Need a Creativity Jolt? Drop by a Modern Art Show

8 Imagination Boosters I got from SCOPE New York 2013

CliteracyWHAT’S TRULY WONDERFUL about so much of today’s visual Art is that it engages every sense, not just what you see (or think you see).

Next time you’re caught in a creative dry spell, spend a while wandering through a Contemporary Art show and have a universe of new ideas rain down on your parched psyche.

Case in point:  the just-concluded five-day SCOPE Fair at Moynihan Station in mid-town Manhattan featuring work by 90 exhibitors representing over 200 artists from around the world.

SCOPE bills itself as a “showcase for international emerging Contemporary Art and multi-disciplinary creative programming.” The several thousand visitors in attendance would testify to that, but most importantly, SCOPE is an example of how powerfully today’s visual Art genres can excite the imagination and spur creativity in all of us.

1)    Art shows deliver creativity in a handy mega-dose size. Contemporary Art ceased long ago to be about Technique; its current practitioners are driven by Innovation.

  • Sophia Collier makes carved acrylic water surface sculptures blending traditional machine milling, Pixar animation, 3D modeling and a computer “software brush” programmed to mesh sampled sound and motion properties of wind, pulse, breath and dance music.
  • For his Urban Flow series, photographer Adam Magyar built a one-of-a-kind digital slit-scan camera with accompanying computer software that rearranges “real” time and human interaction in public places.
  • In a fusion of Abstract Expressionism and Action Painting styles, Bradley Hart combines recycled bubble wrap and used paint as raw material for “paintings” that are given three-dimensional life by injection.
  • Marlene Rose’s sandcast glass sculptures merge centuries-old glassmaking technology with castoff industrial objects.

Our Information Age is continually enhanced by artists intent on finding un-normative ways to redeploy tried-and-true tools and technologies. The goofier you think a piece of Contemporary Art is, the more likely it will someday be part of your everyday life.

2)   It’s okay to laugh; it’s okay to cry. Art shows evoke strong visceral reactions. That’s Capital V Visceral, as in “felt in the internal organs of the body”, i.e. The Gut. ContemporaryArt tickles you, annoys you, puzzles you, frightens you, angers you, may occasionally gross you out … but it never stops trying to engage your emotions and your intellect.

SCOPE New York delivered Visceral to the max:

Art that’s in your face eventually migrates into your mind where it becomes part of your own creative toolkit.

3)   Next stop, Twilight Zone. Where else outside of your dreams can you talk live to Walt Whitman in a wooden crate and observe Mao Tse-tung embalmed in a Coca Cola vending case?

Contemporary Art surpasses normal dimensions of sound, sight, mind, etc. Familiar objects are taken out of context, bizarrely juxtaposed, unapologetically distorted … then transformed into entities ultimately as “logical” as anything else we take for granted in our everyday world.

  • human legs combined with plants, fish and fruit (Legs & Plants, Avishek Sen)
  • two men in full-body white rabbit suits playing with a coiled coral snake (The Scientists, Alex Podesta)
  • a wooden Canadian mountie with its legs chopped off at the ankles by an angry beaver (Maintiens le droit, Cooke-Sasseville)
  • a live human attired in high heels, fish-face mask and a latex suit covered with printed QR codes onlookers could scan with their phones and receive instant internet articles on how toxic chemicals affect the scanned body part (Body Code, Tiffany Trenda)

Like the Queen in Through the Looking Glass, Contemporary Art encourages you to believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

4)   Don’t worry about “getting it”. Or nailing down a definitive answer to What the Heck Is That Supposed to Mean?

The real  “value” of Contemporary Art is that it doesn’t offer rigid answers but provokes intriguing questions like these installations:

Art shows allow you a couple hours to exercise your brain by looking at things in novel ways you’d never think of. Science says that’s good for us.

5)   Drill down into you. Contemporary Art isn’t really about the Artist. It’s about the Viewer. Your reactions about what you observe makes you peer deeper. Insists you peer deeper. Deeper at the world around you … and the world inside that you may not even realize exists.

Alex G. Cao creates digital portraits in which each pixel making up the larger portrait is a series of repeating images of another photograph. In JFK vs. Marilyn, the presidential visage of John F. Kennedy consists of miniscule pixels of Marilyn Monroe’s laughing face; pixels numbered 1962 and 1963 are replaced by an image of a candle and of a rifle — deliberate references to Marilyn’s infamous 1962 performance of “Happy Birthday” for Kennedy and JFK’s death in 1963.

Contemporary Art reminds us to take our time and see as well as look.

6)   Travel the world, meet interesting people, make Art with them. Creativity doesn’t need a passport. SCOPE had exhibitors from Vietnam, Hungary, Ireland, Mexico, Bolvia, Netherlands, England, Italy, Denmark, China, Canada, Venezuela, Switzerland, Belgium, Japan, Colombia, Thailand, South Korea, France and the U.S.

Even the most local art shows with the most local artists can send your imagination on a global trek.

7)   I can do this, too. Yep, some of the so-called Art on display is ridiculously simple in design and concept. “I could do that!” you snort.

Well, why don’t you?

We all have beaucoups of household items waiting to be creatively re-purposed by the fruits of our imagination. Witness Sinéad Bhreathnach-Cashell’s Tumbleweave sculpture of human hair and synthetic hair from the streets of Anacostia, John Breiner’s book cover paintings, Boun’s oil paintings mixed with jewel dust and mayonaisse, Hiroko Tsuchida’s Kaku assembled from safety pins, staintles steel and tombstones.

Maybe everyone doesn’t have a leftover tombstone in their closet. But you get the idea.

Contemporary Art says you’re allowed to make your own Art with your own rules. And that’a a definite Creativity refresher.

8)   Crowdsource creativity at the source. These other people you see at your local gallery openings taking care to stick close to the snack table — they’re probably pretty darn creative, too, once you get to know them.

Can you think of a better way to enlarge your network of fellow culture cohorts than by sharing time in a space devoted to mind-bending, life-altering Art?

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How Many More Americans Need to Die by Gun?

Dec. 14, 2012. A gunman killed 26 people, 20 of them children between ages 5 and 10, in a shooting on Friday morning at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., about 65 miles northeast of New York City, a law enforcement official said. — New York Times

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GunsDontDieSINCE THE 1999 Columbine High School shooting rampage that killed 13 and wounded 23, there have been 31 school mass-shootings in the United States.

In the rest of the world during that time?  Fourteen. In the other 195 countries that are not America. See the list here.

Of course, that’s just schools. Since 1982, our nation has witnessed 61 mass murders carried out in public settings with firearms; of the 139 guns used by those killers, more than three quarters were obtained legally.

Right here is where we roll out the grim daily statistics of how many Americans use guns to maim and murder other Americans at home, at work, at school, at the mall, at the gym, at the church-beauty parlor-barber shop-amusement park-ball field-highway rest stop-grocery store-car lot-diner-daycare nursery-movie theater-Empire State Building-Holocaust Museum-Congressional constituent meet’n’greet.

You don’t need a lot of statistics to figure out you can be killed pretty much anywhere in the Land of the Free.

And for pretty much any reason. In Holly Hill, Florida, this past week, you just had to get stubborn about supper. (See “Witness:  Roommate Killed Over Pork Chop”).

Hold on. That’s not funny, not even Making-the-Point-by-Irony Funny.

But it is Every Day Reality in These United States, the nation that makes up 5% of the world’s population and owns 50% of the world’s guns. [i]

Here’s some more reality:  in 2010 there were 5,459,240 new firearms manufactured in the United States, nearly all (95%) for the U.S. market. [ii]

Feeling safe yet?

But that’s not enough guns for Americans. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the same year we imported an additional 3,252,404 firearms.

In fact, the last global Small Arms Survey showed there are close to 90 guns for every 100 Americans, an estimated 270 million guns in civilian American hands. [iii]

Are guns too easy for Americans to get? There are 129,817 federally licensed firearms dealers in the United States; the nation has 36,569 grocery stores. [iv]

If that’s the Free Market talking, then it seems like Americans are saying they’d rather buy guns than eat.

In the days and weeks to come, a profusion of op-eds will appear pondering the question of why so many Americans buy so many guns and increasingly use them to commit mass murder. Commentators will posit psycho-social theories about the killers, push for more or fewer gun control laws, excoriate lax supervision and poor funding of existing enforcement.

But according to Pew Research Center, the plentiful news coverage accompanying these highly-publicized shootings has not caused Americans to significantly alter their views on the issue of gun control and gun rights.

So here’s the real question:  how many more?

How many more Americans need to die by gun before We The People insist that our elected representatives make this most urgent public health crisis a priority in their legislative business?

How many more Americans need to die by gun before each community in the country takes responsibility for protecting its citizens with sensible gun laws?

Before each parent, each employer, each individual declares “enough is enough” and makes it their daily business to press for workable solutions that prevent the rising tide of preventable carnage?

We owe an answer to our children.

Not only the ones growing up in our midst who we hope will fashion a civil and just America in the years to come.

But the ones who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School without the chance to ever have their say.


[i]  “Time to Face Facts on Gun Control” by Fareed Zakaria. CNN.com, July 27, 2012.

[iii]  “U.S. most armed country with 90 guns per 100 people” by Laura MacInnis. Reuters, Aug. 28, 2007.

[iv]  “Supermarket Facts”, Food Marketing Institute, 2011.

Posted in Political Intelligence | 1 Comment

Dancing on Ice Floes:

Survival Strategies for Artists in the Atlas Shrugged Era of Public Arts Funding

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IN MAY, 2011, by direction of Republican Governor Sam Brownback, the State of Kansas eliminated its state Arts commission. Eliminated totally and completely. The first state ever to refuse to allocate a single cent of its taxpayers’ revenue to supporting its taxpayers’ desire for having Arts in their state.1

   As a highly touted cost-saving measure in these austere times, the commission’s de-funding shaved 0.005 percent from the state’s budget.

   A week before the Kansas arts funding termination, South Carolina Republican Governor Nikki Haley similarly tried to eliminate her state’s Arts commission, but the legislature restored the commission’s funding — $1.9 million in taxpayer funds to an agency that supports an arts sector of more than 78,000 jobs contributing $9.2 billion annually to the South Carolina economy.2

   Also this past summer, the State of New Jersey under Republican Governor Chris Christie unsuccessfully attempted to jigger its Arts funding formulas to bring about a draconian 27% reduction in the state council’s competitive grant pool. 3

   In a highbrow version of the WWE Steel Cage Death Match, big and small Jersey Arts groups would have been crammed into the same funding category to compete for ever-diminishing dollars … final amounts determined by the soubrette decimating the ballerina with a crossbody stinger splash?

   Throughout 2011, the dismal Dump-State-Arts-Funding parade dragged on across the nation.

   The Republican-led Pennsylvania House of Representatives proposed a 70% reduction to the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. 4  In Wisconsin, Republican Governor Scott Walker moved to cut state arts funding by 73 percent and eliminate the state’s Percent for Art program. Arizona Republican Governor Jan Brewer eliminated general fund appropriations for the Arizona Commission for the Arts. Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott proposed no funding for his state’s Division of Cultural Affairs. 5

   It would appear to be an indisputable fact of Arts Life in These United States:  Republican-dominated state houses across the U.S. are diligently working to eliminate all public funding for Arts, mirroring the decades-long effort by “conservatives” to systematically cut Arts programs from public and even private schools throughout America … despite thousands of classroom studies demonstrating the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of Arts in helping students excel in character development and in every academic field.

   And it won’t be long before Democratic governors throughout the country find themselves faced with the same choice of throwing out the Arts to save some budget bathwater.

Meanwhile, in Day-to-Day America:

   … the Arts enjoy a stratospheric profile in mainstream media and American popular culture.

   According to the Nielsen ratings for the week of Sept. 12, 2011 (a typical, non-sweeps viewing week), five of the 10 top-rated U.S. television shows on broadcast networks involved the Arts… a score of competitive talent shows featuring music, dance, food, fashion are watched by tens of millions of people every week, topped by the Glee phenomenon — a fictional choral music show dramatizing young Arts dreamers that has spawned its own “reality” talent search program for aspiring singers. 6

   There’s also a nationwide resurgence of traditional ethnic-based Arts among immigrants and “native” Americans pursuing an ever-expanding panorama of globally-rooted artistic expression from Riverdance and Bollywood dancercise to bluegrass festivals, cowboy poetry and quilting. Youtube.com is filled with tens of thousands of Americans — especially Americans between ages 12 and 30 — proudly documenting their Arts achievements for the world to see.

   What a curious contradiction:  growing numbers of America’s government and school officials declaring Arts are a waste of time (and public money) vs. legions of savvy corporate advertisers and millions of eager consumers/creators who utilize and reference the Arts continuously.

   Add into the mix 30-plus years’ worth of thousands of economic studies across the U.S. that have affirmed over and over and over that the Arts represent the best possible investment of public tax dollars for rebuilding and stabilizing communities, developing numerous and meaningful jobs, enhancing our children’s education and transforming America into the cultured, enlightened, progressive country we like to think we are.

   But the politicians seeking to end Arts funding in America have made it crystal clear they are not interested in rebuilding, developing, enhancing, etc. And the societal harm caused by re-appropriating the shrinking pool of public Arts funding that does exist pales into statistical insignificance when compared to assaults on Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security, unemployment insurance, environmental protection, public safety, job training, education, tax credits for the poor and middle class, aid to struggling cities and so on.

   Clearly, our role as professional Artists and Arts educators, Arts producers and Arts administrators in the second decade of the 21st century is changing. HAS changed irreversibly. Will change further still.

Observe the Bear. While You Can.

     You’ve probably seen the now-iconic photograph of the bewildered polar bear stranded on a small, shrinking patch of sea ice, a collateral casualty of Arctic ice cap melt.

     Take a closer look, Artists, cause that’s us. We’re that polar bear, metaphorically.

     Which almost certainly drowned or starved to death (non-metaphorically) a few hours or days after the photo was snapped.

     We don’t have to share the same fate. Unlike the bear, we know what’s happening to our disintegrating cultural ecosystem. The question is, can the Arts in America transition to and survive in the new Atlas Shrugged world order of vanishing public Arts funding?

     Possibly. Let’s follow an alluring hypothesis trail and see if it leads to the rosy-fingered dawn of enlightenment.

Who Gets Public Arts Money Now? And Why?

   The current competitive Arts funding process is an outdated paradigm. It is skewed to reward the best-organized and best-represented Artists, not necessarily the most talented or inspired or socially relevant or useful.

   It is a paradigm that fails to address the Bigger Picture of the Bigger Role Arts can play in making our world a safer, saner, more self-fulfilled place to be a human being.

   Examine the last few years of funding allotments from the NEA, state and county arts councils. Aside from a few big grants to established, name-brand institutions, the majority of federal/state/local arts council money goes to fund small grants to small groups for small projects. And those small group/small grant projects are concentrated in three areas of activity:

1)    commissioning/presenting Art innovation (new compositions, plays, dances, films, writing, visual work)

2)    delivering Art to “underserved audiences”  (youth, seniors, disabled, rural, poor)

3)    preserving and propagating individual Art forms through teaching

   Innovation … Service … Teaching. That’s the core of what the Arts do. Aren’t those also the core functions of Business in a capitalist economic system?

   Ponder this Output-Core Function chart:

   In the mercantile milieu, Innovation creates product … Service supplies product to customers … Teaching (linked with Research) develops new product applications that generate new Innovation and reaffirm the glorious Circle of Artistic and Business Life.

   With that parallel foundation, what might happen if non-profit Arts and for-profit Business were to become true partners?

   True partners — not the historic exploitive partnership whereby Business uses Arts to disguise or downplay unethical corporate behavior, i.e. a tobacco company sponsoring a teen opera singer camp, a water-fouling polluter underwriting museum exhibits on marine life and hundreds of other egregious examples of cynical (and to be truthful, ineffective) Arts-washing.

   No, this is a different support model altogether. Arts and Business should be equal partners in the mission to solve Social Needs.

   Why? Because it makes solid economic sense for both Arts and Business. The creative resources of Arts and the logistical resources of Business should buttress each other’s Innovation-Service-Teaching matrix by undertaking artistic and entrepreneurial collaborations larger than the sum of their individual parts.

Here’s a New Equation:

(Arts Benefit + Business Benefit) x
(Arts Resources + Business Resources) =
Societal Benefit

   Let’s clarify this “Societal Benefit” result.

   At base, we’re talking about Individual Human Benefits that impact the larger society of which we are all a connected part. Considered as a whole, these individual benefits elevate to the status of Societal Benefits affecting us all. Societal Benefits such as fewer people starving or suffering from disease, ignorance, violence, pollution or other destructive social pathologies afflicting so many of the seven billion human lives on our planet.

Here’s an Example:

   A local bank gives $50,000 a year to a volunteer-run food pantry at a local church. The $50,000 goes entirely to buying food for seriously poor and hungry people in the community. What happens when Art is incorporated into the service?

   1) The bank kicks in an extra $150 per day to pay an Artist (videographer) to record short interviews with food pantry recipients who wish to tell their story to their community, or just talk about themselves and their family.

   2) Some recipients won’t want to talk, or won’t want their face to be shown. But some will welcome the chance for self-definition, self-declaration … and they talk to the camera. Volunteers can talk, too, and share their experiences and insights.

   3)  The Artist edits the interviews into an ongoing series of short videos titled Our Neighbors Need Some Help.

   4) The videos are shown on local public access TV, town website, the local Youtube channel, school classrooms. People watch them. Viewers learn about these Other People in their community who have heretofore been invisible. Then Wonderful Things may happen:

   5)  Some of these newly enlightened viewers donate additional money and food to the pantry and possibly volunteer. They send the video links to others, inciting more awareness, more donations, involvement, more VISIBILITY and Realness of the pantry, the people, the Artist and, oh yes — the sponsoring Business which receives accolades for its unselfish efforts on behalf of the community.

   The Wonderful doesn’t stop there.

   6)  Maybe the videographer is superbly creative, and the videos are as aesthetically interesting as they are emotionally compelling. And Viewers are entertained as well as enlightened and become inspired to record their own community-centered interviews on various community subjects and publish their own videos thus beginning an additional series of ever-widening ripples affecting countless other neighbors and family members and strangers who are friends they haven’t yet met and never will but are nonetheless affected by the outreach.

In the Pre-Melt Funding World:

  • Bank says it has restricted budget for food only and no responsibility beyond one-time donation … call us next year and we might-maybe-probably-not donate again cause we’re righteous but not truly engaged

  • Food pantry struggles … people stay hungry, isolated, shamed

  • Artist is unemployed … does Art only in small, limited Arts-y circle … gets no stimulation from fresh aesthetic challenge

In the Post-Melt Funding World:

  • Bank invests an extra few thousand $$ and uses Art to make its food pantry project attract more community support … Major multiple ROI:  widespread recognition as community benefactor … increased free publicity harvests new customers, new perception of bank as player in local economy

  • Food pantry gets more donations/volunteers/community attention … more people get fed, some possibly receive work or additional aid from exposure as well as validation and hope that come from being heard by another human

  • Videographer earns money creating new Art … sharpens technical skills … reaches wider audiences, obtains new work from project’s exposure … uses their Art to make a tangible, immediate difference in the world

   That’s a lot of benefit from the local Business bringing a tiny bit of Arts into the mix. But it only happens if the reigning paradigm of Arts vs. Business swings around 180 from “supplicant donee/reluctant donor” to a genuine partnership geared from the get-go to provide a demonstrable Societal Benefit that not coincidentally chips away at a pernicious social problem (in this case, hunger in America).

Another Example. More Corporate.

   Many businesses currently use motivational speakers, team-building workshops, focus retreats and other “employee engagement” programs to enhance their workforce development. Bringing in the Arts would be another tool in the arsenal.

   How about something like this:

   The local outlet of a chain retailer partners with a local theatre company to present Arthur Miller’s All My Sons for its 100 employees (stockers, cashiers, office staff, everyone).

   Over a period of 3-4 weeks, the retailer sends groups of employees to the theatre for an activity cycle of:

Day 1 — performance; director/dramaturg leads general discussion of play and themes

Day 2 — discussion of how play relates to employees’ work and personal life

Day 3 — employees receive coaching on how to write monologues, short scenes on

Day 4 — employees present their monologues and scenes, followed by discussion

   And what happens?

   1)  Employees experience the immediacy of live drama in a concentrated setting — provocative, gut-level emotional response that in-your-face theatre compels.

   2)  They are immersed in guided analysis that explores the connection of the play’s themes of honesty/responsibility/leadership/commitment/social relatedness to their work and personal life.

   3)  The writing exercises provide opportunity to articulate and evaluate actual as well as hypothetical concerns involving their workplace.

   That’s Employee Engagement to the bone.

   By using the play as a starting point, employees and management can raise and explore issues rising from the dramatic universe … issues mirrored in the real universe of daily company operations.

   Some will say that a typical American company would view this increased employee self-awareness as a threat to the corporate hierarchy — too much independent thinking an incitement to demanding longer lunch breaks, etc. Depends on the company, I suppose.

   Because another, more enlightened retailer might plausibly see the exercise as a savvy means of honing the company’s problem-spotting/problem-solving techniques and nurturing smarter employees better equipped to understand and further the company objectives and bottom line.

   This would be a company for whom it is critical to convey its skill at Innovation. Its capacity for delivering superior Service. Its fluency with Development.

   Theatre is live storyboarding … real-time focus marketing that can effectively communicate the essential Why of the Business on multiple psychological levels to a wide range of customers and potential customers.

   Theatre can help the Business tell its core Story and tell it in dramatic, compelling, memorable terms to the management and employees who need to live that Story as their own.

   Powerpoint and webinars just don’t compare.

Of Course, We Understand Not Every Business Will Be Able to Utilize the Arts.

   Ninety percent of America’s employers have 20 or less employees7 … the hyper-local mom/pop pizza parlor-bodega-shoe repair-dollar store-gas station-food mart … the waste hauler, plumber, realtor, florist, printer, auto parts dealer, podiatrist … at first glance, not a lot of room for a vibrant Arts experience in these micro-Business settings.

   And on the Arts side, it’s great that we’ve found win-win Business partnerships for actors, dramaturgs and videographers. Where does a brass quintet plug in to this brave new paradigm? A blues singer? Modern dance group? Fiber artist? Poet?

   First, this discussion isn’t about the standard one-shot use of Arts — a Business buying a sculpture or painting or ceramic bowl as office/shop décor, or hiring a band for a party or to draw walkby business at a Grand Opening.

   We’re talking about the ongoing, systemic use of Arts to work within the totality of the Business’ product creation-customer service-research and development operations. Let’s call it Applied Arts.

   A significant amount of Applied Arts practice is happening already, especially in the healthcare fields where Artists are employed to train staff and supply services to clients in a variety of settings (see section below:  In the Post-Melt Paradigm, Arts = Service.).

   According to Keith Weed, Chief Marketing Officer of Unilever (the world’s second-largest packaged consumer goods company), the Arts are used “to motivate, inspire, challenge and unlock the potential of our staff, on both a professional and personal level. Artists and arts organizations come into the workplace to tackle specific business issues, from creative thinking to leadership styles and writing skills.”8

   Even small, non-global Businesses that don’t ring up $55 billion in annual sales tackle those kind of issues now and again. 9

   As with the hypothetical theatre company above, the visual Arts can be brought in to serve multiple objectives for a smaller Business. Individual photographers, painters, crafters and graphic design artists excel at organizing guided collaboration exercises that stimulate inquiry, dialogue, insight, news ways of looking at the commonplace.

   An attorney seeking to become more polished (and believable) in courtroom presentations — a good voice teacher/performance coach can help with that.

   Poets and other creative writers are a staple of literacy and job-training programs. They assist employment agencies with preparing clients for interviews and help workers in a wide range of corporate environments develop better communication techniques that benefit company goals.

   Practitioners of the literary Arts can deliver value beyond traditional marketing material of releases, brochures, ads, web content … a savvy creative writer can delve into the murky psychological depths of corporate culture and shine a light on what should be brought to the surface and highlighted (and what might best stay buried … or changed).

However, for many individual Artists, the future is still going to be a largely freelance, solo existence. In the Post-Melt Funding Era, they’ll find more demand for their Art work by seeking performance and creation opportunities that tie in more directly to a Business, Arts Education or Societal Benefit.

   How do they hook up with these opportunities? How do Businesses find them?

   It’s going to take serious coordination. Funded most likely without public money.

   See the section below on Arts Councils titled “Wanted:  Matchmakers & Dealshapers”.

The “Yeh, but I’m an Artist Response.

   It’s also a fact that not every Artist wishes to be socially relevant or useful. Or even employed.

   Some Artists won’t want to do anything other than what they do now — get paid to create and perform in a traditional Pre-Melt context that eschews any benefit outside the Arts performance context. They won’t want to teach, give workshops, impart wisdom, serve neighbors, rebuild communities — won’t want to do anything but go about their Art as they’ve always gone about it.

   Or they may be one of the very few Artists who achieve such immense, mass-level commercial popularity that they won’t have time to do anything but labor full-time at the extremely taxing job of being an international celebrity and creating Art for a mass consumer audience. Fair play to you, Meryl Streep and Lady Gaga.

   But for the majority of Artists — those who do most of the working-and-paying-and-living-and-Arts making in this world — it’s going to get awfully cold and lonely on that ever-shrinking iceberg without any public-funding flotational device.

   (And forget about moving to Europe, long esteemed as the home of halcyon, rational levels of public Arts support. That ship has sailed into the sunset and smacked into an iceberg … see Sidebar 1.)

In the Post-Melt Paradigm, Arts = Service.

   Hospitals and nursing homes occasionally employ visual artists and musicians as therapists or entertainment for patients/residents. The Literature & Medicine:  Humanities at the Heart of Healthcare® program goes an extra step by integrating Arts and Humanities into the corporate enterprise. 10

   Pioneered in 1997 by the Maine Humanities Council, the Literature & Medicine initiative hires a facilitator to meet monthly in the healthcare venue with doctors, nurses, hospital trustees and support staff for discussions about literature and its role in helping health professionals do the people-part of their job more efficiently.

   With support from a modest 2010 National Endowment for the Humanities grant, the Literature & Medicine program is currently offered to staff at 20 Veterans Administration hospitals and healthcare facilities around the U.S.11

   Twenty facilities is good. What if the corporate giants of the American healthcare universe pitched in to extend Literature & Medicine to the other 1,227 VA healthcare facilities not currently served by the program?

   And expanded the program to hospitals and clinics across the country in a joint collaboration with even a few hundred of the several thousand private foundations that collectively give billions of dollars each year to fill in gaps in America’s healthcare services?

   They wouldn’t need to do it merely from motives of benevolence or patriotism. The bottom-line impacts of the Literature & Medicine program and others like it include real-dollar Business benefits:  creating improved staff with better interpersonal skills, reducing the incidence of provider burn-out, achieving more effective and cost-efficient patient therapies, streamlining the facility service delivery systems.

   You start adding up the number of healthcare professionals, healthcare consumers, healthcare facilities positively affected by wide-scale implementation of just one simple Arts program of this kind, and you hit a lot of pretty big numbers on the Arts Benefit + Business Benefit x (Arts Resources + Business Resources) = Societal Benefit scale.

   The Post-Melt Funding Paradigm transcends Business and Philanthropy tossing guilty tax-writeoff dollars at Arts … it’s about a true synergy of Business and Philanthropy perceiving Arts as an integral mechanism for re-tooling the American workforce that propels the nation’s economic underpinning that anchors our vast and increasingly diversifying social matrix that makes for a vibrant, challenge-ready American workforce.

   It’s the Circle of 21st-Century Economic Life that moves through us all.

   Hakuna Matata, everybody.12

Feed Your Kids the Arts!

   That’s one of the engaging slogans used by Americans for the Arts in their ongoing advocacy efforts to promote Arts Education in U.S. schools, one of many high-profile, high-dollar public service announcement campaigns over the years supporting the Arts Education cause. 13

   Post-Melt, that PSA-ing has to translate into more dollars used in more American schools for more Arts activity reaching more students.

   Hundreds of studies have certified the value of the Arts in creating more efficient students, more motivated students, more empowered and capable students, etc., and thousands of papers have suggested ways to introduce more Arts into U.S. classrooms. (At last count, googling “the value and quality of arts education” gives 39,900,000 results.)

   But finding the funding to make these student miracles happen requires way more than a village.

   In Dallas, Texas, it took a consortium of 60-plus local Arts groups, the municipal government and school district plus the sustained heavyweight philanthropy of the Wallace Foundation, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and numerous other corporate and private foundations to create Big Thought.

   Big Thought was founded in 1987 with a goal of restoring basic, quality Arts Education to the Dallas public school system’s 6,000 elementary educators and 99,000 elementary students.

   In the ensuing quarter century, that formidable goal along with many other Arts Education objectives employing the services of hundreds of Artists and Arts Educators have been accomplished by the Big Thought coalition. According to Big Thought’s most recent annual report, it’s an effort that requires about $12 million of support each year, with close to nine-tenths provided by contributions and grants. 14

   Big Thought has moved the Arts Education model one step beyond the standard private donors give money to pay Artists to teach in schools and help improve test scores. It’s begun utilizing the newly Arts-fortified students themselves as soldiers on the battlefront of social progress.

   In 2010 Big Thought’s SLANT program (Service Learning Adventures in North Texas) mobilized 44,000 area students in 12 counties to get involved in neighborhood improvement projects. The projects were devised and carried out by the students and overwhelmingly used Arts-centered activities to bring 445,000 hours of hands-on people service to their communities. 15

   Big Thought also partners with the American Electronics Association Texas Council (AeA Texas Council) in an initiative designed to increase Dallas elementary students’ math and science interest.

   Or, as the Council’s news release announcing the program put it:  “Mold Young Minds and Look Toward the Future of Technology”. 16

   That’s pretty straightforward. As is the underlying concept of the biggest U.S. technology trade association building upon successful Arts Education practices to harvest more math and science students and make sure the nation’s technology industry retains the necessary “supply of innovators” for the future. 17

   Straightforward and distinctly Post-Melt … the Big Thought model employs Arts Education to implement career-focused Arts programming with the ultimate goal of closing “the opportunity gap in education through creative learning.” 18

   The “opportunity gap” that swallows up the job futures of millions of American students who graduate from high school and even college lacking the intellectual skills they’ll need to survive in the coming decades.

   It’s no longer enough for Arts Education programs to just teach Art. They have to be re-tooled to teach 21st-century ways of thinking using 21st-century technology.

   It’s no longer enough for Business and Philanthropy merely to give schools money here and there for ipads or computer music stations or symphony field trips. Planned curriculum programs similar to Big Thought that integrate Arts and career preparation need to be put in place across the country. And then supported with sustained funding.

   Big Thought has been grinding away for 25 years. What are the rest of us waiting for?

Temples of Art Getting Legs.

   America’s established Arts Institutions are also struggling, despite their traditional access to private funding sources eager to support what are perceived as high-status, high-maintenance Arts.

   And here we’re speaking of Venerable Temples of Art — presenting/exhibiting organizations that have operating budgets in the millions and employees in the hundreds and own real estate and serious bricks-and-mortar. Long-pedigreed theatres, orchestras and art museums (typically referred to among their Arts organization peers as “majors”) administered by board members of social and economic prominence drawn from the community’s Business leadership. These Arts Institutions function as civic cultural centers and linchpin power players sitting at the top of their local Arts eco-system.

   Major Arts Institutions occupy bigger ice floes than the other Arts bears in town … but they’re still feeling the heat.

   America’s major Arts Institutions have been leaders in community Arts outreach for decades and have proven adept at partnering with local Businesses. They have staff and funding resources that offer a variety of public programs, classes and residencies, with special emphasis on delivering Arts to children and, most admirably, poor children.

   But, primarily, the bulk of their activity is geared to delivering Arts experiences that require a lot of expensive overhead:  operas, ballets, symphonies, musicals, curated exhibits and collections, etc. Arts experiences that, by virtue of their form and content, tend to divide Artist-as-Doer from Audience-as-Observer.

   Post-Melt, these organizations are going to have to get even more community-focused and ratchet up the number of Arts experiences that integrate Audience with Artist/Scholar. Teaching and programming will not be an after-thought to the Main Show … they’ll need to become the foundation.

   Example:  in November, 2011 the Newark Museum (Newark, NJ) opened “Generation Fit:  Steps to a Healthier Lifestyle, An Interactive Family Exhibit” designed to:

“… explore issues of nutrition and exercise and provide an interactive ‘tool kit’ for disease prevention and healthy behavior. The exhibit’s interactive components, animation and exercise challenges will help visitors appreciate that small incremental changes in good nutrition and activity can lead to a healthier lifestyle.” 19

   The “interactive components” include Zumba & Salsa Dance Classes & Yoga Workshops; Professional Fitness Instructors Demonstrate Exercise Essentials; Free Cholesterol, BMI & Heart-Rate Screening; Learn to Create a Vegetable Garden; Food & Fitness Gallery Art Tours; Outdoor Games (weather permitting).

   Talk about introducing the active into a traditionally static Arts environment — live Zumba and Salsa in the same Neo-Renaissance Palazzo edifice housing The Lenox Legacy: America’s Greatest Porcelain 1889–2005, the Coffin Lid of Henet-Mer, Songstress of Amun and the Natural Science Collection containing over 20,000 rocks, minerals and fossils.

   Funding Mechanism:  the Generation Fit exhibit receives funding from Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey and Roche, the Swiss-based pharmaceutical giant whose current mission slogan is “Personalised Healthcare”.

   Helpful guidance for a Post-Melt Arts Institution striving to fashion the Personalised Arts Experience.

Wanted:  Matchmakers & Dealshapers

   Q.  So, who’s going to coordinate all this Arts-Business Synergy in every far-flung corner of America?

   A.  Optimally, an upgraded network of local Arts Councils with a new mission and improved resources for achieving that mission.

   Post-Melt, a local Arts Council would move from its current status as a pass-through funding conduit to become an active head hunter/job creator liaison bringing local Artists and Arts Educators in direct contact with participating Business partners.

   Arts Councils will evolve from part-time Arts Cheerleaders into full-time Arts Planners and Developers.

   Most local, county and state Arts Councils currently provide what they call “technical assistance” and “professional development opportunities”. These are workshops in organizational strategy, board management, marketing, etc. for Artists and small Arts groups with occasional small grants for groups to hire an outside consultant to supply these services.

   Arts Councils already possess a viable, experienced staff and management structure and a familiarity with their local corporate and philanthropic landscape.

   Post-Melt, the local Arts Council will expand technical assistance and professional development into present active tense. Along with serving as matchmaker/dealshaper for Businesses seeking Artists to grow the Innovation, Service, Teaching core functions shared by both entities, local Arts Councils will take on the responsibility of devising new projects that more thoroughly integrate the Arts in Business practice.

   The raison d’etre of the new-breed Arts Councils will be to act as “an advocate and catalyst to increase participation, advance collaboration and optimize resources.”

   Which is unusually prescient Mission Statement phrasing from a local Arts Council in rural New York that absolutely Gets It.20

   Q.  And how will these Post-Melt Arts Councils be funded, sans public money?

   A.  By an enlightened corps of businesses and foundations contributing to a network of local and regional Arts Councils that function as the non-profit equivalent of a classic venture capital operation.

   In this scenario, the Arts Council exists to provide funding and guidance to entrepreneurs (Artists) working with the market (Business, Schools). Start-up funding, working capital, mezzanine and bridge financing, whatever is needed.

   As with traditional venture capital, the short-term goal is to convert innovative ideas into products and services that deliver economic benefit to the entrepreneur and market … which also plants seeds for long-term societal benefit to the community.

   And how do the investors earn profit from sponsoring non-profits?

   There are around 400 for-profit venture capital firms in the U.S., and they have different investment interests.21 Some of those 400 should band together and move into the non-profit sector by funding these re-purposed Arts Councils.

   There’s precedent. In the early 1990s, Lilly Endowment — the philanthropic arm of pharmaceutical titan Eli Lilly and Company — wanted each of Indiana’s 92 counties to have a strong community foundation capable of carrying forward the Lilly social progress agenda. The Endowment invested a massive amount of money into a statewide initiative called GIFT (Giving Indiana Funds for Tomorrow), partenered with Indiana Grantmakers Alliance and launched the Sustaining Resource Development program to keep the community foundations in peak fundraising and development condition.22

   Lilly’s hands-on approach got results. Twenty years into the effort to upgrade the Hoosier state’s community foundations to bonafide mover-shaker status (in Lilly-speak, “develop the capacity to generate on an ongoing basis the funding they require to fulfill their missions to serve their communities”), the combined foundation assets stand at $1 billion, up from an aggregate value of $100 million when GIFT got going.23

   In the venture capital world, that’s a pretty fair ROI.

Rewind to the Bear

   The coming public funding changes will affect not just individual Artists but every segment of the Arts eco-system: Artists, Arts Educators, Arts Institutions, Arts Councils.

   A comparison of Pre-Melt problems and Post-Melt possibilities:

   A half century ago, increased public funding for the Arts spawned a new vision of America that was eagerly embraced by tens of millions of Artists and Arts Audiences across the U.S.

   That vision provided new ways for Americans to look at themselves and their neighbors … new ways to strengthen local roots via community-based Arts … new ways to share our many cultural heritages and get ever closer to the reality of achieving our national motto of E Pluriubus Unum — Out of Many, One.

   The Great American Public Arts Movement of the late 20th century succeeded beyond all expectations. Is still succeeding.

   But that vision from the previous century needs some tweaking to have similar impact in the decades to come.

   Time to kick things up a notch, one app at a time.

#U-B-Ur-Own-Arts (LOL)

   We haven’t yet talked about the radical changes already occurring at an accelerating pace in how Arts are being created and accessed.

   People are engaged with their personal electronic communication devices in a direct and absorbing way unimaginable a decade ago.

   Our waking hours are framed and highlighted by ongoing interaction with cellphones, computers, ipods and wall-spanning televisions employing the latest social media software to enmesh us in an ever-expanding web of virtual relationships and micro-meming, crowdcasting and co-opetition, tagging and vlogging … an endlessly layered instant communication culture that provides continuous opportunity to sample and even participate in Arts experiences from anywhere in the world.

   This fast-morphing technology is also the platform from which increasing numbers of Artists not only transmit and publicize their Art but make and perform it (see Sidebar 2).

   But if the tools Artists use to create, present and disseminate their Art adapt through time, can the objectives they hope to achieve with their Art also be altered?

   Will the Future (which is Now, recall) see more Artists making Art that creates wider ripples in real-time daily life for people who are not traditional Arts Audiences?

   With the continued blurring of boundaries between Artist and Audience, of who gets to make Art and what role that Art plays in an individual’s and a community’s day-to-day existence — yes, that’s entirely likely.

The Arts Workforce is Standing By.

   The most reliable current Arts censuses posit that there are approximately 2.4 million individuals in the U.S. and Canada who describe their primary occupation as Artist. 24

   The number of American Arts professionals (2.2 million) equals the total number of active-duty and reserve personnel in the U.S. military. Artists represent 1.4% of the U.S. labor force — a higher percentage than the legal profession (lawyers, judges, paralegals), medical doctors (physicians, surgeons, dentists) or agricultural workers (farmers, ranchers, foresters, fishers). 25

   Significant Statistic:  in 2008, a National Endowment for the Arts survey of public Arts participation reported that 45.3% of U.S. adults claimed to have taken part in an arts-creation activity within the year.26

   Is that possible? That nearly half of the 310 million people in this country have a glancing hands-on relationship with the Arts?

   The NEA’s definition of “participation” covers an array of activities that include playing a musical instrument, singing in a choir, performing in a play, social dancing, knitting, photography, creative writing, making visual art or crafts, storytelling — scores of other activities people do alone and in groups, in private and in public, for profit and for fun.

   Which means the U.S. possesses a very sizeable stock of trained and/or trainable potential “stakeholders” already attuned to the concept of using the Arts as an economic vehicle in their community.

   This proposal is not the WPA of the 1930s, nor is it CETA of the 1970s — both highly enlightened and successful programs, by the way, that utilized the Arts to maximum and telling effect all across the nation and positively impacted millions of American lives during their brief terms of operation.

   The WPA was primarily geared to building physical infrastructure. CETA, in addition to its broader job training mission, ended up erecting a social infrastructure that brought together the nation’s Haves with the Have-Nots for the purpose of sharing knowledge and skills. And that sharing flowed both directions.

   As part of the overall CETA effort between 1973-1982, thousands of Artists representing the educated, affluent, skilled, hope-filled, future-oriented segment of American society were brought face-to-face with hundreds of thousands of students and workers from the segment of American society that was poorly educated, non-affluent, unskilled, resource-deprived and mired in the quicksand of a vanishing post-industrial economy.

   Like the WPA and CETA, this new Arts-Business partnership would be structured to use the Arts as a means of adding to the national economic output while utilizing the most pure form of “advanced technology” on the market … the Arts-driven creativity rising from the inspired human imagination.

Is the New Post-Melt Arts Paradigm Impractical?

   Let’s see:  would we call projects like creating a national system of interstate motorways, a human genome map, billions of miles of computer and cable network wiring “impractical”?

   At the outset, they certainly appeared to be. Now, they’re the indispensable building blocks for the transportation, communication, medicine, science, business, education tweeting-skyping-texting-smartphoning reality of today. And the tomorrow we can barely conceive but will certainly reshape our lives in every detail while we’re doodling on Facebook.

   It is clear that the contemporary Arts milieu is going to have to adapt in the quick years to come, as public funding vanishes and new technology appears that irrevocably alters the access modes and participation preferences of audiences.

   The current competitive funding process is an outdated paradigm. It is skewed to reward the best organized and represented Artists, not necessarily the most talented or inspired. Too many Artists fall between the cracks, too many others have their work “misplaced” … funded but not utilized to maximum Societal Benefit.

   We’re in a policy cycle where fairly soon public dollars aren’t going to be used to support Arts in America. Private dollars have to step up.

   Why should they?

   Because doing so ultimately benefits the private dollar investors in  myriad of ways. If you’re truly a visionary philanthropist or entrepreneur, you want your money to solve the root cause of the problem affecting your operation, not just palliate the symptoms so the problem festers on and on and boomerangs back to bite you in the profits.

   Like the proverb says:  if all you do is give a hungry person a fish sandwich today, tomorrow they’ll be back begging for extra tartar sauce.

   But teach that person to trade fish futures on the commodities market … they might open an Arthur Treacher, Jr. Seafood Empire or transform their fish product into a lovable Disney character or invent a new method of mackerel gene splicing that revolutionizes the industry and voilà — your Applied Philanthropy 101 has paid off big-time.

   It’s all about believing in the Future you can control. And the Future you can’t. They both add up to the Future you’re going to be living in.

   Business needs to stop seeing the Arts as the shabby guy on the corner looking for a handout. Business needs to start seeing the Arts as the accumulated-wisdom guy who may dress a little funky and lack a few social graces but has the vital out-of-the-box smarts to help you keep afloat during the massive technological, social and economic sea changes our world is undergoing.

   Art is an invaluable natural resource we cannot afford to neglect at this point in human history. It is the essential clean, green, life-friendly energy commodity that every society possesses in abundance. It can be extracted, refined, distributed and consumed without drilling, fracking, burning, blasting, harpooning or any other destructive process.

   The changes suggested here are not panaceas. Neither are they intended to suggest a cynical, Huxleyan future where Artists become corporate serfs working a 9-to-5 grind tailoring their creativity to the whims of an exploitive oligarchy.

   But it’s as clear as the Antarctic ice shelf soon to be floating by your living room window that, in the immediate years to come, Artists and those who present and produce the Arts are going to have find a better way to harness the awesome power of Art and its creative process — and then spread that power and process throughout bigger parts of our world to benefit more people each and every day.

   In the Post-Melt funding universe, Arts Institutions are going to have expand their outreach. Arts Councils are going to have to re-tool and re-focus their mission. Arts Education has to be seen by Business and Philanthropy as the critical investment in the nation’s future that it is. Artists and Business have to find ways to work more closely together to utilize the creative benefits of Art in fashioning a more productive and humanly beneficial economy.

   Mass social change is never easy or simple at either micro or macro level. But if it’s guided to some degree, the outcome on several billion human lives could end up more of a net positive than negative.

   All this sounds great. You’ve shown us the What, the How, the Why of this burgeoning Arts utopia. What about the Who? Precisely Who is going to be in charge of making this exquisite dreaminess bloom into fruition?

   You. Me. Us. We’re the Who. And we’re on first.

   The Post-Melt paradigm will almost certainly come about not as a single, nationally organized  effort … but it will pop up here and there in corners of the U.S. lucky enough to have a Big Thought, Inc., a Lilly Endowment, a sponsor group that underwrote Newark Museum’s Generation Fit.

   Lucky enough to have an active, dedicated Arts-Business-Philanthropy alliance with the resources, imagination and — most importantly — the will to make this Post-Melt Paradigm work in their locality and then spread across the country and, perhaps, throughout the world since so many top-tier corporations and foundations are global entities grappling with global concerns.

   But in the end, it starts with people like Us talking and visioning, then doing.

   Are we done with the talking and visioning already?

While the Bear Is Still Dancing…

   Of course, this possible future of absolutely zero public Arts funding isn’t here. But it’s coming. As writer William Gibson has said, “The future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed.”

   In our current present, the Arts Community MUST continue to stand and fight for every public Arts dollar available. We MUST continue to inform our politicians that Americans do indeed value the Arts, are inspired and educated by the Arts and have stated these preferences for Arts time after time in survey after survey and by their consumer purchasing actions.

   We MUST keep trying to persuade politicians and business leaders that the Arts make people smarter, kinder, better in numerous ways … that the Arts as a homegrown, labor-intensive, American-made economic sector are entitled to taxpayer investment and subsidy as much as (and in many cases more so) for-profit corporations like auto manufacturers, weapon makers, oil companies, too-big-to-fail-money-hoarding megabanks.

  We have to realize that our current passive Arts funding process needs to be transformed into an active partnering mechanism that creates opportunities for Artists to grow beyond marginal servant status. Too many Artists fall between the funding cracks, too many others have their work “misplaced”  — funded but not utilized to maximum Societal Benefit.

   Begging the private sector for random acts of monetary kindness that may or may not result in disjointed productions of scintillating beauty isn’t the solution. The Arts are already doing that, and our creative existence begins to degenerate into one continuous bake sale.

   Unlike the bear, we have increasingly clear foreknowledge of what lies ahead, and we can choose to adapt.

   Or not. Because that rugged, barren funding tundra isn’t going to get any more hospitable.

   Witness:

After eliminating public Arts funding from the Kansas state budget, Gov. Brownback has created the privately-funded Kansas Arts Foundation to raise private money for the Arts in Kansas.

In an interview, the new Foundation director said she “doesn’t think raising private money will be that hard … since the Kansas arts commission’s budget was so small to begin with.” 27

   Perhaps the first donation can be spent on hiring a playwright to bring the new Foundation director up to speed on the concept of Dramatic Irony.

# # #

Lawrence E. McCullough, Ph.D. is Press Director for the Hall Institute of Public Policy-New Jersey and has been an active organizer of Arts and non-profit community ventures since 1973. Dr. McCullough is a musician/composer and author of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays and film scripts – see www.lemccullough.com for full publication/performance details. He is married to the actress Lisa Bansavage, with whom he operates an educational film and theatre organization, Pages of History, Inc. (www.pagesofhistory.org).

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SIDEBAR 1: 

It’s Not So Great in Europe, Either, Anymore.

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      For decades the progressive policy of public Arts funding practiced by many nations in Europe has been cited as a model of how Arts funding should be carried out in the U.S.

      The European funding model was committed to supporting all forms of the Arts – from high-brow to low-brow, opera to grunge rock, beaux art collections to amateur and idiosyncratic, stridently uncollectible visual Artists. Not only were the needs of Artists considered; the funding allotments hoped to shape the Arts tastes of a wide spectrum of the public.

      Update:  that was Yesterday … and, as the lyrical production firm of Chad & Jeremy will verify, Yesterday’s Gone.1

      European governments are increasingly following the “American Model” of Arts support. Which means they’re cutting back on public funding for public Arts entities and relying instead on soliciting private donations and pursuing corporate underwriting — the survival-of-the-most-commercially-attractive.

      A 2004 report from the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts stated that govern­ment support for Italy’s major opera houses was nearly 10 times larger than the entire annual NEA budget, a level of financial support that “allows major Italian companies to present opera at the highest artistic standards.”2

    In the recent past, Germany’s public arts funding has allowed the country to have 23 times more full-time symphony orchestras per capita than the U.S. and 28 times more full-time opera houses, even though unification expanded its population by 25 percent and brought a second, impoverished country into the mix.3

    One observer estimates:  “If America averaged the same ratios per capita as Germany, it would have 485 full-time, year-round orchestras instead of about 20. If America’s Northeastern seaboard had the same sort of orchestral landscape as Germany, there would be full-time, year-round professional orchestras (often in conjunction with opera houses) in Long Island, Newark, Jersey City, Trenton, Camden, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore, New Haven, Hartford, Springfield, Providence, and Boston.” 4

    Camden? Trenton? We can dream.

      From 2000-2005, national spending by 27 European nations as a percentage of their Gross Domestic Product varied between 0.3% and 1.2%.5  In the United States in 2005, government Arts spending totaled roughly .0037% of the U.S. GDP, with the actual level of federal funding accounting for slightly less than 1 percent of total arts funding in America from all public and private sources. 6

    However, the movement of European governments toward reducing Arts funding has been brewing awhile and not solely as a result of the tremors in the global economy since 2008.

    A 2001 article in Britain’s The Economist cited ominous public Arts funding trims in Austria, Germany and Italy including a 9% cut in the state subsidy of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and a 6% reduction in the state subsidy of Milan’s Teatro alla Scala.7

      Fast Forward Nearly a Decade … to a 2010 New York Times article reporting a speech given by British Conservative Party politician Jeremy Hunt, who vowed that if his Tories came to power in the next election and he were named the country’s Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, he would instill “a U.S.-style culture of philanthropy” in Britain.8

      They did, he was, and he did.

      In the Queen’s English, “a U.S.-style culture of philanthropy” translated in March, 2011 to a 30% cut in Britain’s national Arts budget that affected over 600 of the nation’s Arts organizations. A quarter of the theatres, galleries and orchestras receiving funding from Arts Council England lost all their government grants.9

      Also in 2010, French President Nicolas Sarkozy proposed sweeping cuts to publicly-funded Arts institutions such as the Louvre, the palace at Versailles and National Library. To avoid losing thousands of Arts-sector jobs, French Arts institutions would be required to raise private money.10

      Like we do in America.

      The Louvre has received private funds from Total oil company to restore its Apollo Gallery, leading French labor union director Didier Alaime to note that “the name of the sponsor is more visible than the name of the gallery itself. It gives the impression that culture is merchandise.” 11 Versailles is developing hotels and seeking to license its name for luxury watches and other products. Last month the former home of France’s most romanticized doomed royalty opened an online boutique with offerings including a gold-and-ivory porcelain Marie Antoinette soup tureen and “Let Them Eat Cake” coconut candles.12

      Yankee Doodle Dandy, mes amis.

      In the Netherlands, a long-time haven of public Arts funding, the government recently entertained the possibility of cutting the national Arts budget by 75%.13 Ireland’s Arts Council is looking at a 12% reduction of its budget; government-funded Arts in Slovenia are confronting 18% in cuts. 14 Reductions nearing 20% occurred in Spain; in Lithuania, whose capital Vilnius was celebrated as the 2009 European Capital of Culture, the culture ministry’s budget was cut by more than 25% in 2010. The Arts budgets of Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, Russia, Ukraine were severely diminished in 2011.15

      Except for Germany (where public source Arts funding remains high at 80%), the steady movement of European governments toward disinvesting in cultural support has become the rule rather than exception.16

      Surveying the current European Arts milieu, writer Roslyn Sulcas remarks, “State support for culture — long posited as a taxpayer’s right, like decent roads or health care — is showing distinct signs of erosion, with a move toward the American fund-raising model, which suggests that art is a luxury to be paid for by those to whom it matters.”17

      (In America, roads and health care would be classified by many as Luxuries, but that’s another story for another time.)

      Simon Dove, co-curator of the French Institute Alliance Française’s Crossing the Line Festival, believes the most critical change will impact how Arts are created in Europe — by whom, for whom and bearing whose socio-political perspective. “There was an implicit understanding in Europe that you need to put money into the research and development part of culture. Now what’s happening is that the big structures keep the resources because that provides a public illusion of culture.” 18

      James Abruzzo is the co-founder of the Institute for Ethical Leadership at Rutgers Business School in New Jersey and a non-profit consultant with 30 years of Arts funding insights. He’s not bullish on the survival of the European Model of Arts funding.

      “In Europe, I think the arts will experience serious trouble because of the difficult economic conditions, failing infrastructure, demographic issues, and increasingly expensive social service demands. I think the arts are going to suffer because they are not going to be a first priority, nor a second but maybe third or fourth priority of the government.”19

      However, Abruzzo brightens when looking at Asia. “China is booming and arts centers are being built all over the country,” he notes. “Likewise, India is ripe for expansion; both countries have the resources and the populations and they have an interest in being like the west. I think that in the future we will see a growth in buildings and arts organizations in Asia. Whether the quality or the creativity will be there, I don’t know.”20

      Undeniably, the new European/American/Global funding reality for the Arts is moving toward the private sector. Is there a smartphone app for locating the nearest Medici?

      Says Ricardo Szwarcer, former director of the famed Grec Festival of Barcelona, “I don’t believe that the Arts is a different system to anything else; people have to adjust to a different way of doing things.” 21

      In Serbia, the Belgrade Philharmonic now advertises its services to perform at weddings and funerals. Orchestra members organize musical flash mobs in public spaces (Occupy Mozart!) and upload the videos to YouTube as a publicity tool.22

      Plus ça change, plus c’est change.

*   *   *

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SIDEBAR 2: 

The Muse Living in Your Smartphone …
There’s an App for That.

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BRAVE NEW WORLD SYMPHONY *

When listening to Cubs games on your headphones during concerts, be considerate of those around you. Periodically during the concert, pass the radio down the row or across the aisle so that other patrons can also keep abreast of the score. 
—  Mind Your Manners, Clues to Classical, Chicago Tribune

At the Shakespeare Festival of Dallas, a crucial scene in “The Tempest” was interrupted by interference and snippets of conversation. The signals from audience cell phones had tangled with the actors’ wireless microphones.  
— Dallas Morning News

       I’m an old man now, but I recall with fondness the great performances that inspired me to become an Artist, away back in the first decade of the 21st century.

       There was that stirring ISO rendition of Brahms’ Concerto in D-flat Minor for Palm Pilot, Baritone Pager and Children’s Cell Phone Choir … the raging drama of A Laptop Named Desire with poor Blanche delivering the immortal line:  “I have always depended upon the software of strangers!” … the afternoons whiled away in bliss at the ballet, entranced by the Dance of the Sugarplum Gigabytes.

       Hard for us sophisticated moderns to believe, but not all that long ago some of our most cherished musical instruments were deemed “intrusive”, much like the early pianofortes of Mozart’s day.

       Admittedly, the first orchestral tone implants were crude affairs that often set entire woodwind sections to strumming their clarinets and caused tympani players to batter the head of the nearest oboist.

       Finally, bowing to the jangling vox techuli of the marketplace, dowdy tradition yielded to bold innovation; composers and playwrights realized they couldn’t compete with the new technology, so they adapted it, transforming supreme annoyance into sublime art.

       I studied Video Techophony at Herron (minoring in Renaissance White Noise), received a Master’s in Ambient Musicology from the renowned I.U. School of MusicInfoNetics and had the honor of being part of the team that pioneered the Hum-A-Tune Interface, whereby random musical fragments circulating among the subconscious brain waves of front-row season ticket holders were instantly translated into sounds emanating from the instruments onstage, creating the historic Simultaneous Symphony Series.

       My first real artistic recognition came when I introduced the attachable BLURTEX cere-modems, which incorporated comments and body functions of chattering audience members into play dialogue.

       “But soft! What wind through yonder window breaks? It is nigh intermission and my bladder is straining as Juliet that flirty tease gargles her lines and yet I am too bored, oh that I were a glove upon a winning poker hand, what of that, bright angel pasta Alfredo?”

       Now, everyone can participate in The Classics! Shakespeare ‘B’ Us!

       Of course, there will always be nay-sayers and moldy figs with their weepy nostalgia for the days when an audience quietly and attentively listened to a performer. Imagine — letting some “individual” dictate a singular artistic vision without prior approval from sponsors and paying customers!

       As if the besotted mutterings of the gent slumped in the third row balcony weren’t just as important to the plot of Lohengrin as the so-called “libretto” that Waggoneer fop cooked up!     

       Ah, but here in Indiana, our appreciation of serious culture is best expressed in that poetic masterpiece of Hoosier family values by that Old School rappin’ rustic, James Whitcomb “Frosty Punkin” Riley:

An’ Little Orphant Annie says,
When the modem blazes blue,
An’ the C-drive sputters,
An’ the printer goes woo-oo!
An’ you hear the browser quit,
An’ the screen goes gray,
An’ the segmentation memory
Is all squenched away,
Oh, the Hackers’ll flame you—
Ef you don’t watch out!

       Now, that’s what we call Art. . . . with a capital R.

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* L.E. McCullough, “Brave New World Symphony”
(© L.E. McCullough 2000)
.
First published in Arts Indiana, October, 2000.

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      IN THE TWELVE YEARS since I wrote that article, some of the Technology-Arts-Audience fusions envisioned as fanciful satire have come into actual reality.

      It’s clear that the ever-advancing consumer communication technology available to a billion or so people is already having a lasting impact not just on the tools with which Artists create but on the actual performance.

      Here’s a sampling (sic) of the future direction of Arts Performance in Our Lifetime. Get ready, Artists, because it’s already here.

____________________________________________

November, 2000, London, England. Opening of Telephony, an installation by Alison Craighead and Jon Thomson. Gallery visitors dial a wall-based grid of 42 Siemens mobile telephones, which in turn call each other and create a piece of music. Each phone has been individually programmed with a different ringtone, which played en-masse, create various harmonic layers based in some way on the popular and prevalent NokiaTune.1

Sept. 2, 2001, Linz, Austria. Premiere of Dialtones (A Telesymphony) by American composer Golan Levin in which all sounds are wholly produced through choreographed ringing of 200 pre-set audience cellphones; the phones, not their owners, speak to one another. “By summoning a communication between communications technologies in which there is no interlocutor, the Telesymphony invites its participants to perceive an order in what is otherwise disorganized public noise, and ratify it as a chorus of organized social sound.” 2

Oct. 23, 2009, Auckland, New Zealand. Vodafone NZ hires a production team to orchestrate cellphones into “playing” Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture using 1,000 phones, 53 different ringtone alerts, 2,000 text messages synchronized to recreate the famous classical piece.3

Dec. 9, 2009, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Students in the University of Michigan Mobile Phone Ensemble played a live concert with only iPhones and iPods as instruments; similar mobile phone orchestras include Stanford University MoPho, Helsinki MoPho, Berlin Mobile Phone Orchestra.4

Dec. 26-31, 2009, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As part of the PNC Arts Alive grant program, audience members attending selected Pennsylvania Ballet performances of The Nutcracker texted instant responses to questions about the performance direct from their cell phones; answers were displayed in the auditorium during the live Academy of Music performances, as well as online. Attendees chose their favorite characters and scenes, then shared the information instantly with the rest of the audience.5

April 9, 2010, New York, New York. Choreographer Zvi Gotheiner premieres Zoom, a video-phone-dance work in which dancers receive texted movement instructions from the audience and, later, send texts to audience members inviting them onstage.6

June, 2010, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Drexel University computer scientists have programmed a computer to “listen” to a live orchestral performance and then transmit real-time tidbits to the phone’s display screen, describing the relevant music theory and context. The program includes a map indicating where the orchestra is in the performance, similar to a map displayed on screens during a long airplane flight.7

October, 2010, New York, New York. Pop-rock quartet Atomic Tom performs their just-released single Take Me Out on a moving subway train in real time using nothing but iPhones as instruments to back their vocals; the video has gained over 5 million views to date.8

July-November, 2011, New York, New York. Museum of Modern Art’s exhibit “Talk to Me: Design and the Communication Between People and Objects” features nearly 200 works celebrating communication design exploring the powerful and unspoken bonds between people and things.9

July 25, 2011, New York, New York.  Pop-rock band Jane’s Addiction perform at Terminal 5 in a concert billed by sponsors LG and YouTube as World’s First 3D User-Generated Concert event. Attendees use a LG Thrill4G cell phone to shoot 3D video, which is then collected and combined into a 65-minute concert film.10

November, 2011, New York, New York. Designer Khoi Vinh and developer/coder Scott Ostler introduce an iPad art app called Mixel that allows users to take images from the Web or elsewhere, collage them and then circulate via social media for “appreciation or re-mixing”. Commented School of Visual Arts Professor Stephen Frailey, “For the generation that I spend my days with, there’s not even any ideological baggage that comes along with appropriation anymore. They feel that once an image goes into a shared digital space, it’s just there for them to change, to elaborate on, to add to, to improve, to do whatever they want with it. They don’t see this as a subversive act. They see the Internet as a collaborative community and everything on it as raw material.”11

*   *   *

________________

END NOTES:

Dancing on Ice Floes

1.  “Brownback Vetoes Kansas Arts Commission:  Endangers Thousands of Jobs and Federal Funding”. KCMetropolis:  Kansas City’s Online Journal of the Performing Arts, May 31, 2011.

2.  Christopher Knight, “The South Carolina Arts Commission Skirts Elimination”, Los Angeles Times, June 29, 2011.

3.  Peggy McGlone, “N.J. Council on the Arts Forced to Make Cuts Across-the-Board to Save Newark Museum”. Newark Star-Ledger, July 26, 2011.

4.  “Freedom from Budget Cuts”. Americans for the Arts Action Fund, July 1, 2011.

5.  Rachel Corbett, “States Cut Arts Funding”. Artnet.com, July 1, 2011.

6.  The Nielsen Company, Broadcast TV Ratings, Week of Sept. 12, 2011.

7.  Brian Headd, “An Analysis of Small Business and Jobs”. SBA Office of Advocacy, March 2010, Report No. 359.

8.  Linda Naiman, “The Intersection of Art and Business: A context for arts-based training and development in the workplace”. http://www.creativityatwork.com

9.  Unilever, Annual Report and Accounts 2010.

10.  Laura Landro, “Informed Patient:  Your Doctor is a Poet … And You Didn’t Know It”. Wall Street Journal, Feb. 1, 2011.

11.  “Literature & Medicine in Department of Veterans Affairs Hospitals”. Maine Humanities Council website, http://www.mainehumanities.org/programs/litandmed/va-hospitals.html.

12.  “Hakuna Matata” — music by Elton John/lyrics by Tim Rice from the film The Lion King.

13.  Americans for the Arts web site, http://www.artusa.org/public_awareness.

14.  Big Thought, Inc. Annual Report, 2010-2011.

15.  Ibid.

16.  “AeA Texas Council, Big Thought Join to Mold Young Minds and Look Toward the Future of Technology”. News release from AeA Texas Council, PRNewswire, Jan. 28, 2008.

17.  Ibid.

18.   “From Sea to Shining Sea:  Sharing Impact across Three Urban Arts Learning Initiatives”, Report of Panel at Arts Education Partnership National Forum, Fall 2011.

19. Website, Newark Museum, Newark, NJ. http://www.newarkmuseum.org/genfit.html.

20.  “What is The Arts?”. Website, ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes.

21.  Website, National Venture Capital Association. http://www.nvca.org.

22.  Lilly Endowment, Annual Report 2005.

23.  “GIFT: Giving Indiana Funds for Tomorrow – A Major Philanthropic Program for Communities in Indiana”. http://www.lillyendowment.org/cd_gift.html

24.  Kelly Hill and Kathleen Capriotti, A Statistical Profile of Artists in Canada. Canada Council for the Arts, 2009; Deidre Gaquin, Artists in the Workforce 1990-2005. National Endowment for the Arts, 2008.

25.  Deidre Gaquin, Artists in the Workforce 1990-2005. National Endowment for the Arts, 2008.

26.  Jennifer L. Novak-Leonard and Alan S. Brown, Beyond Attendance:  A Multi-Modal Understanding of Arts Participation. National Endowment for the Arts, 2011.

27.  Elizabeth Blair, “Kansas Cuts Public Funding for the Arts”. Morning Edition, National Public Radio. June 13, 2011.

SIDEBAR 1:  It’s Not So Great in Europe, Either, Anymore.

1.  “Yesterday’s Gone” — 1963 Chad & Jeremy song written by David Stuart/Wendy Kidd.

2.  “How the United States Funds the Arts”. National Endowment for the Arts, October, 2004.

3.  William Osborne,Marketplace of Ideas:  But First, the Bill (a Personal Commentary on American 

and European Cultural Funding)”. ArtsJournal.com March 11, 2004.

4.  Ibid.

5.  Arjo Klamer, Lyudmilla Petrova, Anna Mignosa, Stichting Economie and Cultuur, “Financing the Arts and Culture in the European Union”. European Parliament Committee on Culture and Education, 2006.

6.  “The Economic Impact of the Arts in the South:  A Special Series”. Report of the Southern Legislative Conference, 2006.

7.  “Hands in Their Pockets,” The Economist, August 16, 2001.

8.  Michael Kimmelman, “In Europe, the Arts Ask for Alms”. New York Times, Jan. 21, 2010.

9.  Tamara Cohen, “600 Groups Hit by £100m Arts Cuts”. Daily Mail (London), Mar. 31, 2011.

10.  Michael Kimmelman, “In Europe, the Arts Ask for Alms”. New York Times, Jan. 21, 2010.

11.  Ibid.

12.  Doreen Carvajal, “‘This Space for Rent’:  In Europe, Arts Now Must Woo Commerce”. New York Times, Jan. 23, 2011.

13.  Tom Service, “Dutch Courage Needed in Face of Classical Music Funding Cuts”. The Guardian UK, June 20, 2011.

14.  Andreas Wiesand, “The Financial Crisis and Its Effects on Public Arts Funding.” Coalición para la Diversidad Cultural, July, 2011.

15.  Péter Inkei, “The Effects of the Economic Crisis on Culture.” Culture Watch Europe conference 2010.

16.  Ibid.

17.  Roslyn Sulcas, “Europe Braces for a Shift in the Arts”. New York Times, Aug. 25, 2011.

18.  Doreen Carvajal, “‘This Space for Rent’:  In Europe, Arts Now Must Woo Commerce”. New York Times, Jan. 23, 2011.

19.  Caterina Ghelfi, “Performing Arts, Arts Leadership and Future Scenarios:  an Interview with James Abruzzo”. Tafter Journal, Feb. 28. 2011.

20.  Ibid.

21.  Doreen Carvajal, “‘This Space for Rent’:  In Europe, Arts Now Must Woo Commerce”. New York Times, Jan. 23, 2011.

22.  Nemanja Cabric, “Belgrade Philharmonic Targets New Audience”. Balkan Insight, Sept. 6, 2011.

SIDEBAR 2: The Muse Living in Your Smartphone

1.  Website of Thomson & Craighead. http://www.thomson-craighead.net/docs/teleph.html.

2.  Dialtones (A Telesymphony. Moodvector.com. http://www.moodvector.com/concerts/telesymphony.htm.

3.  “Vodafone NZ Recreates Tchaikovsy’s 1812 Overture with Mobiles”. Trend Hunter. http://www.trendhunter.com/trends/1812-overture.

4.  “iPhones Are Musical Instruments in New Course and Ensemble”. University of Michigan News Service, Dec. 8, 2009.

5.  “Turn Your Cell Phone On! Continues with George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker”. Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, Dec. 23, 2009.

6.  Gia Kourlas, “Love the Leap. Pls Kick More. U Tired? BFF.” New York Times, Apr. 9, 2010.

7.  “New Musical Resonance, via Your Cell Phone”, Philadelphia Inquirer, June 14, 2010.

8.  Shirley Halperin, “Viral Video: Atomic Tom’s Guerilla-Style iPhone Performance Rocks the B Train”. Hollywood Reporter, Oct. 16, 2010.

9.  Karen Rosenberg, “Art That Interacts if You Interface”. New York Times, July 28, 2011.

10.  Richard Horgan, “Jane’s Addiction Private Concert Film Debuts on YouTube”. Fishbowl LA, Aug. 4, 2011.

11.  Randy Kennedy, “Appropos Appropriation”. New York Times, Dec. 28, 2011.

Posted in Art Biz News | 1 Comment

Yes, Katie, There Is a Santa Claus

~ Rev. Lisa Bansavage ~

From guest blogger
Rev. Lisa Bansavage—

AS I WAS CHEERILY putting up my Christmas decorations this week, a memory from a few years back came flooding through me.

We were visiting one of my husband’s cousins who had three young children. We noticed at one point in the holiday celebration that the youngest child suddenly seemed quite sad. “What’s wrong, Katie?” we asked.

She looked at us imploringly. “I just don’t understand why Santa doesn’t take care of all the poor children. Why does he bring me so much, when they have so little?”

We were fairly floored. None of the grownups knew how to explain how our revered Season of Giving co-exists with the horrific poverty affecting billions sharing the planet — a discrepancy that she, a mere child of six, saw so clearly. No one could really answer her.  And in trying to take the heat off Santa, we would only deprive her of what was still a cherished belief in a wondrous world of myth and mystery.

Katie’s challenging question comes into my mind every year at the holidays. Perhaps it is time to revise the classic 1897 “Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus” editorial for our day.*

It might go like this:

*    *    *    *    *

~ Virginia O'Hanlon ~

“Dear Reverend Lisa,

“I am 6 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in the Colonia Corner, it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?”  

Katie, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age.

They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can exist which is not comprehensible by their little minds.

Yes, Katie, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and kindness and devotion exist — and you know from your own family that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.

Of course, the Santa Claus you see on television, or at the mall, is not the real Santa Claus.

The real Santa Claus is inside you, and he was in you and me and everyone who ever lived from the moment we entered this world.

But as we grow, and the weeks and months and years of childhood go quickly by, we forget the Santa dwelling inside us.

We begin to look for him in other people, other things.

We look for him in toys, clothes, games, all the delightful things money can buy … until when we become adults, we often don’t see Santa at all.

We only see the things. And things, Katie, do not give love or kindness or devotion.

Fortunately, you are still young. You can see the Santa Claus living (sometimes hiding!) in all of us. You and other children can help us grownups see him, too.

Just think, Katie:  if every grownup could act like Santa with every person they met every single day — we would soon have a world where little girls like you don’t ever have to feel sad about other children.

Because all the love, kindness and devotion that is the True Spirit of Christmas would spread like a calm, comforting blanket across every corner of the globe and transform this hard, bitter world of rich and poor into a world of beauty and joy shared by us all.

Yes, Katie, there is a Santa Claus. And as long as you believe in him, you’ll see miracles everywhere.

And surely make a few yourself.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all! 

Reverend Lisa 

*    *    *    *    *

 Lisa Bansavage is an ordained Interfaith Minister and Wedding Officiant
in Woodbridge, NJ. See her website at www.revbansavage.com
_________________________________________________

*  “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”. Written by Francis P. Church
of the New York Sun, first published Sept. 21, 1897.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yes,_Virginia,_there_is_a_Santa_Claus

Posted in Short Fiction | 1 Comment

It’s This Rain

© L.E. McCullough 1993
____________________

LOOKING OUT THE WINDOW
of my sixth-grade classroom following noon recess, it seemed as if the entire St. Michael’s School playground was going to float away in the driving rain that had been falling steadily in Indianapolis since early morning.

It was a chilly Friday in late November, the week before Thanksgiving vacation, and our dedicated teacher, Miss Roach, was enthusiastically trying to maintain the class’ flagging interest in Spelling. My thoughts, as usual, were on the upcoming weekend:  watching Frances Farmer’s afternoon movie show on Channel 6, listening to WIBC’s Rockin’ Reb Porter spin the latest hits from Duane Eddy and Sam Cooke and getting ready for tonight’s field trip with my Boy Scout troop to the Indiana War Memorial military museum downtown.

Suddenly, the voice of our principal, Sister Mary Vigil, crackled from the intercom speaker above the crucifix at the front of the room. Her usually crisp, authoritative tone was noticeably subdued. “Boys and girls,” she said haltingly. “Our president John Kennedy has been shot. This is the only news we have at this time. Please say a prayer for his speedy recovery.”

There was silence for several seconds as we looked questioningly at each other and then at our teacher.  Hands rose tentatively. “Miss Roach, no one’s allowed to shoot a president, are they?” “Isn’t shooting a president a mortal sin?” “If someone shoots a president and then makes an act of contrition, would they still be put in hell or maybe limbo?”

A tall, slender, red-haired woman with a quick smile and lilting voice, Miss Roach was a popular teacher, admired by girls and boys alike. When our questions subsided, we knew she’d provide a sensible explanation for the disturbing news we’d just heard.

Her voice shaking, she told us to start the next story in our reader. Then she hurried out of the room, head bowed, shoulders hunched. For the next half hour some of us read, others whispered, and all of us glanced anxiously at the intercom, the crucifix and the rain outside.

Just after two o’clock the intercom thumped on, and we were told to prepare for immediate dismissal. We quickly packed our things and clustered at the doorway just as Miss Roach returned, eyes red and clutching kleenex in her hands, to lead us out. Filing through the halls, the usual skitter of bantering child voices was absent, replaced by the wordless shuffle of tramping galoshes and squeaking raincoats. Outside it looked as if twilight had fallen. . . the buses had their headlights on. . . weird flickering shadows danced on the stained glass windows of the church, reflections from banks of candles freshly lit inside.                    

Urged on by mutterings of thunder, I ran the six blocks home alone, dodging puddles that were fast becoming gushing rivulets and small ponds. It’s this rain, I thought. God is sending this rain to punish the human race for its wickedness. I suddenly envied my cousins who lived in New Jersey near the ocean. At least they’re close to where they can get hold of a boat.

My mother was in the kitchen when I got home. She didn’t seem surprised to see me home early but simply smiled and said hello as always. As she set my afterschool snack of milk and homemade tollhouse cookies on the table, it seemed as if today was no different than any other day. Maybe it didn’t happen. Maybe the news announcer made a mistake. Maybe—

“Grandma Igoe just called,” my mother said as she began defrosting our Friday evening supper of fish sticks and macaroni. “Uncle Larry is very upset.” My mother’s family was from back East, and in addition to Igoes, our relatives included Doyles, McDermotts, Manions, Healys, Murphys and Tracys, all of them Irish, all of them Catholic, just like the President who’d been shot. Hardworking sons and daughters of immigrants still struggling to live the belief that in America in 1963, your worth as a person shouldn’t be based upon where your family came from or what house of worship you attend. Just like the President who’d been shot.

She closed the oven and gazed out the window at the rain. “They hate us,” she said, her voice quiet but fervent, as if in prayer. “Dear God, why do they still hate us?”

I thought I saw tears welling up in her eyes, but she turned away toward the oven. I didn’t have an answer, and I didn’t feel like eating any more cookies, so I went up to my room and snapped on my transistor radio.

Instead of the Chiffons and Dixie Cups pining about teen love, the station news director was gravely reading the list of events around the city that would be cancelled this weekend.

Restless, I opened my closet, and a plastic toy machine gun fell onto my feet. It was a cap-loading replica of the kind they used in all the World War II movies on TV, and it was a favorite in the arsenal of pretend weaponry my friends and I used during our neighborhood-wide sport of “playing war”.  I put it back on the shelf, wedging it between a box containing dozens of miniature Revolutionary War soldiers, a Civil War battle set and a board game called Strategy, where your super-power pawns tried to outflank and demolish the other super-power pawns opposing you.

The phone rang, and I ran to my parents’ bedroom to pick up the extension. Maybe this is Dad, and he’s calling to tell us he’s got a boat, and we’re going to ride out the storm in California and live with surfers and maybe even The Beachboys.

“Hey, Mac,” came my friend Rick’s voice. “The trip to the museum got called off. Our patrol leader said we’re gonna go next week. After they have the new President.”

“Yeh.”

“Hey, I heard they got a Mauser rifle on display just like the one that guy used to kill Kennedy. Neato, huh?”

“Yeh. Neato.”

“Wonder how much one of those babies cost? Wow! Bam-bam! Bam-bam-bam!”

 “I don’t know. I gotta go.”

“Me, too. S’long.”

I hung up and cocked my ears toward downstairs, but I didn’t hear anything except my mother’s usual dinner-making sounds, so I went back to my room and stood in front of my closet and stared at my soldiers and guns and war games for awhile as the radio talked on about what had happened in Dallas.

I tried to visualize what a real Mauser rifle looked like and what somebody in a tower shooting the President of the United States might look like, and then I thought of my dad and mom and I driving along in our DeSoto on some dark highway where it was raining and suddenly a shot ringing out and smashing through the windshield and hitting my dad in the neck and then ricocheting into my mother’s head and her screaming and the car going out of control and crashing into a tree in the rain in the dark out in the middle of nowhere in the rain and the dark for no reason at all, and all I could do was just sit in the smashed-up back seat and cry as a chorus of radio announcer voices chanted, “Bam-bam! Bam-bam-bam! Bam-bam! Bam-bam-bam!”

The phone rang, and I heard my mother answer and tell my dad to hurry home — and to be careful. I turned off the radio and shut my closet door and then laid back down on my bed, listening in the dark to the rain tapping on my windowpane like bullets.

About a month later, my dad helped me collect all my guns and soldiers and war games and load them into a box we drove down to the orphanage in Vincennes. I’d outgrown them, I suppose, and my dad said they should go to where they’d still be appreciated “by kids that don’t have anything else.”

I was just glad that on the way back home, it had finally stopped raining for awhile.

 THE END  *

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Drift Away

On a chilled, rain-sotted evening a couple weeks back, I saw Kevin Crawford and Cillian Vallely backed by guitarist Ted Davis perform a concert at the gracious home of Mike and Rose Flanagan in Pearl River, New York – a town just across the New Jersey border that’s become a veritable whirling nexus of Irish traditional music activity the last few years.

Through some sort of cultural kismet, Pearl River and its environs have attracted an ever-expanding core of adult ITM players and a half dozen music and dance schools nurturing Irish folkways among a new generation of super-talented youngsters.

The local Shoprite even has a special Irish section in the “International Foods” aisle.

And this is a Good Thing.

I’d seen Kevin and Cillian before with their sensational regular group Lúnasa, of course. The two sets this night were largely drawn from their 2009 album of flute-pipes-whistle blendings, On Common Ground (BallyO Records).

It might be assumed that because I play the music, and even several of those tunes, that I’d have spent the evening mentally comparing my versions to theirs. Studying their technique. Focusing on minutiae of phrasing, embellishment, variation, etc. Every musician does this subconsciously. Can’t help it. It’s how our minds are wired.

But this night was different, and not just because of the intimacy of the Flanagan parlor or superb accompaniment by Ted Davis. I wanted to let the music take me to a SUB-subconscious level. No analysis. No scrutiny. Just seeing if the sounds could burrow down and strike a level of deep, heretofore unfathomed Ur-Craic.

When the first tune kicked off, I leaned against the rear wall, closed my eyes and sank into tantric breathing mode … breathing to relax, relax and detach … relax to where just one brain synapse pushed artfully ajar would be enough to let the music travel along a whole new path to a mental part of Me I’d never been before.

I can’t say for certain at what point in the set (possibly the twin-whistled Man from Moyasta medley) that I felt the music changing … not changing speed or timbre or texture … but changing dimension … mass … volume even … like the way you hear sound when your head is under water, the sonic waves altering in location and amplitude as they pass from one medium into another (air into water) to be perceived wholly anew in every aspect by your sensory field — in this case translating audio stimuli into visual and tactile form.

Only the music wasn’t muddled; it was voiced with searing clarity and infinite nuance, phrase after phrase after deftly-framed phrase rippling out agile, pulsing note swells that merged seamlessly with the drumming raindrops outside. It was music that allowed my mind to wander into a borderless, timeless aural space where I could feel Everything and Nothing at once. And not worry either way.

[This is where I need to mention that the only pre-concert substances I had imbibed were tap water and a slice of Charlie Sporn’s tasty homemade soda bread, spiked moderately with sugar and butter.]

What’s most remarkable is realizing I’ve been playing Irish traditional music for nearly forty years, and it still has the power at any given moment to seize hold of my internal gearbox and torque me straight into a riveting out-of-body in-body experience words can never really describe.

But that’s all in the music’s DNA, most likely. A gift from the ancients to us stressed, frettish, anxious moderns.

Chroniclers say that the ancient Irish had three classes of music: one with the ability to inspire sadness, the second for sparking joy, a third for inducing sleep.

Listening to the Kevin-Cillian-Ted trio this night, I’d be tempted to add a fourth category:  music to let yourself just drift away to wherever it is you need to be.

And that is truly a Good Thing.

*  *  *

DRIFT AWAY — vocal by Dobie Gray
(author/composer:  Mentor Williams)

Day after day I’m more confused
So I look for the light through the pouring rain
You know that’s a game that I hate to lose
And I’m feelin’ the strain, ain’t it a shame

Oh, give me the beat, boys, and free my soul
I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away
Oh, give me the beat, boys, and free my soul
I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away

Beginning to think that I’m wastin’ time
I don’t understand the things I do
The world outside looks so unkind
I’m countin’ on you to carry me through

Oh, give me the beat, boys, and free my soul
I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away
Oh, give me the beat, boys, and free my soul
I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away

And when my mind is free
You know a melody can move me
And when I’m feelin’ blue
The guitar’s comin’ through to soothe me
Thanks for the joy that you’ve given me
I want you to know I believe in your song
Rhythm and rhyme and harmony
You help me along, makin’ me strong

Oh, give me the beat, boys, and free my soul
I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away
Oh, give me the beat, boys, and free my soul
I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zaPnOASOWIU
Dobie Gray himself, 1974 with some English cats on BBC


Posted in Ineffables (Random/Glorious) | Leave a comment

Elvis Story Hour

STUCK ON YOU
©  L.E. McCullough 1991

You’re next, doll. Ever had a tattoo before? Well, it ain’t changed much since then. Sit down and relax. Ain’t one of them dang bleeders, are you?

Sure, I do a bangup business every Valentine’s Day. Had my own parlor since ’61 and I done tats for brigadier generals, movie stars, accountants, singing nuns —  you name ‘em, I done ‘em. For Valentine’s,
everybody wants a lasting impression of their true love.

The weirdest Valentine’s Day tattoo I ever done? That’s a toughie. Some people will do anything for love. But lemme tell you about Valentine’s Day couple years back. Had customers in here twenty straight hours, my fingers was cramped, my arm ready to drop off my body and then he walks in. Tall, slender, geeky-looking guy about sixty, bald with a grey goatee and hornrim glasses. I figure him for some collegiate type what with his tweed jacket and elbow patches. Had this real intellectual way of talking —  you know, big jaw-bender words — and, when I ask him what he does, says he’s a professor of Biblical and World Religious Studies at the local U.

He pulls up his right sleeve and says he wants a Concave Mandorla, which, he goes on to say, is “an ellipsoidal figure symbolizing the intersection of the spheres of heaven and earth as espoused in the Third Book of Khunrath”, and I says, sure, no problemo, I got all the back issues in my closet.

Then he starts into a rap about meditation and holistics and rebirthing in a big tank of salt water taffy like the ancient Druids — all this New Age stuff that got on my nerves real quick so I says to change the conversation, “Hey, I tattooed a lotta unusual people. Did Elvis Presley once when we was in the Army. Put a yellow-and-blue rose with his momma’s name in the middle in green right on his inside left ankle.”

“Like this?” he says and yanks up his left pant leg, pulls down his sock and I nearly drive the needle through my hand cause there is the very tattoo I done thirty years ago.

“Great balls of fire!” I says. “You’re Elvis! Ain’t you s’pposed to be dead?”

“That’s what they tell me, sir,” he smiles, polite as ever, then jumps up and does one of those knockout karate moves with the splits. “All those years being a celebrity, being the center of attention, I was all shook up,” he says. “Couldn’t handle it anymore. The pills and the chicks, shooting out TVs in hotel rooms — I knew there was something more to life.

“My kung fu master got me studying Oriental philosophy. Then I got into ancient mythology, the secrets of Zoroaster, the Hebrew Kabbalah, the Bhagavad-Gita, Osiris and the Egyptian Creator Gods. I realized my excessive-compulsive behavior all those years represented a flawed quest for a new spiritual path. But once the material world has you in its grip, man, it’s tough to just walk away. Can’t you see the headlines:  ‘Elvis Joins Monastic Order to Study Dead Sea Scrolls’? Everybody’d think it was one of the Colonel’s publicity stunts.”

“So you faked your death and changed your identity. Wouldn’t recognize you in a million years, musta dropped a hundred pounds. Think you’ll ever go back to showbiz?”

He laughed that one-of-a-kind-I’m-just-an-awshucks-fritter-eatin’-gospel-croonin’-country-boy-from-Tupelo laugh even the best impersonators can’t touch. “For years I believed sex, drugs and rocknroll were my only destiny — and my ultimate damnation. Instead, they led me to a higher plane of consciousness transcending this base physical existence and all its trivialities.”

I flipped on my tapedeck. “Know what my favorite Elvis song is? Stuck On You. Numero uno in 1960 when we was in Germany.”

“Here’s for old times’ sake.” Soon as the music started he was off like a rocket — on his knees, in the air, twisting, shouting, belting it out good as ever. “You can shake an apple off an apple tree; shake it, shake it, sugar, but you’ll never shake me, well, uh-uh, whoa-oh, nosiree, uh-uh-huh; I’m gonna stick like glue, baby, all over you, because I’m — uh- uhhh — stuck on you.”

I stopped the tape. “Your secret’s safe with me. Even if I squealed, who’s gonna believe the local profmeister of Shinto Mysticism 101 is the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll?”

He chuckled and paid his bill. “The old Elvis would have tipped you a pink Caddy. But us college profs don’t work Vegas too often.”

Then he took out this here handkerchief and autographed it. “Dear Mister Tattoo Man — when the world treats you like nothin’  but a Hound Dog, it’s time to put on your Blue Zen Shoes.”

Huh? Nah, never saw him again. Called the school a week later, and they said Prof. Burroughs Carpenter was on sabbatical, off somewheres in Tibet writin’ a book about Shangri-La-Di-Da. Huh? Sure, I got change for a hundred, hey, wait a minute. . . show me your elbow, babe. Yeh, this “Joe DiMaggio, Please Call Home”.  . . I did a tat like this in ’62 for. . . I don’t believe it!  Jeez, what these plastic surgeons can do!  Yeh, that’s allright, I like it, I like it. And you been a systems designer at NASA for how long, Marilyn?”

* THE END *

From:
Lobo Newfield’s Last Hand &
Other True Tales from the Late Post-Elviad

– 9 Short Stories by L.E. McCullough –
http://www.lemccullough.com/LEMcCullough/Stories.html

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