Commentary: The American Maverick as inspiration

Professor Mark Clague on the San Francisco Symphony's American Orchestra Forum, 3/16/12

Can anyone be a "Maverick"? If so, how does our notion of the Maverick need to be adjusted to make such exceptional inspiration open to all? The San Francisco Symphony's American Mavericks festival justly celebrates the creativity of musical individualists, yet I am interested in the Maverick not as rarefied genius, but as an everyday icon that inspires today's artists, thinkers, and inventors. Writers in Newsweek and The Atlantic, among others, have proclaimed a "creativity crisis" in America. My observations as a teacher, however, suggest not a crisis of creative capacity, but at times of creative willpower. I think there is creativity in all of us. What is lacking is simply the permission to be creative, the absence of fear of failure, the courage to do something new. Enter the Maverick! The critical question is whether or not this Maverick creativity is broadly available or the realm of a special few. What history shows us is that the Maverick is never alone. Certainly, music takes form in the minds and works of individual creators, but this occurs with the support of colleagues, families, partners, institutions, and other collaborators. Mavericks are not hermits; they remain connected and draw strength from the community. Varese, Cowell and Copland founded institutions that supported new music. Whenever Cage won a cash prize, he gave the money to Merce Cunningham to support his dance company. These musical Mavericks thrived together. The pioneers who opened the American West travelled in groups, in wagon trains for mutual protection and strength. The Maverick blazes a trail, but galvanized by the collective. The group propels the Maverick -- providing assistance and, maybe most importantly, purpose. The group insures the Maverick against failure, offering support when experiments go awry and praise when they succeed. When they succeed, Mavericks redefine the new as normal; they inspire imitation; they become the norm, they forge tradition.


Commentary: How a festival about mavericks can be more of a maverick itself

Sara Lutman, ArtsJournal blog Speaker, 3/23/12

Full disclosure: I was executive producer of a 13-hour radio and web series inspired by the first American Mavericks festival in 2000. (Documentation of that series is here.) This year's festival reminds us of how much has changed in 12 years. In 2012, the SF Symphony and artists are blogging, streaming, video-chatting, and using social media to talk about the work in real time. Beyond its digital reach, the festival is also [touring] this time. Another big difference: four world premieres (there were none in 2000). We can argue about what a maverick composer is, or what maverick means, period, in a musical context. But it's the right impulse. I've [also] thought about what more the Symphony could do to connect more people to the universe of American music that lies outside the mainstream. How could a festival connect us with the pioneering spirit of "American-ness" that distinguishes so much music, but also so much visual art, poetry, film, and dance? How can a festival about the new, be new itself? And here is where the festival let me down a bit. While the content of the concerts was an ear-opening experience, the production values were as traditional as any other orchestra concert, only with longer set changes for these complicated works. The same length, format, and pacing; the same program books and stage set up. The same distance between performer to audience. The same formality. The content of the festival puts the Symphony in an ideal position to not only present the work, but also to present it in new ways, and I don't mean digitally. How about a poetry reading during the long set changes? Or multiple intermissions with activities that use Davies' grand lobby spaces? How about an all-day instrument-building festival culminating in a concert, or other projects that could unleash the DIY energy that the Bay Area personifies? The festival could move out beyond the downtown concert hall and into other venues, or its themes could be amplified by local museums, at movie theaters, in local restaurants, at universities, or in the street. In marathons, pop-up concerts, symposia, or other formats the festival could more boldly embody the voices that are so clearly present in the music itself.


Commentary: San Francisco's 'other' Mavericks festival

Sidney Chen, New Music Box, 3/28/12

"The San Francisco Symphony does 'Mavericks' every ten years; we do it every year," joked Artistic Director Charles Amirkhanian at this year's Other Minds Festival of new Music, the Bay Area new music community's annual three-day get together. This was the 17th iteration of the festival, which has been running regularly with only a few skipped years since 1993. Each year a group of eight to twelve composers is featured in three concerts, several composers per night, with sets focusing on each composer in turn. "Community" is frequently used these days by arts organizations as a buzzword, but OM concerts truly have the feel of a gathering of a certain community within the Bay Area. The sense of familiarity among those in attendance is immediately noticeable: people seem to be greeting old friends and colleagues constantly from the moment they arrive at the hall. Board members are publicly acknowledged for appreciation during the show. The announcements are informal and there's a notable lack of pretense -- when the raffle winners were announced, one was greeted from the stage by Amirkhanian with a homey "Oh, hey, Tony, nice to see you. Glad you could make it." This sense of community-building extends to the festival composers and OM Fellows as well, who spend five days together at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program on a rural ranch about an hour south of San Francisco prior to the concerts. In fact, although the festival concerts are the most publicly visible component of Other Minds' work, they are only a detail of a bigger picture in which international and intergenerational dialogue is encouraged among individual artistic creators.

> The Other Minds Foundation is in the process of digitizing its audio archive, and the results can be accessed for free at Recordings of many past concerts and panel discussions are available, and the current festival should be added soon.


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Commentary: How we launched new docu film "Mavericks of American Dance"

Jon Reiss and Sheri Candler, on Mr. Reiss' blog, 3/9/12

For the past six months, my company, Hybrid Cinema, has been working on the release of Bob Hercules's new documentary film Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance about the history of the Joffrey Ballet. This is a capsule post to explain the highlights of launching a documentary into the marketplace when working with a modest budget. With at least 35,000 feature films on the film festival circuit every year, very few films are going to premiere at one of the top 5 film festivals. When that happens, filmmakers need to decide what is the best launch for their film. We concluded that in the case of the Joffrey film (and we feel that this is the case for many films), some form of robust live event premiere would help to create awareness for the film in the oversaturated media landscape. Live events are great publicity generators, allowing you to focus marketing efforts on a specific event. Festivals are great partners for these types of events - even if you don't get into a top 10 festival - because you can create a unique experience by partnering with open minded and adventurous festival that is already connected to press and audiences. In creating a live event premiere, you need to consider the following:

1. A premiere [to] reach your audience. We targeted the Dance on Camera Film Festival.

2. Creating an event that will garner attention for your film. We decided early on to simulcast the screening of Joffrey at the DOC festival not only to reach a nationwide audience, but to create a larger story for the press. We created a post-screening panel of former dancers that the audience in the theater could interact with after the screening, but we also enabled audiences even across the country the ability to interact as well.

3. The budget you have to work with. We have a modest budget [and] a small staff. We needed the most bang for the effort. Utilizing the Emerging Pictures network only costs at most $1000. Similar satellite systems through companies like Fathom and Cinedigm can cost $75,000 to $250,000 because of the cost in satellite time. In addition, by covering much of the country at the same time - it allowed us to pursue reviews and articles in multiple markets - thereby most effective use of our publicity budget.

4. Creating assets before and during the release. Garner additional assets by filming your events. For the premiere we created two videos. The first is about the film, opening night and audience reaction. The second concerns the simulcast and the audience participation.

5. The need to have the next steps planned. Many times filmmakers are so busy planning their premiere, they neglect to prepare for what will happen after this. There is no reason that direct distribution should not be the next step and that some kind of event theatrical screenings can be booked. We also launched our online store just after the premiere and have sold several thousand dollars in DVDs/merchandise.

We ended up screening in 45 cities throughout the US to launch the release of the film. We received press articles and reviews in a number of major markets (even though the film was only screening once). Through TweetReach, we were able to quantify the exposure via Twitter for the event: according to our report, our hashtag #joffreymovie reached 200,549 people through 270 tweets just on that day.

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