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Michael Kaiser Headshot

The New Model, Part 1

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If I hear one more pundit or read one more blog suggesting that 'old models' of arts organizations are dying and that 'new models' are needed I am going to scream. Expert after expert are calling for 'new models' without explaining what these new models are or what specifically they are meant to address, except for a vague unhappiness with how things are working (or not working) now.

We in the arts face major challenges, including, but certainly not limited to, the short-term economic situation in which we all work. But simply suggesting that 'things must change' without giving us concrete proposals is not helpful.

What exactly do these people mean by 'old models' anyway? Do they mean that arts organizations are all going to die and that there will be no more arts institutions in the future? I doubt that will be the case. I predict that in fifty years there will still be large and mid-sized and small organizations producing theater and music and dance. There may be more or less of them than there are today and there may be several venerable organizations that do not survive. But that does not mean that big arts organizations are going to be extinct. Many large corporations die as well. Remember Arthur Andersen? American Motors? Texaco? Wang? No one is selling off the stock market today suggesting that the corporate model is dead simply because some corporations go bankrupt or merge with others.

Do these experts mean that in the future all art will be created by groups of artists who work on specific, individual projects and then disband? I hope not. That means that every time artists conceive of a project they must start from scratch to find the resources they need. They will not benefit from the family of donors and ticket buyers that current arts organizations count on for support year after year. They will have to reinvent their support bases anew every time they wish to produce art. And they will not benefit from the huge marketing networks that established arts organizations have created. It will be far more difficult and expensive to attract audience members if this scenario obtains. There will be no subscriptions because there will be no organization that can guarantee a series of performances. And the name recognition enjoyed by major arts organizations will be a thing of the past.

Do they mean that large-scale arts projects will be replaced by smaller ones? That would be a shame. As much as I truly enjoy a chamber-sized program, I also enjoy large scale works. Are we never to experience Mahler's Symphony of a Thousand again? Or Der Rosenkavalier? Or Swan Lake? Must we toss out an entire canon of great works in an effort to make way for the new? Of course we must invest in new operas and dances and works of theater. But we can also cherish the great works that have formed the foundation of our culture. There is no question that our view of what is art is growing and diversifying. This is all to the good. My experiences with Arab and Indian and Chinese art have been life-changing and have broadened by view of the world. But that does not diminish at all my love of Beethoven and Shakespeare.