NOTE: I'm taking a break from doing the email version of "You've Cott Mail."  YCM emails will return to your inbox the week of July 9th.  While I'm away, I will probably still continue to post a bit on the YCM Twitter feed. --Thomas Cott


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Commentary: The new arts model (part 1)

Michael Kaiser, President of the Kennedy Center,, 6/18/12

If I hear one more pundit or read one more blog suggesting that 'old models' of arts organizations are dying and that 'new models' are needed I am going to scream. Expert after expert are calling for 'new models' without explaining what these new models are or what specifically they are meant to address, except for a vague unhappiness with how things are working (or not working) now. What exactly do these people mean by 'old models' anyway? Do they mean that there will be no more arts institutions in the future? I doubt that will be the case. There may be several venerable organizations that do not survive. But that does not mean big arts organizations are going to be extinct. Many large corporations die as well. No one is selling off the stock market today suggesting that the corporate model is dead simply because some corporations go bankrupt or merge with others. Do these experts mean that in the future all art will be created by groups of artists who work on specific, individual projects and then disband? I hope not. That means every time artists conceive of a project they must start from scratch to find the resources they need. Do they mean that large-scale arts projects will be replaced by smaller ones? That would be a shame. As much as I truly enjoy a chamber-sized program, I also enjoy large scale works. Must we toss out an entire canon of great works in an effort to make way for the new? Of course we must invest in new works. But we can also cherish the great works that have formed the foundation of our culture.


Commentary: The new arts model (part 2)

Michael Kaiser,, 6/25/12

Yes, the world is changing -- it has always been changing. We must adapt to new technologies, new art forms, new ways of communicating. We face a plethora of new forms of entertainment that compete mightily, and at far lower costs, than in the past. And this will have implications. The number of full-time orchestras is bound to diminish for example, the opportunity for exciting new projects influenced by new technology is going to increase, the way we reach audiences will undoubtedly be different, and the way we educate children is going to evolve. I fully expect the world of the arts to look different in 20 years. I want it to look different, to grow, to evolve. But that does not mean that we have to discard an entire way of working, losing the tremendous advantages enjoyed by successful arts organizations. I believe firmly that well-run arts organizations that appreciate how the world is changing, and react accordingly, that engage board members, that excite audiences, that create important work, that grow and change with the times, will survive and thrive for decades to come. I know many people will say I am old-fashioned. Some will say I am hopelessly attached to a dying model. I believe I am hopelessly attached to a classic model. Only time will tell.


Commentary: Swimming downstream in the current of history

Adam Huttler, Founder/Executive Director of Fractured Atlas,, 6/25/12

Michael Kaiser is fed up with the ceaseless chatter about the need for "new models" in the arts. As one who has spoken and written frequently on this subject, I feel an obligation to respond. First, let me say that I know Michael Kaiser and have a great deal of respect for his contributions to the field. Second, Kaiser is correct to complain about a lack of specificity in much of this talk. However, Kaiser's perspective and mine diverge. If [Kaiser's vision of the future is] more or less the same marble-columned institutions that arose in the second half of the 20th century, then I have a hard time believing a majority will still be standing in 2062. I agree big arts organizations are not going extinct. I just think we will have far fewer of them than we have today, and even fewer operating with annual budgets under $5 million. This doesn't have to be scary!  Not every brilliant, creative idea warrants creating a new legal entity that is designed to exist in perpetuity and survive its founders. At the same time, I'm optimistic that the explosion of artistic production in recent years will continue, just outside of an institutional context. Grad students who aspire to careers in the business side of the arts are increasingly tax-status agnostic, and open-minded about using whatever tool fits the job at hand. I don't see Mahler going away, I just see the distribution changing. The Metropolitan Opera is broadcasting in HD video to movie theaters across the country. Fifty years from now, I suspect we'll look back on that as a crude early experiment that laid the groundwork for currently unimaginable aesthetic experiences, like virtual reality immersion and environmental projection. Look, I'm no futurist and I'm certainly not clairvoyant. I don't know exactly how our field is going to evolve over the next 50 or 100 years. But I'm certain it's going to change, and in some pretty radical ways. It strikes me that each of us has three options in the face of that change:

  1. You can wring your hands in powerless panic, a la the experts and pundits that Kaiser references.
  2. You can deny that change is at hand and keep on manufacturing buggy whips while brand new Model Ts drive past outside.
  3. Or you can remind yourself that you're in the art business, not the organization business, and do your best to swim downstream in the current of history. I know which one I'd choose. 

Commentary: Structures and models in blogs, oh my

Doug Borwick, blog Engaging Matters, 6/23/12

The last week or so has seen a number of blog posts from some of my favorite thinkers in the arts addressing Big Questions about arts structures in very serious ways. First, Adam Huttler responded to Michael Kaiser's lament about all the talk of "new models" for the arts. Mr. Huttler has put together an incredibly thoughtful analysis of the "models" discussion. Where I would go a step further is to say that there will also be significant shakeout in arts product over the next several generations in response to changing demographics and the practical need to be meaningful to larger percentages of the population. (Richard Evans from EmcArts weighed in on this topic as well.) Second, Diane Ragsdale has been at it again. In [a recent blog post] she deals with, among other things, the suitability of 501c3 status for organizations whose focus is solely (or primarily) on the art product as opposed to on the point of intersection between the art and the community. The forming language of the tax code cites "charitable" and "educational" as the only two criteria that are applicable to arts organizations. (As many have noted, the word "art" does not appear at all.) The tax code holds that the public good must be the principal motivation of nonprofits. [But] much of the time the motivation has been to serve art, not the public. I'm not saying such service is a bad thing. But it is not a thing for which the tax code was designed. Clayton Lord, in anticipation of a TCG panel with Ms. Ragsdale, contributed to the discussion in First the Seed: Embracing Arts as a Means to and End. He reminds us to focus on the art rather than the model or the structure. We are in an era in which politicians and the public are taking long, hard looks at nonprofits. So discussion of the public service nature of not-for-profit arts organizations is timely. Knowing what we think about the questions that will be raised and being prepared to address them will be increasingly critical for the arts based in this model. More is coming on the topic. 

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