I am a voracious consumer of arts news; I read as many news stories, reviews and features as I can in newspapers, websites and other electronic outlets. Yet, as a new arts season has begun, I have been struck by the nature of the arts coverage that I have been reading.
The coverage of new seasons typically focuses on a highly anticipated world premiere opera, ballet, musical or festival. Opening nights at major institutions are usually glamorous and star studded. Pictures and accounts of these events fill the arts sections of newspapers.
This year, however, I have been reading about lockouts, deficits, protests and a host of other very disquieting and sad events.
This is concerning for several reasons.
First, of course, we must worry about the financial health of individual arts institutions. Reading story after story about crippling deficits does not engender confidence in the future of the arts institutions we cherish. We have taken the accessibility of the arts for granted; we assume there will be concerts and plays and dance in our communities. It was not always the case (just look back 100 years) and I am concerned it will not be the case in 20 years.
But the preponderance of financial arts news, matched by a dearth in major good news stories about art itself, is ominous for the field as a whole as well. We are living in a period when new forms of entertainment are being developed constantly: from Facebook to Twitter to Netflix to Candy Crush to YouTube to whatever is next to gain our attention.
In the face of these new forms of entertainment, and, yes, competition, the arts only have a chance to thrive if we compete well. We must offer the programming that attracts audiences to pay for our tickets (and most of the new forms of entertainment are either free or bear a modest price tag) and that engages donors willing to underwrite it.
When the majority of arts news is focused on financial problems, this is extremely difficult. Arts institutions have long benefited from having their own section of the newspaper--great reviews and beautiful pictures attracted people to our institutional families. But as arts coverage has shrunk, and (typically bad) financial news has come to dominate, we have lost a major marketing and fundraising tool.
I am not blaming the arts press--journalists are simply covering the stories that appear most important and interesting.
It is we in the arts who must work harder than ever to create great art, to promote that work and to minimize the number of bad news stories emanating from our institutions. It can be comforting to share bad news with others but it is bad strategy; new donors and audience members are not drawn to stories about deficits and labor strife.
And, unfortunately, the entire arts world also suffers when the most potent news is that art is NOT being created.