Recently by Patti Hartigan

Every now and then, I read something about a brilliant new idea and the warning bells go off before I get to the end of the first sentence. Here's the latest example from the London Times. It seems the education director of the Scottish Opera has come up with a marketing scheme "groundbreaking" program to introduce children to the opera. We're not talking about walking, talking tots who might be able to sit through, say, "Peter and the Wolf,''  but rather the creeping, crawling set. The opera is staging a piece called "Baby O" for children age six- to eighteen months, and it sounds like an ordeal for parents and performers alike. No lyrics, no plot, and apparently no orchestra. Just this:

Classically trained singers will create baby-friendly noises, such as Wellington boots splashing in puddles, buzzing bees, quacking ducks and the fluttering of feathers.
Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!

(That was the alarm bell.)
March 24, 2010 6:15 AM | | Comments (2)
For a number of reasons, I've spent the last year immersed in education reporting, so it's nice to be back here thinking and talking about the arts. These two worlds intersect in critical ways, as today's kids are tomorrow's artists. I don't know about you, but my best school daze memories have nothing to do with the rote drills or the bubble tests. Chemistry? Feh. I only remember the teacher screaming at me when I picked up a pile of lye pellets because I thought they were pretty. But I do remember field trips to Lincoln Center, where we worked backstage with a director I would later interview. Physics is fuzzy, but I fondly recall finger painting in kindergarten and writing angst-ridden poetry in a class led by a teacher who didn't make fun of my adolescent musings.

I was reminded of this the other night during the Oscars when Michael Ciacchino won for his original score for "Up." He skipped the usual shout-outs to agents and higher powers and, instead, went right back to the beginning.

I was nine and I asked my dad, "Can I have your movie camera? That old, wind-up 8 millimeter camera that was in your drawer?" And he goes, "Sure, take it." And I took it and I started making movies with it and I started being as creative as I could, and never once in my life did my parents ever say, "What you're doing is a waste of time." Never. And I grew up, I had teachers, I had colleagues, I had people that I worked with all through my life who always told me what you're doing is not a waste of time. So that was normal to me that it was OK to do that. I know there are kids out there that don't have that support system so if you're out there and you're listening, listen to me: If you want to be creative, get out there and do it. It's not a waste of time. Do it. OK?
March 11, 2010 5:50 AM | | Comments (9)

I had an early morning meeting today that went longer than expected, so I was late in getting to the newsstand to buy extra copies of today's historic papers for my kids. This is a family tradition. Somewhere in this mess, I have "MEN WALK ON MOON," bequeathed to me by my mother, the librarian. I have "YES!!!" from Oct. 28, 2004, the day the Red Sox reversed the curse. I have "US ATTACKED," from Sept. 12, 2001.  And I have papers from the days my children were born, momentous occasions, all.

 

So there I was, on a mad dash from store to store, desperately seeking copies of the Times ("OBAMA") and the Globe ("Historic victory"). After many failed attempts, I snagged the last copy of the Globe at a CVS, while the woman behind me grabbed the last Wall St. Journal. We both raced to a nearby Starbucks, where we were each able to pick up one copy of the Times, leaving the rack empty behind us. The young cashier found this quite amusing: "We never sell out of those,'' she said, looking at the dead trees in my hand as if they were foreign objects. And it dawned on me. This may be the last time I collect an actual newspaper, a tactile object that feels smooth to the touch and leaves an inky residue on your hands. Sigh. A PDF just won't feel the same.

 

We all know that print is dead, but it sure didn't feel like it today. Newspapers were a hot commodity. Yes, today's euphoria is tomorrow's ephemera. But on this one day, it sure felt good to hold a piece of my past and a piece of my children's future together in my hands. And it's a feeling I'd like to savor forever.

November 5, 2008 8:28 AM | | Comments (0)

Here's a question for all of you who are still gainfully employed at newspapers. That means on staff or as a contractual freelancer who is required to report all potential conflicts of interest. Do you think you can answer Bob's call below to do everything you can to help the candidate of his - and my - choice? Do arts journalists have to give up their right to engage in the political process if they are paid by the MSM?

I ask this because I actually hesitated before jumping into the Obama campaign, even though I haven't drawn a staff salary from a newspaper since 2001. I had this irrational fear that it could be used against me some day. Remember that big expose of the "liberal media elites" last year, the one that revealed the names of 143 journalists who made political contributions over a three-year period?  Blasphemy! A film critic gave money to John Kerry. Horrors! Another film critic donated to the RNC. Scandal! A copy editor contributed to the DNC. What's this copy editor going to do, split some infinitives for the cause? 

At any rate, given the resurgence of the cultural wars (thanks to Sarah Palin, who is reframing the debate as the Hockey Mom vs. the Harvard Man), I can sort of understand why news organizations that are hanging on by a thread don't want to stir up controversy. It certainly makes sense that anyone covering a political beat should steer clear of any apparent conflict of interest. But should these same rules apply to arts journalists or copy editors or the guy who fries the burgers in the company cafeteria? 

For me, this election is too important to worry about what might be on the public record a few years from now. I was out there last weekend, ringing doorbells in New Hampshire, and I haven't felt as alive and engaged in a long time. The people of New Hampshire have been hearing about this for a loooong time, and who knew they could be so patient and polite? Every conversation, yay or nay, was invigorating. Here's one: A big, burly guy in Patriots pajamas opened his door, a bit of a scowl on his face. He took one look at my ObamaMama (mother of three) t-shirt, grinned, and said, "I'm a Teamster. You've got my vote." 

So can arts journalists do this work? I'd love to hear what others think. My answer is simple: Yes We Can.

October 29, 2008 9:19 AM | | Comments (0)
Andrew Sullivan has a terrific piece about blogging in the November Atlantic. The operative graph, for our purposes (emphasis mine):

A blogger will air a variety of thoughts or facts on any subject in no particular order other than that dictated by the passing of time. A writer will instead use time, synthesizing these thoughts, ordering them, weighing which points count more than others, seeing how his views evolved in the writing process itself, and responding to an editor's perusal of a draft or two. The result is almost always more measured, more satisfying, and more enduring than a blizzard of posts. The triumphalist notion that blogging should somehow replace traditional writing is as foolish as it is pernicious. In some ways, blogging's gifts to our discourse make the skills of a good traditional writer much more valuable, not less. The torrent of blogospheric insights, ideas, and arguments places a greater premium on the person who can finally make sense of it all, turning it into something more solid, and lasting, and rewarding.



October 20, 2008 8:13 AM | | Comments (0)
We've certainly come a long way since Jesse Ventura pioneered the use of the Internet during his campaign for governor of Minnesota in 1998. And I must say, the music videos floating around have been a source of comfort during this anxiety-producing election year. (Although I have to say, every time I see "Les Misbarack," I find myself marching around all day with that tune doing an endless loop in my brain.) Obama is an international phenomenon being serenaded by singers of all stripes, thanks to YouTube. Here are two of my favorites.

From Venice:
Gondoliers for Obama

And from Dublin, the Old Sod:
There's No One as Irish as Barack O'bama

And let's not forget: Yes We Can.




October 20, 2008 6:33 AM | | Comments (0)

Last week, I went to a memorial service for my dear friend and former colleague Alan Lupo, a beloved columnist at the Boston Globe who died last month. Alan was an institution in this town, one of a dying breed of journalists who wrote about the regular folks who eked out an existence in the city's colorful neighborhoods. He was a man who grew up literally walking and talking a beat. He lamented the isolation of the newsroom and thrived when he was out on the street discovering stories and striking up conversations friends and strangers alike. He championed social justice and raged against inequity. He also wrote loving and often hilarious columns about his family, including his son, the cop, and his daughter, the actress. Given his daughter's profession, he often gave me unsolicited opinions about the "theatah," offering uproarious accounts, told in his gruff, Yiddish-inflected accent, about plays he claimed to be too unsophisticated to understand. (Trust me, he wasn't.)

Anyway, I've been thinking about Alan a lot, especially as I read recent posts about the past and future of our field. He was one of a handful of Old Timers whose sheer presence gave me moral support when I was a young arts reporter and critic at the Globe. He was the first to offer a compliment, always in person, never via email - or electronic message, as we called it back in the days of Atex. When things got testy with a particularly socially-challenged editor, I'd always make a trip over to Alan's office to kvetch. He'd notice the look on my face, the cup of coffee clenched in my trembling hand, and open his desk drawer and pull out his trusty bottle of Sambuca. Not my taste - especially first thing in the morning - but I appreciated the gesture. I thought this was our little secret, and I admit a twinge of jealousy when someone else mentioned the Sambuca at Alan's memorial service.

October 13, 2008 7:51 PM | | Comments (0)

I don't know Joanna Connors, but she is a fellow arts journalist -- former theater and film critic for the Cleveland Plain Dealer -- who has just published a deeply wrenching five-part series about the violent event that changed her life. In 1984, she was raped on the stage of a theater while on assignment. Her series explores the paths that brought both her and her assailant to that stage, and it's a tale of tragic loss and ultimate redemption. This is important work by one of our own. If you haven't already read it, please do. One word: mercy. Another word: grace.

 

May 7, 2008 8:41 AM | | Comments (0)

When I was fresh out of college, I took a job at a non-arts related publication just to beef up the resume. Long story short: I was on the fast track and quickly found myself promoted to managing editor of a monthly magazine (what were they thinking?!!). Anyway, I ended up doing most of the work and getting none of the credit, and as a result, my boss tried to fire me. You know how that goes. After freaking out for a few hours, I had a lawyer friend send a stern warning to the publisher, along with a package of damning documents, a letter of resignation, and a request for a handsome severance. The PTB apologized and asked me to stay, but I left happily and began doing what I really wanted to do, which was to write about the arts. Best career move I ever made.

There wasn't anything particularly brave about that move - I was a kid with a beat-up car, a bunch of roommates, and few responsibilities beyond growing up, paying the rent, and staying out of trouble. But I do know that gut-wrenching feeling of rejection, that gnawing question of what to do next, so I have enormous respect for people who manage to take a bad situation and turn it into something better. We could all use a bit of inspiration from such stories, especially in these fragile times. And that's why I want to tell you about the Actors' Shakespeare Project, an artist-run troupe here in Boston. It's a tale that starts with rejection and ends with redemption.

April 11, 2008 11:07 AM | | Comments (0)
First, let me join Laura in sending three cheers to Ann Hornaday, who was among my class of NAJP fellows in the program's inaugural year and who has persevered in writing passionately about film all these years since. Bravo!

Congratulations also go out to my former Boston Globe colleague Mark Feeney, who won this year's Pulitzer for criticism. Mark, I'm told, gave a warm and gracious speech, in which he pointed out that all the finalists deserve praise. He shared credit with everyone, even taking the time to thank the librarians and copy editors, who are so important to the process but share little of the glory. One colleague who heard the speech told me that he hadn't felt this inspired since he first walked into the Globe building nearly two decades ago, noting that it reminded him of why he got into this business in the first place. So here's to all the winners and finalists -- and to the whole team of people who make it all possible.

That said, today's piece in the Globe had a most interesting quote from Globe publisher Steven P. Ainsely that bears repeating:

"In a time when so many newspapers are having to weigh difficult decisions about what coverage is important, I'm very proud that the Globe and its newsroom have continued to stress the importance of arts coverage in a community that values it so highly."
Those are encouraging words, and to be fair, for the most part they're true, especially when you consider the hemorrhaging going at papers all over the country. The Globe staff still includes two movie critics, two television critics, a classical music critic, two rock critics, a theater critic, an arts reporter, and a few generalists who fill in as needed. Coverage and staffing, though, is not what it was when I was on the staff, and the section continues to shrink in size. (The Monday and Wednesday sections were just combined with other sections, which cuts space significantly.) Jazz, world music, and, to some extent, dance have fallen by the wayside, and many of the city's smaller, but worthy arts organizations bemoan the loss of coverage. Still, it is encouraging to see the publisher's words in print and on the record. Let's hope they're not just words for Awards Day, and that they continue to ring  true in the unpredictable (and terrifying) future.

April 8, 2008 6:52 PM | | Comments (0)


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