Commentary: A sector of underemployed 'professionals' or successful 'pro-ams'?

Diane Ragsdale, The McKnight Foundation blog State of the Artist, 3/12/12

In 2004, Demos published Charlie Leadbeater and Paul Miller's Pro Am Revolution. The authors, who define 'pro-ams' as amateurs who work to professional standards... called for rethinking the 'all-or-nothing categories' of professional and amateur, suggesting instead a spectrum which includes (in the arts, for example) hobbyists at one end, full-time professionals who make their living as artists at the other, and categories in between, including those that would be described best as 'pro-ams': people who hold steady day jobs but spend considerable time seriously pursuing an art seems that the arts field may be limiting its future (rather than saving it) by continually scrambling to redraw the line and put people on one side or the other of it. Other fields are embracing this shift -- witness the open source and crowdsourcing models that are increasingly pursued not only because they often are more efficient, but because they often yield better ideas, contributions, and products. Despite the fact that a majority of nonprofit arts organizations sustain nothing close to a living wage for anyone working at them, we hold onto the idea of being a 'professionalized sector' because we perceive that it is meaningful and beneficial (for art, for artists, for the communities we serve) to do so. But is it? If it's an ideal that has been realized by so few, why is it still held up as an ideal for the entire sector? Among the consequences of our fetishism of professional status, it strikes me that we have relegated ourselves to being a sector with huge numbers of unsuccessful and underemployed professional artists rather than a sector with huge numbers of successful, part-time or occasional, pro-am ones. Perhaps it's time for the arts and culture sector in the US to embrace its true nature and the possibilities of this new era and rethink what constitutes a 'satisfying', 'successful', or 'legitimate' life/career in the arts in 21st century America?


Study: Average professional dancer in NYC earns just above poverty line

Miriam Kreinin Souccar, Crains New York Business, 2/27/12

The average professional dancer in New York City earns only $28,000 a year, according to a study by Dance NYC. The amount is just above the nation's poverty line. Of that income, just 55% comes from dance jobs, on average. More than 40% of the dancers surveyed earned less than $5,000 from the dance industry, according to the report, "Dance Workforce Census: Earnings Among Individuals 21-35." Two-thirds made less than $20,000 from dancing.  The study, which surveyed 1,231 dancers, is the first to focus on this age group, arguably the time when dancers are in their prime. This group also represents the future of the dance industry. Just like struggling actors who have to work many jobs to make ends meet, it may come as little surprise that dancers are struggling as well. But dance advocates said they hoped that by releasing real data, more private and state funding would be given to the field.  Beverly D'Anne, former director of the dance program at the New York State Council on the Arts, said: "If the passion, discipline and creativity of these individuals is not to be wasted, it must be allowed to flourish in a way that confirms that dance is, indeed, a respected profession."


Commentary: On the Internet, it's amateur hour -- and that's a good thing

Jay Gabler, Twin Cities Daily Planet* blog Front Row Seat, 3/7/12

There's always been a tension between amateur and professional -- from sports to theater. I'm in the middle of this debate as someone who both writes critically about the arts and creates various art-like things myself. As a critic, I'm expected to be pointed and (hopefully) insightful but also to discuss art in the proper context: reviewing community theater is different than reviewing professional theater. My view is that various developments -- including, significantly, technological developments -- are eroding the traditional distinction between pro and amateur, and that it's a very good thing. In the pre-Internet media world, getting your voice heard required having money, or being in the favor of people with money. Content curators and major media still have tremendous influence, but as people start getting more and more of their information from the Internet, it's easier and easier for relatively inexperienced content creators to make a DIY splash. [It's] not the first time in history that something like this has happened. In 19th-century Paris, a government-sponsored Academy was the official arbiter of what constituted "good" art. But then, things changed. Paint got cheaper, more people became interested in buying art, and the centralized Academy system gave way to a decentralized system of independent dealers who had far more diverse ideas about what constituted "good art." That opened a door for a few talented artists who didn't follow the rules and were considered amateurs by the official establishment. Over 100 years later, you might still recognize some of their names: CÚzanne, Monet, Van Gogh.

*The Twin Cities Daily Planet is an edited news source produced by professional journalists working in collaboration with citizen journalists from the local community.


Commentary: Is the future of arts journalism in the hands of amateur hobbyists?

Mark Shenton, The Stage [UK] blog, 3/13/12

Here's one future of journalism, and it isn't pretty: one where you can only contribute to it as a hobby, not as a paying career. I previously blogged here about the winner of this year's George Jean Nathan Award for Theatrical Criticism in the US being Jill Dolan, a blogger who makes her living as an academic. As another critical blogger George Hunka put it, "Anyone with access to the web can be a critic these days, but fewer and fewer people can actually make a living at it. Dolan, presumably, doesn't get paid a dime for her blog, but has her academic income to support her." And as I went on to say, "The same, of course, applies at a commercial site like the Huffington Post, where despite the fact that its founder Ariana Huffington sold the site last year to AOL for a whopping $315m, bloggers are simply not paid for their efforts, but like the platform it provides them to reach an audience from." The future may not just be Orange, to quote the famous mobile phone ad; it's also clearly free for the writers while others profit.


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Apollo Theater's career-launching Amateur Night goes digital (and to London)

Andy Lewis, The Hollywood Reporter, 3/1/12

Harlem's Apollo Theater announced a wide-ranging expansion of its famous Amateur Night competition, including adding a website, mobile app and partnership with London's Hackney Empire for a transatlantic competition. The 78-year-old Amateur Night competition helped launched the careers of such performers as Ella Fitzgerald, Stevie Wonder, the Jackson Five, and Lauryn Hill. The show is currently hosted by the comedian Capone and impressionist C.P. Lacey, who serves as the "Executioner" who sweeps contestants rejected by the audience off the stage. Amateur Night Digital, allows fans to watch clips, track the progress of contestants, and vote for winners via website or a mobile app.  The Apollo is also collaborating with London's Hackney Empire on "Live at the Empire & Apollo Amateur Night: Hackney vs. Harlem," which will be held in London in July to coincide with the Olympics.

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