PBS to present 'arts festival' on nine Friday nights this fall

Associated Press, 5/9/11

PBS plans to run arts programming on Friday nights for nine straight weeks starting in October to highlight a subject where it can offer something different, network executives said Monday.  The programming will include a special on women rock 'n' rollers, an exploration of American roots music narrated by Steve Martin called "Give Me the Banjo" and the San Francisco Ballet performing "The Little Mermaid."  Although "American Idol" and similar performance shows remain popular on broadcast TV, there are relatively few outlets that show the breadth of arts that PBS is planning, PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger said. Cable networks that once were devoted to the arts, such as Bravo and A&E, now focus primarily on other programming.  "We constantly look at what areas are being underrepresented," Kerger said. "From my perspective, the arts is really at the top of the list."  The Friday night arts festival will be is a collection of new programming and PBS' "Great Performances" series. Putting them all on the same night will help viewers who have had trouble finding some of the network's arts programming in the past, she said.  "For many of our viewers, finding our arts coverage is kind of a serendipity," she said. "You have to be in the right place at the right time."  The festival will include documentaries and short films about arts scenes in Miami, San Francisco, Cleveland, Chicago and other areas. PBS is encouraging its member stations to develop local arts programming to go with the feature.


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Commentary: The Grateful Dead and bootleg tapes: a lesson for the arts

Louise Stevens, Arts Market On... blog, 5/6/11

I had the chance to tune into a great webinar yesterday led by Guy Kowasaki, the former chief evangelist at Apple and author of the new book Enchantment -- about how marketers succeed in really enchanting audiences.  One of his examples was too good not to repeat. Many of you may know how big the Grateful Dead community has been for all these decades. You know the ease of downloading recordings of their vintage concerts. What Kowasaki focused on was how the Dead fostered that community and all those recordings by creating and championing free seating for the tapers. He noted that while everyone else works so hard to ban tapers and to control the distribution of concerts, the Dead's free taper sections created -- and continue to create -- a lot of enchantment as the music and events live on and on.  I got a lot of feedback and emails on last week's post about new distribution mechanisms in the arts, and a number of skeptics wrote me that we have to protect the live event and especially the artist's ability to be heard and seen at the live event. (There seems to be some sentiment that too much distribution of classical arts via cable could somehow harm classical arts?) I love live events, witnessing art first hand. But maybe these guys had it right all along when they openly encouraged the free distribution of their work to make it live for everyone who couldn't be there. Think of it - a taper section at the concert hall. A taper section at the theatre, The opera. YouTube content that never stops, that is fundamental to audience growth. Encourage distribution, facilitate it, champion it. And watch the line at the box office grow and grow, just as it did for the Dead.


Commentary: "The live, present moment..."

Interview with actor Mark Rylance, The Economist's Prospero blog, 4/29/11

"I met a wonderful jazz musician when we're doing Boeing-Boeing. He was clearly brilliant, and I said to him 'Where can I get a recording of yours?' And he said, 'Nowhere.' I said, 'What do you mean? Are they not available anymore?' And he said, 'No, why would I want to make a recording?' I said, "I don't know, maybe you like people who aren't able to be there to hear your music?' 'Why,' he said, 'I won't be there when they're listening to it. Why would I want anyone to listen to a recorded piece of music rather than play something so they can listen themselves?' He literally never made any recordings; he only was interested in the live, present moment. And the more I thought about what he said, the more I thought, 'yeah, I really agree -- that's what's most exciting to me: the live, present moment, with a group of actors and an audience and the curious communication that goes on."


Commentary: Should arts embrace audiences' tech usage during performances?

Peter Linett, Asking Audiences blog, 5/9/11

The CultureLab symposium held recently [included a] dialogue about technological "layering" onto live arts experiences. The appeal is that they take a potentially isolating arts encounter and socialize it. But at what cost? Over lunch, [Steppenwolf Theater artistic director] Martha Lavey and researcher Alan Brown hashed it out.  Lavey was happy to endorse technology if it's used before and after the performance to deepen the connection between artists and audiences, or to let audiences "engage creatively" around the theater-making. But technologies brought to the party by audiences, or layered onto the artistic experience by theater managers? All downside: distracting, distancing, and essentially destructive of the communal experience of live theater, which is at its heart "a space for reflection."  Lavey was quick to point out that she wasn't talking about all arts experiences. A loud rock spectacle on Broadway requires a different kind of attention, and tweeting from those seats might not be a problem.  Several people raised the question of whether these uses of technology represent not merely new layers of engagement and social communication over the existing arts, but new kinds of art. If we write plays (and compose music and choreograph dances) with an audience of tweeting, photographing, foursquaring, texting audiences in mind, the art we create will surely differ from the kind we used to create. Brown's job in the debate was to remind us that the arts can't afford to turn their backs on broad social trends; they're already fighting for relevance. Mobile devices and Twitter are tools that help many people feel engaged and connected with their worlds, and if we don't let them bring those tools to their arts experiences we may as well be saying, "This is something separate -- it isn't part of your world."  The stakes are high, he warned. "If we don't allow them to engage with the arts on their own terms, or partially on their own terms, I'm afraid we're going to lose a generation for the arts."


NEA to offer funding for video games

Independent Film Channel blog, 5/6/11

Lots of great cultural productions have been helped along by the largesse of the National Endowment for the Arts and now video games may benefit from the same well of resources.  They've just announced that a revision to their submissions categories allows for video game content to apply for grant money, with what was once The Arts on Radio and Television category now becoming The Arts in Media.  From the NEA website: "The expanded category now includes: media platforms such as the Internet, interactive and mobile technologies, digital games, arts content delivered via satellite, as well as on radio and television.  Grants are available to support the development, production, and national distribution of innovative media projects about the arts and media projects that can be considered works of art."  The range of grants available goes from $10,000 to $200,000. When compared to the video game industry's own efforts to foster creativity, NEA money is nothing to sneeze at. The ongoing culture wars mean that anything funded will undergo some amount of political scrutiny, so odds are a game proposal that gets money will probably be more like "Flower" and less like "Dead Rising 2." Nevertheless, the very idea that game-making creativity could be fostered by an organization like the NEA provides more welcomes signs that people are ready to look at the medium as something other than a cultural bugaboo.

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