Sunday, August 8, 2010

ARTS IN THE CURRENT MEDIA – GOOD OR BAD THING?

Good Morning.
“And the beat goes on……………………………………”

“Oh We’re Movin’ On Up”

Lately I see a lot of attention (more anyway) being focused on the arts by the ‘for profit’ media and entertainment sectors – everything on television from Glee and So You Think You Can Dance to Work of Art; from Newsweek’s cover story on Creativity to arts participation in the Pepsi and American Express “you vote” for your favorite philanthropic project. These portrayals and this coverage is, I think, more sophisticated than what we’ve seen in the recent past.

This is good, right? I mean we want more mainstream coverage of the arts and creativity. We want more popular programming that celebrates all that the arts have to offer. And we want more people to both access and participate in the creative process and we want ways that young people can engage in the arts that they perceive as attractive.

For a long time we lamented the fact that we were not prominently featured in the media – at least not prominently enough, nor in the ways we want. The Arts have, of course, been featured in the media as long as the media has been around. Music, dance, theater, visual art and every other form of creative expression has long been the staple of movies, television, radio, print and the internet. Art is featured, reviewed, criticized, explained and talked about. Perhaps only politics and business is arguably more a staple of media, and that only in the “news” media.

What we really want is to have the media (news and otherwise) champion the value of the arts and to focus on our needs. What we really want is for programming to celebrate all that is good about the arts and that encourages participation and support – while creating more awareness of our role in all this. And while what we are getting isn’t exactly what we want or need, it is indirectly beneficial and is, at least, a beginning offering of deeper levels of creativity – both as creator and consumer.

It isn’t surprising that there are critics among us who find each of the ways the media is currently handling the arts (and I purposely use the quasi pejorative term “handling”) to be lacking. And I think some of the criticism is legitimate into itself. Much of current television’s (or even the movies') version of the arts panders to people who are less self-identified as artists and more wrapped up in being celebrities. Popularity philanthropy does, to a degree, debase artistic expression that doesn’t clothe itself in appeal to the masses. And unquestionably print critiques of the whole creative process invariably succumb to pre-conceived bias and prejudice and, at least in part, wholly fail to understand the process itself, and the implications inherent in it, let alone adequately explain the nuances of that process to those for whom the subject is outside the boundaries of familiarity.   Popular media we must remember is all about the bottom line of profit and shareholder value and so its limitations are hardly surprising. 

But I think too much criticism begs the issue, and that one can make an argument that the current level of media exposure of the increased interest by the public of the “arts” is to our great benefit. The media largely reflects what is happening in the larger society, and only to a small degree does it ever take any lead position too far out in front of what is going on already. And that is good news for us. There does seem to be an increase in the interest level of people in the arts – as creators and consumers.

Yes perhaps lots of those folks’ interest may be for what some would consider the wrong reasons, but that really is somewhat elitist. And to me, I don’t care. The more interest people have in the arts, the more they want to create and to participate, the more the media reflects that interest and translates it into the value of participation, creativity and the arts – the better for us I think.  We need to temper the instinct to be the purist - to always be intractable.  And we need to bear in mind that we don't need to win everything all at once.  A little bit here and a little bit there gets us where we want to go eventually, and every little victory is good for our collective psyche and motivation for us to keep at it. 

On one of the Sunday morning shows today there was a feature story about kids and Performing Arts Summer Camps. A nice, poignant – if predictable – piece on how these camps positively impact kids (even if those kids are portrayed as kind of nerdy). What caught my attention was the statistic that in the 1970’s there were only twelve of these camps in the country and today there are over eight hundred of them.

I am encouraged by this growth of interest in the arts – whatever the motivations behind it, however it manifests itself. And I think the media portrayal and coverage – flawed though it might surely be – nonetheless helps us in the long run. What we need to do is figure out how to leverage this increased interest and the media reflection of that interest to our own advantage so that we can translate it into ways to help us in our jobs, with our missions, to move forward. Merely observing what might be a mini-phenomenon in passing isn’t a valuable response, and doing nothing to exploit such a development to our purposes would be squandering a valuable gift. We need to figure out how to push awareness of this increased interest all across the society, to drive home the fact of it; to get more; to use it to educate and inform decision makers; and even to marshal the growing numbers to support for our needs – to leverage it to our purposes.

And we should also celebrate it.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit.
Barry

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