Monday, May 28, 2012

Ideas. We need some good ones.

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on................."

The 8th annual Aspen Institute Ideas Festival - a two week presentation of an impressive array of experts and thinkers begins in late June.  Trying to generate new ideas seems to me to always be a good thing. As someone once said:  "The way to have a good idea, is to have lots of ideas."  The Arts are a constant fixture of the Aspen program and this year the track's theme is "Arts & Culture - Art Matters" - described on the Institute's website as:
Artists and experts consider how the arts make an essential different - not just in the lives of individuals but for society at large, from education, economics, and diplomacy to our national conscience and legacy.
Included in the program are presentations on:
  • What Theater matters in the digital age  - with NEA Chair Rocco Landesman, actor / playwright Anaa Deavere Smith, director / producer Gregory Mosher and Public Theater's Oskar Eustis debating the question.
  • How should we be using arts education to help create the successful schools we need? - a discussion with education guru Howard Gardner and Aspen  Institute Arts Program Director Damian Woetzel; and
  • Can culture revitalize our country - Making Cities Sing - with the Knight Foundation's Dennis Scholl, the Ford Foundation's Darrren Walker and again, NEA Chair Rocco Landesman.    
The ideas central to these offerings are not really new ideas - not to us anyway.  Each of these postulations are themes we have carefully developed over time and which we continue to pitch as evidence as to the value of arts and culture.  While these may not be new ideas to us, the core of our thinking may indeed be unfamiliar to other leaders in other sectors, and so what is important about this event is that the arts are part of the package of a prominent American think tank's efforts to stimulate widespread societal discourse.  Far too often we are not part of these kinds of efforts.  So when we are, it is important to note.

Alas, one would hope that national dialogue and thought would be the result of these kinds of events - leading to, if not new thinking and new ideas, at least new awareness, but, of course, that is nominally Pollyanna optimism not born out by reality.  At a time when print journalism struggles simply to survive the onslaught of online media coverage, real penetrating and probing reporting is all  but impossible to find.  Almost all of what passes for "news" - let alone real investigative reporting and in-depth analysis of issues from a broad perspective - focuses on the most cursory and basest coverage of actual issues (?).  Broadcast journalism in particular prefers the easy out of parading the same so-called experts (really partisans of one political side or the other of any given issue whose principal task is obfuscation and spin) and unashamedly tries to pass that "opinion" off as fact and analysis.  And even that feeble attempt at "news" virtually never digs deep enough to cover things as "esoteric' as art and culture.  Talking heads have replaced thinking journalists. There still exists some remnant of journalism in the print media (in isolated cases), but cost and competition have forced the dismantling of once vaulted news gathering organizations and coverage of issues long ago gave way to sensationalism and gore.  So, unfortunately all the Aspen Institute and TED think tanks that do pay attention to what we do usually fail to stimulate any meaningful public discussion that would benefit the country - and one would hope produce tangible benefits for us.

Yet there is still tremendous value to us in being part of these efforts and for our best thinkers to be represented at these tables - because these kinds of events help to shape policy and influence those in academia, government, business, education and elsewhere who make policy decisions -- and so this is good news.

I would love to go and cover this kind of event, but it is obviously slanted towards a crowd with deeper pockets than yours truly (a one week registration fee is something like $2700 - yikes).

But what caught my attention about this event in the first place, and what I would really like to see is for us - the nonprofit arts sector - to convene our own Ideas Festival with the best and the brightest of our own thinkers (and perhaps those from outside our field) to consider new, big ideas (ones we haven't yet developed or refined) that would address the major issues we face.  We need to concentrate more on idea generation.  A two or three day event that would call forth bold, risky new thinking as to how we could develop policies about our future -- funding, arts education, audiences, creativity, technology, equity of access, and so on.  Not just panels and talk, but people who would come up with specific recommendations for concrete action.  An event where people rolled up their sleeves and did some work.   Where is our TED, our Aspen Institute, our think tank?  Where is our focus on new ideas.

Have a good short week.

Don't Quit