NCMR and the other stages for the arts
Having worked behind the scenes on a number of non-arts national conferences, I know the challenge arts leaders face when suggesting that non-arts types consider arts as a viable and provocative session theme in nearly any industry. Think of the potential conversations between those who work in the arts and those who work in: science, politics, healthcare, education.
What distinguishes arts discussions at a media conference (as opposed to arts conferences such as for the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, which I have helped organize for six years) is the drive to look at the arts from outside the arts industry bubble. Plus organizers of NCMR included performing arts -- a dance party -- at the end of the day. (Extra points for that.)
I was drawn to the conference for other reasons, too: a determination to see the arts in relation to media, a line that gets blurrier and blurrier in our blogosphere era. While most of the conversations I heard were about net neutrality and its impact on the industry -- from grassroots efforts to major commercial artists -- or about how culture, especially online communities, have replaced watchdog media as an agent of change, the most compelling panel I heard was Artists and Advocacy: Engaging Creatives in Cultural Change.
This discussion, which will soon be available on the NCMR site, covered the Hollywood writers' strike, the rise of one classically trained musician to director of programs at the Future for Music Coalition, the training process for young artists to be activists and the importance of copyright rentention for DIY artists.
As a journalist, arts activism and media are still uncomfortable bedfellows for me -- even as I was impressed by the level of commitment on the part of this group of arts spokespeople for the role of activism in their art forms and their adamancy about the importance of artists engaging in policy conversations at all tiers -- locally and globally. Each of these members of this panel regularly interacts with media, acknowledging the continued power of both traditional and new media outlets in the arts.
If the inclusion of arts and culture at NCMR reinforced anything for me it was the importance of not silo-ing ourselves in the aesthetics of the arts. I, for one, would prefer to write about the infusion of dignity and inspiration of empathy in F. Murray Abraham's portrayal of Shylock in the Theater for a New Audience production of The Merchant of Venice than about the wonky policy issues of the FCC, the difference between the 501(c)(3) and the 501(c)(4) tax exemptions, and the social, political and financial implications of the idea that "code is god." But this conference reminded me how tied the aesthetics are to policy, corporate control and social media. Like the artists, journalists must stay attuned to the changes that take place behind closed doors and in the fine print.
Finally, I was also interested in a session on The State of Boston Media, in which not one person on the panel mentioned the arts. "Culture" as a general term, yes. But nothing about the arts, which was disappointing because Boston has such a rich arts life right now. I also didn't see any local arts media in the audience. That doesn't mean they weren't there. It means I didn't see them -- at any of the sessions I attended. Which only supports my earlier call to arts journalists: The arts are not just about what happens onstage. Or better: The stages for the arts are far greater than the ones in performing arts centers. They are on the floor of the government halls, the tables of corporate power and the forums in which artists make their voices known.