Commentary: The lack of national press attention to UK regional arts

Kenn Taylor, Liverpool-based journalist, on his blog, 1/9/12

When [London's Evening Standard art critic] Brian Sewell was asked if he was going to see the Klimt exhibition at Tate Liverpool, he replied: "But that would mean going to Liverpool. Liverpool's awful. Nothing would get me there. They should dig a trench all round the place and pull it out to sea." Sewell is, of course, generally fond of such pathetic outbursts. However it is not an isolated incident when it comes to the media's view of arts outside of London. The situation is so dire it prompted the then head of Bradford's National Media Museum, Amanda Nevill to say "We still don't get talked about or written about nationally. I sometimes think I don't mind if they tear us apart, as long as they write something about us." This lack of attention is shocking given the fact the venue attracts over 600,000 visitors a year. When coverage does happen, more than once, I've seen broadsheet reviews give more criticism to the train service north than the show itself. Other alleged reviews are in fact opinion pieces about culture as a regeneration tool or the social and economic problems of any given region. So often the exhibition itself is forgotten. There is perhaps an inevitable 'chip on shoulder' defensiveness in regional arts institutions when critics attack 'our' venues, especially when it is such a struggle to get arts outside of the capital acknowledged at all. Nevertheless, I think most of us regional arts workers are capable of critical distance and our chip on shoulder is almost defensible when consistently faced with such poor examples of journalism. With critics often treating the regions as 'other'... I think it unveils something deeper and darker about our media: its lack of understanding of the Britain outside London and the narrow talent pool it so often draws its staff from. Perhaps the BBC move to Salford will shift this a little. We live in hope.


Commentary: Hyperlocal websites spread news about US regional arts

Tim Mikulski, Americans for the Arts blog, 1/4/12

Trying to garner the attention of local media for something happening in the arts can be a daunting task. It's even harder to find out how your local school board voted on your district's arts education budget or how your state legislative candidates feel about funding for the arts. All of that is beginning to change thanks to the world of local blogs and websites that are now becoming what used to be the areas covered by a community newspaper, but with easier access and greater availability to everyone. Local blog sites are everywhere and should be leveraged for all of the above, particularly the "ist" blogs, as they provide a ton of city/regional coverage for the arts, as well as local government actions, etc. There are two websites (although not quite national yet) that often fill up my inbox when it comes to my numerous Google News Alerts for a variety of arts and arts education news -- and Patch, owned by AOL, currently covers 25 states as a home for hyperlocal journalism, serving 500 communities. The ever-expanding platform hires a local reporter for each neighborhood, and they take to Twitter and other forms of social media to generate and promote local content. The Examiner takes a similar approach, but their focus is a bit wider and more dedicated to the city level, mixing in national news with hyperlocal, too. So, if you looking to be a better local arts advocate or would love to see a local middle school performance covered by the media, don't forget to check out these hyperlocal media options or you could be missing a golden opportunity/resource.


Commentary: Keeping distance from a show isn't always easy for a regional critic

Jay Handleman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 12/11/11

Critics generally try to keep an arm's length from the shows, people and theaters they review. It makes it easier to comment without thinking about the impact on those being reviewed. Those in my profession working outside the biggest cities, however, generally get closer to the people we review because we also write features about upcoming shows or news stories about the theaters where they work. Sometimes we get closer than expected to the stories we cover, which explains my mixed feelings about the reviews for the Broadway production of Bonnie & Clyde. Having written countless stories about it in the year since the show had a tryout run at the Asolo Repertory Theatre, I know how hard and long some people worked on the show. I [wanted] the show to succeed because it would be good for our hometown theater, and it would mean more stories to cover. So, it hurt a little to see the [Broadway] reviews -- a couple were vicious, unnecessarily so, but I'm not going to begrudge another critic his or her opinion. I saw the show with some of those critics and, in my review, I wrote about how it had improved and been strengthened since its Sarasota run....A bigger question all this raises is the role of a critic in a regional theater town where shows with Broadway ambitions try out, usually with enhancement money from commercial producers. Should I have written a harsher review in an attempt to kill it, put the New York critics out of their misery and save investors millions of dollars? Or should I, as I did, use my platform to try to help the creators make the most of what they have? I figure that, if the show was perfect, it wouldn't be in Sarasota, it would have gone straight to Broadway. The point of these regional theater tryouts is to work out the kinks. And I like to see how they develop. Hopefully, at some point, it will result in a hit.

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