“on ‘new models’ in THE AЯTS … ?”
This essay was written in response (of sorts) to a Fractured Atlas blog post entitled “Swimming Downstream in the Current of History” by FA’s founder and executive director, Adam Huttler — who in turn was writing a response to a Huffington Post essay entitled “The New Model” by Michael Kaiser, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Both of these posts respectively date from June 19 and June 18 of this year — so their conversation, follow-up blog posts and comment chains may have evolved a lot since then but — a) I’m not a blogger and b) I’m pretty busy — and I can’t keep up.
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on “new models” in THE AЯTS … ?
Adam Huttler is fed up with Michael Kaiser who in turn is fed up with the constant chatter about the demand for “new models” in the arts. After reading Huttler’s article (and in turn Kaiser’s original post), I have to state that I have reached my own limit: professionals working in the arts funding industry who do not appear to know — or at least do not wish to reference or discuss — the actual history of arts funding in our nation.
Both Huttler and Kaiser are operating their discussions from within a dome. It is a limited, enclosed space that does not seem to square up with reality (aspects of life that operate beyond just The Arts); nor does it actually question the structure, mechanics and history of the American arts funding world we all operate within.
Why are we operating in this particular arts funding system in America in the first place? One weighted so heavily on private, philanthropic foundations and donors. One where the terms “business” and “marketplace” are being thrown around more frequently in our field as if it was a midday talk show on CNBC. Could something be inherently flawed with the way we are operating in the first place? Is our search for “new models” so desperate that we cannot see the large, elephant in the room? He is sitting there on the couch, drinking a tall boy, smoking a cigar and eating a tub of wings: we have abandoned any significant role of public funding, public subsidy for the arts. We have relinquished our cultural rights to The Market. In a manner eerily similar to how we as a country and culture have yielded our rights in areas pertaining to health care, to education, to public transportation, to a clean environment, and to organize ourselves into a union.
It is a weak argument Huttler rests upon if he is going to cite quantity alone. Just because Fractured Atlas receives one hundred new applications for fiscal sponsorship every month — does not mean every one (if any) of those projects, companies or individual artists are going to be financially (or artistically) successful in either the short-term or long-term. One could just as easily make the case that those 100 applications are a cry for help; an act of the desperate in a society and culture that is willing to take the tuition money from young students across every discipline in the arts — but is not willing to teach and incorporate basic finance and/or arts funding issues into formal BFA or MFA programs. Even if a few of those monthly 100 are able to obtain funding to pay themselves a living wage while they work on a particular project — who will come to see it? An audience comprised now of at least two (almost three) generations of Americans who have grown up in our country without any genuine, publicly funded efforts at audience development to serve as a bulwark to the dominance of purely “market-based” forms of entertainment like Hollywood or network television or Broadway? An audience comprised of just other struggling artists with their own fiscally-sponsored projects that they are trying to realize during the in-between hours of Day Job and Sleep?
Does Huttler believe that the “72 hours of YouTube” content uploaded every minute is all content worthy of our attention? Or that even if those funded few of the monthly 100, do upload their content to YouTube to promote their work or event — does Huttler believe that it will be seen by potential audience members in the vast sea of nonsense that makes up YouTube?
The same case can be levied against Huttler’s other quantity argument regarding Facebook; that the Facebook audience of 900 million is worth more than a proven, subscriber database of 10,000. Does Huttler believe that a sustainable percentage of that 900 million is going to find out about the say, two or three out of a hundred fiscally-sponsored projects? Am I the only one who is inundated with nearly twenty or more Kickstarter and IndieGogo campaign messages per month on Facebook? It has reached an unsustainable saturation point. [I’ll even put aside the ethics for a moment of using an online service like Facebook, which recently lied to and deceived thousands of consumers over its recent IPO launch.] There is an inherent flaw in online services like Facebook — the users do not truly call the shots; the company does. I would urge Huttler to give Eli Pariser’s The Filter Bubble a decent read in the near future.
Lets take a look at Huttler’s own figures he cites from Fractured Atlas: a collective $10 million raised to serve an audience of 7 million people. Really? Only ten million dollars to serve seven million people? That works out to be about $1.42 per person. There are regions and/or cities in Canada and Europe that spend more per person when it comes to the arts and culture. The regional government of Flanders in Belgium alone allotted nearly 140 million euros to arts and culture in 2009 — which works out to be roughly 22.95 euros spent on each of the 6.1 million people living in Flanders. And you know what? Those people living there didn’t have to donate to a Kickstarter or an IndieGoGo campaign to make their experience possible. Their $1.42 or more came out of a fair percentage of the public tax base — one that is fairly distributed, I might add, between both citizens and corporations. I will also point out to Huttler that it’s a lot easier to fill those 1,000 seat houses in those Canadian or European regional cities because ticket prices are cheaper when a government decides that it is in the best interests of society as a whole to subsidize tickets prices for the benefit of the general public. Purely “market-driven” or “profit-driven” endeavors still exist in those countries and cities — for example, you can see the Broadway production of Spamalot in Stockholm (in Swedish) — and the ticket prices will be expensive — but its not the only work to experience, and the profit-driven, long-running show is not the only “model” that artists, audiences and presenters aspire to.
I agree with Kaiser. I am sick of the chatter around “new models” — just maybe not the models Kaiser is referencing.
I want some old models.
I want to bring back some old models that were never given a real chance to thrive in the first place in our country. I want to bring back ideas our own Congress expressed in the 1930s that clearly stated The Public owned the airwaves which transmit radio and vintage TV signals. If the radio waves and television frequencies are public property, why does that very same public have to donate to keep public broadcasting alive? Of course this is irrelevant to a degree, now that corporations invested in the development of (and outright own) high-speed cable and satellite networks.
I want to bring back an old model that was established during the 1960s by some of the greatest minds our Congress has ever produced, when it stated our rights to the arts and culture as American citizens, and the valid role our government can play in funding access to those rights. It is insane that we have allowed these rights to be curtailed as a result of politically expedient attacks on public arts funding during the 1980s and 1990s. It is unforgivable that now we basically bury our heads in the sand away from this fight and instead spend our time digging around like gophers on the internet desperate for our Kickstarter and IndieGoGo campaigns to be noticed on corporate platforms like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube or Tumblr.
And by the way, what is wrong with a publicly funded, healthy large arts institution that lasts for 50 or 100 years?
That is supposed to be the point.
We are supposed to be a civilization — not a marketplace. We are supposed to be living within a culture, a society, a democracy — not a business. The values of “The Market” and “The Culture of Business” are supposed to be one facet of society within a larger functioning democracy; not the be-all-to-end-all driving factor of all human activity.
Maybe I was a dork in the 8th grade, but I always thought the idea of a healthy democracy — a thriving civilization that wasn’t dependent upon a single Sun King — was the creation of healthy public institutions that were sustained by public funds for the benefit of the long-term public good.
I too hope our field evolves over the next 50 to 100 years; and I have no idea where it will go. But I do hope that in our quest for “new models” and “new professional development projects” that we do not completely abandon the concept of a public library, a public museum, a public theater, a public education — only to replace them with Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
— Kevin Doyle (August 2012)
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The Baffler : Issue #6 “Dark Age” (1993)
One Market Under God by Thomas Frank (2000)
Federalizing The Muse by Donna M. Binkiewicz (2006)
The Unconscious Civilization by John Ralston Saul (1995)
Rich Media, Poor Democracy by Robert W. McChesney (1999)
“Speech to the American Council on the Arts” by Edward Albee (1998)