Commentary: Nonprofit arts orgs may do excellent work ... but is it 'good'?

Diane Ragsdale, blog Jumper, 6/20/11

A few years back, Howard Gardner described 'good work' as work that is excellent, engaging, and ethical. As soon as I heard the description my mind began working on a question: By-and-large, are nonprofit arts organizations doing 'good' (i.e., excellent, engaging, and ethical) work? While there are many arts organizations that are beloved by the artists and staffers that work there, anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that (at least at some institutions) one or more legs of the 'good work' stool may need shoring up.  Nonprofits should hold themselves accountable for being places where process matters as much as product and where 'good work' reliably happens. Places where administrators and artists alike are able to do excellent work (e.g., are given sufficient rehearsal time), are engaged in the work (e.g., have the autonomy to be creative and feel ownership of the mission), and are treated and behave ethically (e.g., contracts do not advantage institutions at the expense of artists).  We have for years taken for granted that nonprofit arts institutions are inherently more trustworthy than commercial entities and are (more) worthwhile and creative places to work. However, the experiences of at least some artists and arts administrators would suggest that even when arts organizations appear to be achieving a certain kind of excellence (selling out the hall, doing great work on stage, raising lots of money, or balancing their budgets), the toll exacted for that 'excellent' work may be 'goodness' in the process.


Commentary: Art institutions should engage our better moral senses

András Szántó,, 6/21/11

I got back from Art Basel this weekend on a plane full of art world types, with fresh impressions for my "interesting disconnects" file.  

> First, between the ebullience of the art fair and the dark financial clouds roiling over Europe. There is a yawning chasm right now between the revived luxury spending boom and the malaise that grips the bottom 98%.

> Second, during an Art Basel Conversation I moderated on the future of museum collecting, a London-based curator from Bangladesh pressed the assembled directors when and how they will genuinely engage his community and others like it-not just through occasionally showcasing artists, but in a deep way. All agreed that, good intentions and planned initiatives notwithstanding, we're a long way from making art institutions truly inclusive.

> The third contrast arrived by way of the current Bookforum, which includes a review of a new book Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy.  The study documents the stunning and roundly depressing rise of unpaid labor in our creative industries.

These disconnects point to chronic imbalances in the art world and in its relationship to society. One might be a wet blanket to bring them up in the midst of summertime fun. Even so, perhaps it's not too romantic to suggest that art, and the institutions that advance it, should, among other things, engage our better moral senses and our common trials and aspirations, or risk irrelevance.


New ethics policy proposed for ticket broker websites, 6/22/11

A Denver theatre is fighting back against ticket resellers who use Web sites that allegedly fool some customers into thinking the sites are affiliated with the venue. Denver Center for the Performing Arts has received complaints from fans who were allegedly duped into buying resold tickets at a premium from sites they thought were part of the official box office.  The use of such sites by resellers is currently the subject of discussions by the National Association of Ticket Brokers (NATB), which last week proposed new language in its ethics policy to make sure sites clearly stipulate that they are secondary ticket broker sites.  Such sites have been a part of the ticket resale landscape for years, but one broker [said] that with the number of complaints about the sites increasing -- and the NATB now looking [into] them -- it is only a matter of time before state or federal legislators also take notice.  "It is not good for anyone other than the marketer of the Web site if a consumer is lured into making a purchase based on a deceptive Web site," he said. "The customer will often institute a chargeback and the broker will have to defend an order when he likely doesn't even know which site the order came from. Not fair for either side, and ultimately, it may not be good for the marketer of the Web site, either. Because, one day a process server may show up at his door with a little paperwork from the government."  [However,] the use of such sites will be a difficult one for the NATB to get a handle on, because a lot of the group's members do not use such tactics.


"Theatre Worker's Code of Ethics"

Composer/Music Director/Actor Chris King on his blog, 6/2/11

A friend posted this on Facebook and I thought it was very well written.  It's something I think I will pass on to younger aspiring students and actors I come across in my career.  This is a direct lift from this fantastic blog, LA Stage Times, which has more info and background:

"A part of the great tradition of the theatre is the code of ethics which belong to every worker in the theatre. This code is not a superstition, nor a dogma, nor a ritual which is enforced by tribunals; it is an attitude toward your vocation, your fellow workers, your audiences and yourself. It is a kind of self-discipline which does not rob you of your invaluable individualism. Those of you who have been in show business know the full connotation of these precepts. Those of you who are new to show business will soon learn. The Circle Players, since its founding in 1945, has always striven to stand for the finest in theatre, and it will continue to do so. Therefore, it is with the sincere purpose of continued dedication to the great traditions of the theatre that these items are here presented..." All members of the Circle Theatre were required to sign this document. And they must have -- because the theatre, and the group into which it evolved, was successful for many years.

[Click here to read the full text of the Circle Players' 1945 "Theatre Worker's Code of Ethics."]

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