Monday, 7 February 2011

Where is everybody?

Rocco Landesman (Photo: Arts Marketing blog)
I´ve been following with great interest the debate provoked in the USA by Rocco Landesman, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). On January 26 Landesman attended the presentation of the seven projects selected by the initiative New Play Development Program. In his speech (that may be seen here), he referred to the decrease in arts audiences (5%) and the increase in not-fot-profit arts organizations (23%), and said: “There is a disconnect that has to be taken seriously. (…) You can either increase demand or decrease supply. Demand is not going to increase, so it is time to think about decreasing supply”.

It was these words that triggered an immediate and passionate discussion in the american social media and newspapers. A few days later, with the controversy at its peak, Landesman went back to this issue in the NEA blog, taking the opportunity to better explain his point (read here). He clarified that a decrease in supply was a possibility, but it shoundn´t be the only possibility on the table. Other points that could be considered:

1. Increase arts education, because this is one of the main guarantees in future audience building;

2. Consider related demand, in order to make the supply more relevant;

3. Offer free samples, for example through the broadcasting of shows on the outside of the buildings;

4. Take advantage of new technologies, since research indicates that people who ‘consume’ art via the Internet or electronic media are nearly three times as likely to attend live events, that they attend a greater number and a greater variety of events;

5. Examine the infrastructure and try to make it less institutionalized, in order to bring more creativity to more audiences more often and even be able to pay the artists more.

Rocco Landesman believes that they are there to ensure the survival of the most creative and most dynamic.

At the end of this post, you will find a series of articles and posts that have been published in response to Landesman´s remarks, words of support, but also of total and ferocious disagreement. My intention, though, is not to comment on those, but on the debate itself.

We could say that Rocco Landesman is the equivalent of the Director-General for the Arts in Portugal. I think it is extremely important that he´s the one who, through his provocative and controversial remarks, has triggered, encouraged and fed this debate, wishing that the NEA played a role in the conversations.

On the other hand, I admire and I envy the involvement of various culture professionals, more or less known, in this discussion and its intensity. It makes me think of our reality. Of the fact that it doesn´t exist a permanent debate on issues that are permanent themselves, bur rather reactions – at times intense, but almost always brief – to ministerial announcements.

At present, who is actively and constructively debating culture funding? Studying foreign models and their possible adaptation or making concrete proposals prepared locally? Who is supposed to provoke the debate, create working groups, bring together and analyze ideas and opinions, prepare proposals? Are previously published and/or publicly shared opinions and suggestions being put to use? Why do voices become silent almost as suddenly as they are heard? And what does this mean: resignation, forgetfulness, conformism, tiredness, lack of hope? The crisis, I said in a previous post, may and should be an opportunity. But if we lay back and wait for the intervention of a Deus ex machine, I am sure that in twenty years from now we´ll be exactly where we are today.

The debate in the USA
You´re mad - What are you going to do about it?, Arts Marketing
Dear Rocco Landesman, We Don't Want Your Theater Death Panels, Arts Dispatch
Landesman Comments on Theater, The New York Times
Fighting Words from Rocco Landesman, Arena Stage Blog
On Rocco Landesman, Theatre Ideas

Dear Rocco, 2AMT
The fewer, the thinner, The Artful Manager
Theater talkback: What Rocco Landesman should speak about next, The New York Times
Which demand is which, Mission Paradox

Overstocked arts pond: fich too big and fish too many, Jumper

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