourse, deserving of limited public funds?

Department of Dumb Ideas: Over at Theaters Ideas, Scott Walters has a suggestion based on the entire #supplydemand issue. He was on Studio 360 and is following up. His suggestion for NEA funding of theaters? One, the NEA should only provide “seed money” for new companies for a total of five years, after which they have to be self-sufficient, and two, only support companies opening in “underserved communities.”

I have four responses. One, five years? How long does he think the average start-up theater company survives? Two, underserved communities? The most recent Americans for the Arts Vitality Report says the number of cultural and ethnic-oriented institutions has doubled in the last decade. “Underserved communities” are where the lion’s share of growth is already. Three, if a community already doesn’t have a theater, why do we assume they’ll ever be able to support one absent government funding? And four, why should everyone else accept the moral argument that only this sort of theater is what should be supported?

Rethinking Audience Development: An interesting thought-piece that doesn’t go half far enough over at the Guardian‘s theater blog. Taking a few contrasting examples from the West End and London’s fringe, the author notes, “Theatre is constantly pre-selecting its pool of potential audience members on the basis of context, timing of performances and venue.” The tension in the piece, never really resolved, is what this means. Is the differentiation primarily a mechanism of how a company or festivals markets itself, or is the reality just that the perceived universalism of good art is itself an illusion. It’s a tricky topic. For a more meaningful discussion of some of these issues, check out Jacques Rancière’s The Emancipated Spectator.

Odds & Ends: East of Borneo on staging Handke’s Offending the Audience with childrenIrish Theater magazine on turning the critic into the emblem of abusive political powerParabasis‘ series on narrative, installment two – Portland, Oregon’s dance community launches its own newspaper – nothing like a good controversy to move DVDs – Tony Kushner talks controversy himself – Wendy Perron on Trisha Brown and Yvonne Rainer – Paul Mullin on the continuing fiasco around Seattle’s Intiman Theater – on why religion doesn’t feature more in the American theater.

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