Sunday, July 12, 2015

Quick Reflections on Current Issues

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

Here are some quick reflections and musings on some of the items in the recent news cycle (stuff I would probably be better off Tweeting about, if I had a Twitter account (which I don't):

1.  Works for Hollywood, Why Not Us? - In case you haven't noticed, this summer is apparently a blockbuster year for Hollywood, with huge box office numbers stemming mostly from sequels and spinoffs to previous Tinsel Town successes.  This is a formula the movie industry loves because it theoretically reduces the risk and appeals to the public's affinity for familiar material.  And they are cashing in on it big time this year.  But the same thing doesn't seem to necessarily work for the arts.  And we have been doing it for a long time.  In Theater we call it revivals, in music and dance, we call it repertoire, in museum exhibits, we call it retrospectives (we seem to like words beginning with the letter "r").  It is essentially a very similar approach to Hollywood, yet without the same result. I wonder why,  or what we might do to make it work?  Or if it is part of a larger problem for us?

2.  Latinos are the majority:  An announcement came this week that Latinos are now the majority population in California.  And if the growth trend continues, the demographic will continue to gain proportional representation in the whole of the country. And this simple fact is the real news about the Latino community this week, Donald Trump's hysterical fear mongering ranting notwithstanding.  While in the short term this milestone might not yet convince all arts organizations to act in awareness of the new reality, it is, IMHO, clearly and unequivocally, a clarion call in the long term for organizations to make changes, and for funders to align their strategies to revised goals.  And preparation for the long term, begins now.  We really must avoid talking this challenge to states of inaction on our part.

3.  Systemic technology meltdown: Last week's computer problems with United Airlines, the Wall Street Journal and the NYSE were coincidentally attributed  to "glitches", which sounds like the medical profession calling chronic and severe gastrointestinal malfunction as Irritable Bowel Syndrome - a condition for which there is no known cause nor cure.  Increased hacking, by individuals and nation states, and inexplicable technical problems that seem immune to preventative measures, would suggest that our computer systems, on which we are now frighteningly dependent for all communications and data storage, are not just vulnerable, but are very likely going to be compromised to varying degrees on an increasingly regular basis. Does your organization have a back up plan as to how it would continue its business and protect its access to important data in the event of a semi prolonged outage during which you couldn't use your computers - for anything?  (And all your information in the cloud and on back up hard drives won't do you any good at all if the bad news scenario messes with the systems you use to access so it won't function.  Something to discuss I think, because it certainly is a possibility that something may happen to compromise use of our computer systems for an extended period of time.  Then what do we do?

4.  Questionable Research:  There is a growing tendency to support research into participation in the arts that expands the perimeters of the level in which Americans participate in arts and culture, and even the very definition of that participation.  These studies are well intended attempts to demonstrate and verify the scope and depth of involvement in the arts and culture by enlarging the aperture of what is included in our understanding of that involvement, and to learn valuable lessons from understanding that expanded participation.  There are two dangers in this trend I think:  1)  By attempting to piggy back the arts on more popular frames of cultural participation (e.g., the film industry / movie watching), we run the risk of trying to justify our value based on someone else's value -- and that may be transparently false.   Clearly there is crossover between the arts that comprise the nonprofit arts sector as we know it, and other sub sectors of a more broadly defined creative cultural sector, including the private entertainment industry.  Defining arts participation as inclusive of the whole is legitimate for some purposes.  But it doesn't really help us directly -- either in making the case for our value (except as part of a much larger whole), or in understanding how we might address some of the challenges we face as a distinct and differentiated part of that whole; and 2) some of this research is moving towards laughable, if not absurdist, conclusions that make us look foolish.  If we get to the point where taking a "selfie" or listening to a song on the car radio counts as participation in arts and culture, then frankly we've succeeded in making a mockery of the whole concept.  We're not quite to that point yet, but we're getting perilously close to exactly that kind of conclusion.  We need to dial back our enthusiasm and be more focused on our approach to how we define things and in expanding our research to be pan inclusive of everything under the sun.

I hope you have a great week.

Don't Quit