It’s Monday, and summer is over, but I have to admit I was a little bit taken aback by these two articles that came into my inbox/reader feed this morning. I am used to a more positive outlook, though I myself do not practice what I preach. I am often my crankiest on Monday mornings.
So, are we as a sector really misbehaving? Or is it just that Internet commentary has started to engage with the sector in a critical way? Or have I just started paying attention? These are all possibilities, especially the last one.
Howlaround was only started in about 2009 (I know because it was after my first draft of my thesis, but before the final draft), and I think Ragsdale has only been blogging for arts journal since she left the foundation world to pursue a PhD in cultural economics. Anyway, these voices are intimately tied to the development of the “new American play” which I am interested in because I care about living, working artists (in the theater and in general), how they are paid, treated, and supported.
This kind of “extreme” behavior seems to me to be both the product of a horrifying funding climate and really, really poor choices on the part of any number of people. Carl mentions a playwright who applied for the same grant for the same project with multiple theaters– that’s just frighteningly bad behavior, dishonest or worse, naive. I can certainly imagine a scenario in which the playwright didn’t realize that it was not okay to shop the project with multiple theaters as partners, in the hopes that it would give the project better odds of being funded. Desperation makes us bold, and stupid.
Ragsdale’s argument I have less sympathy for, since I am, at heart a union person, and prone to support labor, not management. The rights, pay rates, and benefits negotiated for on behalf of these musicians were hard-won, and eroding them will allow for the wholesale dismantling of the these benefits. I also know that performing arts unions are dysfunctional at best. I also know that these orchestra are struggling to sell tickets, to keep costs down, to stay open. Period. The situation has become untenable. That’s why workers are locked out. It is the worst case scenario. But the answer is emphatically not that workers should acquiesce in order to keep the doors open. (That’s what management wants you to think!) Unsurprisingly, I don’t have a solution for the crisis of the American orchestra, but I am pretty sure it does not involve paying your musicians less or cutting their health benefits.
Perhaps this bad behavior has always been around, and we are only just now using this tool of the Web to critique ourselves? What conversations were happening before these blogs started to take the lead? Was it all just panel discussion at the TCG Conference and in panel discussions at the Mellon Foundation? (Golly, for a bunch of theater artists and writers, it seems impossible that we didn’t find more ways to talk about ourselves…)
Anyway, I guess I am happy to see this criticism being leveled at the “misbehaving” among us. This conversation has started, as the financial crisis of 2007-present has revealed poor management and oversight in a number of arts nonprofits that have been forced to close or radically restructure. As you all know, I want to extend this discussion into the day-to-day management practices at nonprofits. Crises and major mistakes are easy to criticize. What is more difficult is spending the time to observe and correct the everyday practices that slowly chip away at the sector, that erode morale, and that stifle solutions, creativity, and efficiency in the field.
Yikes. My tummy hurts, so I am not going to have a coffee, but I am going to try to find a more positive outlook for the rest of the day.