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Commentary: The 60% decline of Google searches for "art" and what it means

Posted by John Perreault on his ArtsJournal blog Artopia, January 4, 2011

A new tool, Google Insights for Search, allows instant graphic representations of Google searches by word or multiple words for comparison over the past six years.  There is a horrifying dip in relative searches involving the word art: 60% from 2004 to 2010. Why has this happened? What does it mean?   In an attempt to "prove" the decline, I plugged in specific words: painting, sculpture, drawing, etc. The decline held. Similar declines showed up in searches for jazz and ballet -- but surprisingly, not much of a dip for opera.  I might be wrong in equating actual interest in art with Google searches involving the word art. [And] there may be anomalies [or] other reasons for the drop, such as: art interest is wayward and easily satisfied, or searchers are so disappointed they lose interest and go on to other things like sex or Lady Gaga.  Worst reason I can imagine: I have heard many otherwise intelligent acquaintances express a new contempt for contemporary art on the grounds that it's just for rich people.  Could it be that art has lost its role as a spiritual path and instrument of knowledge -- and, therefore, its perennial appeal?  Maybe this is true of the arts in general, including performing arts, finally reduced to entertainment.  It is not such a big jump from talking about the business aspect of art to the perception that art is business, and nothing else. If art is just business, why should anyone care about it, make sacrifices, waste time and energy just so investors and artists can go crying all the way to the bank?   But art continues, even when it is not called art. It could be called Dada or Gaga or something no one is interested in at all except the artist making it.  Art may be in eclipse, in hiding, but it is still there, off the maps -- unnoticed, doing its work.


Trendwatching: Is in-theater dining "the future of movie-going"?

From The Wall Street Journal, January 5, 2011

As Hollywood churns out ever more attractive big-budget films, little has changed at theaters, where audiences can find worn seats, stale popcorn, and overpriced candy.   Under pressure from viewers as well as movie-industry executives, the country's theater chains are trying to win back moviegoers -- with food.  In-theater dining represents one of the movie-theater industry's biggest bets to expand its static audience size.   "I am 100% sure these theaters are the future of movie-going," says Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive of DreamWorks Animation.  A few years ago, a handful of such theaters existed in the country. Now, the U.S. plays home to roughly 300 to 400 cinemas with restaurant service out of roughly 5,750 total theaters. Industry analysts predict that number could double over the next few years.  Some chains, such as AMC, charge a flat fee of $10 or $15 above the usual price of a ticket as a credit toward food purchases. Others price tickets between $17 and $29 for a ticket and then charge for food separately.  AMC's research shows most customers don't mind the higher cost.  It's too soon to know whether dine-in theaters will be profitable. Theater chains note that profit margins on concessions, such as popcorn and candy, are far higher than on ticket sales. Half of a ticket sale represents profit for a theater, compared with 85% from the sale of concessions. Executives hope the dine-in theaters will also benefit from higher food margins, although not as high as for snacks. Hamid Hashemi, iPic Entertainment's chief executive, says, "The movie-going business has always been one size fits all, but now we are realizing that if you give people amenities, they are more than willing to pay for them."


Commentary: Must charitable giving be tax deductible to be sustainable?

Posted by Sarah Lutman on her ArtsJournal blog Speaker, December 29, 2010

Lately I've been thinking about how to encourage charitable giving without evoking the tax deductibility of gifts as a benefit.  Why?  As government looks for ways to balance its books, both revenue and tax code simplification proposals are being widely debated among policymakers and the press.  Would ending the deductibility of charitable gifts have an immediate chilling effect on individual philanthropy?  Perhaps not, although this will be hotly argued, and I admit I don't relish the opportunity to find out first-hand, particularly in an already turbulent fund-raising environment!   But I believe donors' primary motivation for support is belief in an organization's mission, respect for its results, and trust in its stewardship of resources.  The deductibility of a gift is an ancillary benefit, not a primary one.   Still, our own behavior can affect how donors' perceptions are shaped, based on how we seek, value, use, and report on their gifts. For example, I cringe when I see cultural nonprofits over-emphasize "perks" when a particular gift level is reached (i.e. for a gift of a particular size, we will provide you with a variety of personal benefits).  This approach risks turning a gift into a transaction; the quid pro quo is not the good work the organization will do with the donor's gift, but rather the individual benefit to the contributor.   Tax deduction or none, I think the best way to encourage donors to contribute is to consistently describe the community benefit of our work, to ask donors to join in helping us make our communities more interesting, more inspiring, and more energizing places to live because of the arts.   We may get a chance to see what it's like to raise money in a dramatically changed tax policy environment.  Thinking about how we should position ourselves for this change -- now -- can strengthen our case for support and help prepare for uncertainty regarding the future deductibility of charitable gifts.


To turn her middle school around, a principal invests in the arts

Posted on, December 22, 2010 [hat tip to Richard Kessler]
When [principal Celeste] Douglas first arrived at Ron Brown Academy in 2006, she found a school in crisis.  Douglas had three years to improve the school or risk seeing it shut down.  "One of the first things to get cut is the arts program. I felt a lot of pressure to do the same thing," Douglas said.  She knew improving instruction was crucial, but she didn't think it was enough. "I realized our kids were just not coming to school.  I was looking for something to engage kids and I didn't know what it was."  In 2007, she heard about a project at the Center for Arts Education to develop arts programs at low-performing middle schools. The School Arts Support Initiative demands a lot of partner schools. They have to hire new educators and provide space for students to perform and practice; revise their scheduling to accommodate the new courses; and find funding to pay for it all.  To raise the money needed, she applied for outside grants. The school already had a dance studio; she added a small arts studio. She [brought in] new teachers who could play double roles at the school.   The school altered the daily schedule to accommodate a full arts sequence. Developing an arts program was not just about introducing the students to art. The art classes are used to reinforce the student's learning in other areas.  Douglas has started to see some promising results. Parents are more involved.  School attendance has improved. Test scores are also on the rise.  "I am not going to say the arts are the Holy Grail," said Russell Granet, the school's arts coach. "But I do know from Ms. Douglas that the school is a much calmer place."  Douglas plans to continue to develop the program, including adding a school orchestra. One of her goals this year is to support students who want to attend specialized arts high schools. 

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