Recently by Sasha Anawalt

There is going to be a great, big hollowness in the concert hall. Walt Disney Concert Hall, REDCAT, the church where Jacaranda plays in Santa Monica, wherever E.A.R. unit is, in short, wherever music is in Los Angeles. It's going to be harder to listen without Alan Rich, because when he was there - and he was always there - I partially listened through him. He and Mark Swed helped many in L.A. fall in love with listening. Alan's writing is what done it. A colleague of mine at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and at the LA Weekly, he wrote fast; that's because he loved writing as much as he loved listening, which I have to say I envied. "However often my ears are blessed by Schubert's Ninth Symphony, I am stirred every time by new things discovered and an uncontrollable urge to write about them," he wrote. Alan reveled in discovering new things, including new things in old things. He was never too old for any new thing. And, you know, one of the things I will miss most about him is how he would always treat me like a sweet, new young thing and ask me to sit on his lap. 

I'll miss the flirtation. And the reading. And him.

Alan Rich.jpg

April 24, 2010 12:29 PM | | Comments (5)

And we thought Joan Rivers's big win was a shocker. Tonight, should it be Adam or Kris or Danny? And would it be Helen or Tara or Mike? Then, out of the clear blue, far from reality show jangle and pop culture frenzy, this really big news item tweets, casting a LED shadow on all else: ROCCO LANDESMAN named NEA Chairman. The New York Times runs with the choice. I, for one, am thrilled and bedazzled.

Quote from Tony Kushner, whose "Angels in America" Landesman's Jujamcyn Theaters produced:

"It's potentially the best news the arts community in the United States has had since the birth of Walt Whitman. He's [Landesman] an absolutely brilliant and brave and perfect choice for the job."

May 12, 2009 11:37 PM | | Comments (0)

How sixties a topic. Make it easy to be near you. Speaking from coming off the NEA Arts Journnalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater in Los Angeles (April 14-24) -- a powerful ten-day experience with 23 arts journalists. Fellowship signified that we, journalists, care. Care about artists. First, last, always. We exist because of what human beings make and are capable of making. Thanks to Robert Christgau on one extreme and Irene Borger on the other. Want to taste? Have to wait until September 18 at USC Annenberg School for Communication in Los Angeles, when arts journalism forces will, we hope, gather. Meanwhile, Ken Brecher,executive director of Sundance Institute (until last week; what's up next for Brecher is a major mystery):

April 24, 2009 11:29 PM | | Comments (1)
Twenty-one years ago Mark Murphy did this spoof of an artist proposing a new work, and it still feels current. 

Murphy talks tonight in the flesh at the Los Angeles Central Library 7:00 p.m. with UCLA Live's David Sefton -- in a conversation directed and advanced Barbara Isenberg. All three pay close, close attention to artists and what makes them tick. But Murphy -- who's been the head of REDCAT in L.A. for the past five years and before that presented and produced artists at Seattle's On The Boards -- was one. 
April 16, 2009 6:12 AM | | Comments (1)

An email written by Tobi Tobias just ping-ed into my in-box, announcing that she and all other arts freelancers have been let go from Bloomberg News. Will we get used to this decimation of critics? What are we supposed to do? Tobias doesn't think we ought to take it no more, which got me thinking about a class I attended of director Peter Sellar's earlier this week, "Art as Moral Action" at UCLA. His guest speaker was Josh Viertel, president of Slow Food USA. Josh told the story of a lucky friend of his who had a 15-minute audience with Obama in which she pressed for changes of a nature I really can't remember. But the point is this: At the end of the 15 minutes, Obama asked her, "Where's the movement? Show me the movement. If you have a movement behind you, then I can make good decisions."

Hmmmmm. Tobias is lighting the match. Are journalists ready to pull together, get organized and march on Washington, raise money through social media mechanisms cent-by-cent and build a narrative? Is this possible? Journalists are by nature fractious, doubtful and independent. Followers we ain't, but the stakes are high.

Tobias writes: "I wish we could, as a group, find more ways to do the work we love without taking a vow of poverty."

Poverty is real; she is not kidding. Can we get active as a group and find smart, creative ways to continue writing about the art we see, the art we hear, the art that asks questions and keeps our democractic values sharp and attuned -- and be paid? Why does this matter?

Think about it. What will the artists do? What are they doing now? Does informed criticism matter?

I think a good start is sharing the different economic models you come across that are working. Let's start pooling info and also looking at how theaters, music groups, dance companies, musuems and individual artists are adjusting to this new reality. Are there partnerships? Do critics and artists care enough to come together at least to talk? Most artists have been dealing with poverty and lack of recognition and respect far longer than the critics. It wouldn't be the first time we have learned from them -- in fact, that is the way we are most comfortable. Isn't it?

Start the movement, then maybe we can make good decisions.

February 28, 2009 8:09 PM | | Comments (2)

Whenever someone dies, this happens to me and maybe to you, too: a flipbook -- image after quick image of that person caught like it was yesterday -- projects on my mind's screen. Things I saw with my eyes and things that were told.

So, it is with Jerry. Gerald Arpino, to you. Mr. A -- I could never believe he wanted to be called that by his dancers. It showed his insecurity and betrayed a jealous admiration for Mr. B., at least in my view. Arpino -- as I called him most often, because that's what writers and critics do -- had to fight for every inch of respectability he could get. Few should have to go through that torture, not when they have given and given and given, as Arpino did, to his art.

The rapid-fire flip book of my motion-picture memories, upon learning of Arpino's death a few hours ago (bearing in mind that these are irrational, but telling, and that I don't have a copy of my book The Joffrey Ballet to fact-check myself with, because I'm not in my office) includes these three:  

  • Flip Picture #1: Margo Sappington's story about how, when the girls in the Joffrey Ballet of the late 60s, came to him to complain about something or other, and he, basically admonishing them to toughen up and get it together, said in his Staten Island twang: "I've seens yourzs girlsz lock-ahs, and youze girlsz is pigs!" 

Arpino was, to some degree, always a dancer in the Joffrey Ballet -- he was one of them. He would pop his head into the girls dressing room, note their messy lockers and draw conclusions. The two sisters of his I met on Staten Island where he grew up were close, close, close to him and they, like him, grabbed life with both fists. The Arpino family, Italian and blue collar and devoted to God and the American dream, shaped the Joffrey Ballet almost as much as anything Robert Joffrey brought to the company's vision.

  • Flip Picture #2: Arpino standing on top of his bureau, pulled to the center of his hotel room in Moscow where he could easily speak into the bare lightbulb on the ceiling. "Mr. Khrushchev, Mr. Khrushchev," he said to the bulb.(This was 1962, the company was on tour, the Cuban missle crisis ...before Kennedy's assasination). "There's just a piddly bit of soap in our room and the towels! We have one scratchy towel between us. In America, our hotels have fluffy, soft towels and plenty of them. And our soap, well, we get more than one bar in America, Mr. Khrushchev" 

The next day, room service showed up with piles of towels and soap -- enough for every dancer in the company. Arpino handed them out to the dancers, who issued more requests for different and increasingly lavish items. Each night Arpino spoke to the bulb, until Joffrey called a company meeting and said he was receiving complaints from the hotel manager. Joffrey swore his dancers could never be impolite and demanding, then asked the miscreant -- if there was such a person (because he honestly did not know) -- to stop.  

Did Arpino step forward? Probably not. Point is Arpino and Joffrey didn't tell each other everything. They often see-sawed; when one was serious, the other played the scamp. Good cop, bad cop. The visionary, the do-er. The front of the house, the back. Arpino's reputation was as the do-er, the back of the house/in-house tireless choreographer, and deservedly so -- but he was integral to Joffrey's vision and directorship. Joffrey's equal in many regards. They both lived for the company. They were survivors -- and Arpino knew how to survive sometimes by dint of pranks that kept the troupe young, loose, outrageous and...clean.

  • Flip Picture #3: Putting his hand on my shoulder and thanking me for standing by him in print when he was attacked after Joffrey's death in 1988 by people on his board, at the Music Center and by some on his staff who essentially did not have confidence in him to direct and lead the company after Joffrey's death -- even though he had been there from the beginning.

Arpino thanked me many times, which was big of him. It really was, because I know my 1996 book about the company offended and troubled him. It told truths that he didn't like and maybe he didn't read it (as he said he did not), but friends had told him enough for him to know that the history that he and Joffrey worked hard to control was not what was in its pages. But Arpino also could detect real love and he knew a good human being when he saw one. Of all his many talents, his primary strength was to make others not only look good -- their best -- but feel good. He did this with his ballets. With his dancers. With his audiences. With me.

His generosity and willingness to put others before him knew no peer in the Joffrey Ballet. He brought joy. His spontaneity made for a lot of fun. "I've seens yourzs girlsz lock-ahs, and youze girlsz is pigs!" -- the occasions are many in which I have used this and, even out of context, it brings a laugh, recognition and epiphany. Try it and think of Jerry. 

October 29, 2008 12:27 PM | | Comments (2)

The pressure is on to design a viable new business model for print journalism. At USC Annenberg School for Communication, I spend the better part of my day worrying about how students are going to get jobs, earn a living and make a difference in their chosen field: arts journalism.

Freaks me out to contemplate. But yesterday, I found, if not God, then a social entrepreneur who offered insights and possibilities. 

Adlai Wertman.jpgAdlai Wertman joined USC's Marshall School of Business this fall as a professor. Having  spent 19 years as an investment banker on Wall Street, he knows his money angles. In a conversion of what might be faith and responsibility, he spent the past seven on Skid Row in Los Angeles as President and CEO for Chrysalis, an organization that trains and employs the homeless. Chrysalis identifies and concentrates on the 1000 of Skid Row's least-likely-to-be-employed. Wertman knows from goodness.

Considering that the street and a cardboard condo seem a real possibility for some in journalism, I paid attention to Wertman at Annenberg's director's forum. He drew a strong distinction between a mission-driven business and a business.(Arts journalists are mission-driven, I reasoned, let's follow that route. I had earlier this semester taken my students to spend the day and night on Skid Row.Call it the Steve Lopez effect -- though this field trip has been an integral part of my Annenberg work for seven years, which is to say it's governed by authenticity and not airy fancy.) 

He said, "The money is always going to win. The money is chasing digital media and the money doesn't care about anything but the bottom line."  (True. We know that. So, we arts journalists may not "win." Now, lead me to our Mission.)

Wertman quoted economist Milton Freidman who said, "Business and mission don't belong together," adding, "I'm not sure I disagree with him because I'm not sure I trust business with anything else." (Okay, so if you are mission-driven, as the new arts journalism business in my imagination most organically would be, then you are really, really best off not even trying get a return on investment for whomever is fool enough to sink money in your mission.)

Wertman called these so-called fools, "Venture Philanthropists." Sweet. Has a ring to it. Part of his revolution or subterfuge is to steal the language of business. Social worker = social entrepreneur.  Executive director = CEO. Non-profit organization = an enterprise. He views the present as a time of unprecedented integration, seeing in it opportunity for social change. But, how to play into the old business model without "playing into its definition of success?"

This leads him to qustion the word "profit"?

The non-profit model in journalism, Wertman suggested, is closely aligned with organizations such as Human Rights Watch, which, at present, supports a consortium of more-than-decent staffed journalists who are breaking stories and focusing attention on human rights --  and they are not paid advocacy arms for HRW. The journalists write the truth about what they see and learn about human rights across the world. Just because they help HRW achieve its mission does not mean the journalists lose their integrity. A firewall exists. Their stories are also often published on Huffington Post.

Profit in Wertman's world is measured by making a difference to people one bowl of soup at a time. (Or one story, which in the case of Lopez at the LA Times, radicalized city policy on homelessness, not all for the better, but at least attention is now being paid.) 

"If people don't know about a subject, they won't care about it," Wertman argued, therefore it is in the interests of non-profits to get the word out about their mission and allow trained journalists to seek the truth without influence.

(What arts organizations are out there, I wondered, that care enough about good writing on the arts to staff journalists? Moreover, is it possible for a consortium of arts journalists to seize the opportunity in this border-blurring, bubble-popping digital world to frame a mission that is in alignment with a non-profit arts organization or foundation?)  

If the mission is to provide informed arts stories and reviews that helps an arts organization or foundation achieve its mission, then it could be a win-win.

Here's the deal: I never met an arts journalist who was in it for the money; most are in it for the art. Success is not measured by making bucket-loads, but by making a living and a difference -- one story at a time. We are, to this degree, more like the artists we cover. Wertman is training students to think differently about folks like us. We'd better be ready, stop fretting, moping, freaking out and get active (I thought to myself). Opportunities abound.

Any joiners out there? Venture philanthropists? Arts journalist missionaries? Ideas? 

October 22, 2008 11:41 AM | | Comments (1)

Cultural rights. The idea of cultural rights, the history of cultural rights, the concept of cultural rights expressed in our Cultural Bill of Rights (WHO KNEW WE HAD ONE?) -- Bill Ivey in his new book, arts, inc., argues that cultural rights are "the key to bringing public interest back into America's creative life."

They have emerged as a subset of human rights, he says. "No business or arts leader in the early twentieth century harbored the slightest notion of "cultural rights," Ivey writes (oh phew, so I am not alone, though a little out of date), which is why..."it shouldn't be all that surprising that public policy in the United States has never caught up with the reality of our arts scene."

(And in the next sentence, Ivey lands the whopper): "Cultural rights are the key to bringing the public interest back into America's creative life."

If they are "key," (which Ivey builds a convincing case they are), then this book ought to be mandatory reading for anyone who cares about the arts.

Gripping reading -- dense with succinct ideas on arts and culture -- arts, inc. describes our country's turbulent ambiguities, our confusion and apparent need to distinguish art that is popular yet brings societal benefit from art that is just plain entertaining from art that is (quote) high brow. Ivey argues that by dividing these-- mostly through inattention -- we let the industry and corporate folks enter in and feast, skewing the arts away from public interest.

orange.jpgThe cover is bright, slap-in-the-face, wake-up-call orange. Can't miss. Don't miss. arts, inc.

October 14, 2008 8:22 AM | | Comments (0)

I can't take credit for the phrase, but I am wondering if there are readers out there who could add to the idea of Slow Journalism. Here's how it came to me...

Naka Nathaniel of the New York Times spoke to the Specialized Journalism students at USC Annenberg School for Communication about two weeks ago. His video reporting on dangerous, wartorn places -- a refugee camp in Rwanda, the slave trade in Cambodia, a wedding in a bomb shelter in Israel and genocide in Darfur, for example-- are usually accompanied by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Nick Kristof's heart of darkness texts and narration and they hold their place as art.

Nathaniel's framing is void of sentiment, pity or looky-loo giddiness. There's no shred of journalistic competitiveness -- "We got the story and you didn't, CNN. Take that." Rather, as if Nathaniel and Kristoff were the arm of Human Rights Watch, their gutsy scrupulousness pervades. What could be an ignoble intrusion into the lives of desperate people on hospital beds and in other dispiriting situations they render transcendent. Poverty is more important for us to see than for us to see them seeing it. Make sense?

Hard not to respect Nathaniel and Kristof's advocacy and work. 

Then Nathaniel, sort of off the cuff, threw out to the USC students that what he was doing was part of the Slow Journalism Movement and that instead of being motivated to "feed the beast" and break news, he was more interested in his audience. "Why do a hundred photographers try to get the same shot of Michael Phelps? Why not stop competing with each other and share resources? One or two photographers will do the trick? Send the rest out for other stories," he argued.

Peculiarly, a couple of days later crackerjack blogger and one of my favorite journalists, Mr. Jalopy of Hooptyrides, said that what he was doing was not unrelated to the Slow Food Movement. He, the author of the Maker's Bill of Rights, is a major player in the DIY movement. Mark Frauenfelder, his friend and boing-boing journalism colleague, he said, was deep into tending his garden and practicing Slow Food habits, while also editing the succesful niche magazine, MAKE. Frauenfelder might be the living proof that Slow Food and Slow Journalism are cohabitating genially in real time.

Simultaneously...Slow Food USA is an organization in Brooklyn that's going gangbusters, spawned in part by the ideology of Alice Waters. Waters influenced opera and theater director Peter Sellars, who wove the political, philosophical and gastronomic pleasures of Slow Food into his New Crowned Hope Festival in Vienna in late 2006. 

So, what's up? Have you jumped on the SloJo SloFo bandwagon? Maybe jumped is too active, let's say...sauntered over and sat down, setting your competitive ego aside to absorb, notice and deeply care about what's around you. To heck with deadlines or breaking the news -- these are things of the past. Distinguished journalists and artists have better things to do.

September 7, 2008 10:43 PM | | Comments (1)

When the Poynter Institute's Romenesko runs a news item about critics, well, it jumps out at you. Many have probably already seen this, but just in case you have not, it's worth poynting out:

Ramiro Burr, an esteemed music critic and columnist for the San Antonio Express-News, resigned Tuesday in the face of an ethics investigation. A former intern of his -- Douglas Shannon, who had worked with Burr at a music PR firm -- alleges that he ghost-wrote more than 100 stories and columns for Burr since 2001. 

  "I may have been a little overzealous, or overreached in trying to be the best reporter/syndicated columnist I could be," award-winning Burr said in his statement of resignation. "I sincerely apologize for breaking any rules."

Burr's Latin Notes blog and the 20 years he's spent focusing journalism attention on Latin music have brought attention and understanding and appreciation to that genre. Interestingly, and you should read the full story, Shannon and his lawyers appear to be only seeking to get credit, retroactive credit. And, Shannon made this curious remark:

 "I'm [also] disappointed that the Express-News didn't notice the changes in the work he was turning in between 2001 and 2003. Unfortunately, Burr's ethics violations were not isolated slip-ups but were repeated, frequent, and continued over a significant period of time. I hope readers and researchers will continue to peruse and benefit from Mr. Burr's work, especially his pieces from the 1980s and 1990s."

So, the ghost writer appears to be hurt that the Express-News editors did not detect a difference between what Burr wrote and what Shannon wrote. Hmmmmm...aren't good ghost writers supposed to blend in, be invisible? That's why they are ghosts?

June 12, 2008 11:58 AM | | Comments (3)


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