The arts in crisis: Whose fault?
In the main, Victoria Skelly is spot on when she categorizes not-for-profit organizations as hidebound, complacent, and ultra-defensive (“The arts in crisis: Whose fault?”). You can see it on Channel 12’s televised fund-raisers; they’re clubby in the extreme and don’t vary a whit from year to year.
I must take issue with her remark that she’s never experienced resistance to new ideas or criticism in the private sector. My experience there has been the same as she expresses among the non-profits: Don’t rock the boat. And now the financial boat is rocking so hard it threatens to go down with all hands.
March 25, 2009
The same problem of lack of honest self-scrutiny can be found in educational organizations. Creative and hard-working teachers and administrators at every level are accepted and awarded as long as they don’t rock the boat too much or make others look bad. But if someone dares challenge the basic paradigm of schooling (start at kindergarten, divide students into grades, etc.), that person is shunned as a pariah or a fool. But talk about a secure environment for mediocrity!
March 25, 2009
Thanks for a clear-headed article full of real-world examples.
Joseph N. DiStefano
March 25, 2009
Editor’s note: The writer is a financial columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Victoria Skelly’s article on the plight of arts groups assumes that philanthropic largesse renders such groups complacent, but I would say rather that it makes them timidly commercial— afraid to offend their patrons, public or private. That’s a recipe for mediocrity, and I guess Rachel Ray is as good a symbol for it as any.
Another possibility for the arts is living within your means. The Barnes Foundation is a case in point. Skelly cites Violette de Mazia’s “bare-bones” budgets, but why not call them prudent? The Barnes served its students, and a casual visitor could see a lot more great art for $1 (the price I paid for my first visit) than for the $24 currently charged by the Art Museum for Cezanne and Beyond. The Barnes’s troubles began when Richard Glanton tried to exploit it commercially, and put it in thrall to the Pew Foundation (whose own shenanigans are concealed behind its non-profit veil). Now the crushing costs of the Barnes move threaten to dry up funding for the arts all over Philadelphia. It’s an almost perfect storm of collective stupidity. Philadelphia arts groups know it, too, but they are silenced by fear of the Pew. Thus, to revise the Bard, doth lack of conscience--and terrified self-interest--make cowards of us all.
Bala Cynwyd, Pa.
March 25, 2009
Victoria Skelly replies: The most vital organizations have improvement programs that are employee-driven and leader-supported. At its best the for-profit world actively engages in ongoing improvement and at its worst it can pay only lip service to these activities. The organization that doesn’t practice an open improving culture tends to lose its best human resources.
Arts organizations, on the other hand, are too busy playing out politics (or preoccupied with their art) to pay much mind to improvement activities. Their leaders and employees are often psychologically allergic to business practices— that’s why they opt for work in the arts.
As for the world of education, there is a whole other set of reasons why teaching culture ossifies. I’m no expert on this score; I simply know that I always felt that I had to stay actively involved to keep my daughters interested in learning, regardless of all the awards our school district received.
To Robert Zaller: Was it not the Pew with Rebecca Rimel that introduced the commercial mentality to arts organizations in Philadelphia? I hope that my article successfully communicates that businesslike practice (which includes successfully managing the human side of things) is a productive endeavor even for arts organizations.
Many point favorably to Violette de Mazia’s management of the Barnes Foundation, especially in these times when the Foundation’s projected costs are exploding exponentially. I don’t call selling off land to pay the bills, relying on untrained individuals to conserve and repair priceless art works, forgoing insurance on these same works (to name a few of de Mazia’s cash conservation tactics) to be good management practice.
It is chastening, however, to consider the difference in cost between what de Mazia spent to run the Foundation and what the projected costs would be if the Barnes Foundation moves downtown. That’s why I believe that the Barnes should stay where it is and be managed efficiently on the plan that Montgomery County has offered it.
BSR had three reviews of Wozzeck. I guess my husband and I attended the same one Steve Cohen attended. Like the Curtis Opera’s earlier Ainadamar, Wozzeck provided us one of those thrills only great opera can induce. Neither was perfect, but both were unforgettable. And that’s the least you can ask of art.
March 29, 2009
Re Dan Coren’s review of Curtis Opera’s Wozzeck—
Just one important correction, so that a misconception does not take hold in your (or your reader’s) mind: Marie does not say, as you translate: “Better a knife in my belly than ever your hands on me again!” but rather: “Better a knife in my belly than a hand on me” (Lieber ein Messer in meinen Leib als eine Hand auf mich). Implied here is not that she disdains his (or any other man’s) touch, but that she does not want to get hit.
I also read Steve Cohen’s review with great interest. One comment: Cohen says that Emma Griffin, the director, made a dramatic choice by having Wozzeck slash Marie’s throat. Actually, she takes her direction from a later part in the score, when Wozzeck, looking at Marie’s corpse, wonders, ”Was hast du für eine rote Schnur um den Hals?” (What is that red line around your neck?).
March 25, 2009
Steve Cohen replies: An excellent point, and it reinforces the image of the red circle of the moon that is mentioned in the libretto. In most productions of Wozzeck, however, he stabs Marie somewhere in the body, which is simpler to stage.
Dan Coren replies: I should have known better than to just trust the Internet— although I must admit that I don’t know German well enough to have caught that on my own.
Re Steve Cohen’s review of Wozzeck: Calling what I wrote a “negative review” is a bit oversimplified, I think. I acknowledged that it was a fine production and made it clear, I hope, that I found Wozzeck is a deeply affecting work. My personal distress over the experience was just that— personal. And, to tell you the truth, subsequent listening to the excerpts available on Youtube make me think that I might be amenable to having my mind changed.
It’s really not so much Berg’s music that I find appalling as it is the phenomenon of European culture spinning off into self-destructiveness in the second decade of the 20th Century. I don’t think it’s stretching things too much to see the quick decay of tonality from about 1890 to 1920 as an analog to the political and cultural problems that culminated in World War I. Courageous and original as Berg, Schoenberg and Webern were— and much as I like some of their music— witnessing the systematic dismantling of a musical system that had for literally thousands of years been perceived as the proof of order in the universe is, in its way, just as disturbing as watching Europe gleefully rushing off to four years of trench warfare and mustard gas.
March 24, 2009
A world without newspapers
I have been away and am just now catching up with the Broad Street Review. Re “Newspapers and the Internet,” by Richard Carreño—
To me, the demise of the Inquirer is a terrifying thought. Newspapers fed me, clothed me, nurtured me. My father published and edited a “throw-away” weekly, the West Philadelphia Times, until he died. My mother was fashion editor for the defunct Philadelphia Record, a morning daily. In those days, there were four daily papers in the city. When “Wrong-Way” Corrigan flew to Ireland instead of California, my stepfather was managing editor of the New York Post and was famous for running a large headline on the first page . . . backwards. Other members of my family wrote for various newspapers. All this was before TV, of course.
It’s a toss-up for me as to whether TV is the best thing or the worst thing that’s ever happened to our world. But getting the important news of the day in two or three sentences isn’t my idea of gaining knowledge about what is going on. It’s so great to open my front door in the morning and see the newspaper waiting for me, sometimes on top of a foot of snow.
I want to sit in a comfortable chair with the newspaper in my hands and read as little or as much of it as I desire. I want to read what the columnists have to say. I love it when they get a hold of a bone and chew on it. And I always enjoy the political cartoons. Also, the comics. Whatever would we do without “Zits” and “Pickles” and “Blondie” etc.?
Newtown Square, Pa.
March 25, 2009
Editor’s comment: I too get a happy feeling when I find the morning papers at my door (I subscribe to three). But I’m infuriated when they’re delivered late or not at all, which happens two or three times a month. The Internet definitely has its advantages.
On cantankerous critics
Re ”The case for cantankerous critics,” by Jim Rutter—
Writing in a public forum about a script reading is counterproductive to the purpose of doing a reading. A reading is an early step that allows a playwright to make significant changes before something is presented to a paying public. The benefit is for the author/producers to “hear” the piece and to get visceral reaction from actors and attendees. The process can point the piece in a good direction, and the piece at reading stage may bear little resemblance to a finished play or musical. The danger of a published review is a reader will not understand that what they are reading about may bear little resemblance to what they will eventually see in a paid performance.
An artist’s fragility is beside the point. New York shows aren’t even reviewed in preview; it’s a courtesy and allows for time to polish and finalize. A critic in Philadelphia has plenty of new shows to review and plays an important role in protecting the paying public. Your public opinion on a script reading is a huge overstep.
East Oak Lane
March 26, 2009
Editor’s comment: If the sole purpose of a reading is to benefit the playwright and/or theater company, shouldn’t the audience at such readings be compensated?
In response to your suggestion that an audience should be compensated for attending a reading: They are. The audience at the Wilma Theater’s reading of In the Other Room got to hear a world-class piece of theater read by an accomplished group of actors for free. All that is asked from them in exchange is their presence for a couple of hours.
They are also privileged to observe the process, which is of value to some. The exchange of value is not monetary, but it is present.
April 1, 2009
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