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Wry Kaiser

Michael Kaiser was in town as part of his Arts In Crisis tour. The session was videoed. I don’t know if it will be placed on the internet, but the content was pretty much the same as when he spoke in Madison, WI. I had watched that video back when Andrew Taylor discussed Kaiser’s visit to Madison. If the video of our local session becomes available, I will post it.

I am not going to give a synopsis of his talk here as I am wont to do. His thoughts are pretty widely disseminated through videos like the in WI and via his column on Huffington Post. I am just going to reflect a little on the experience.

He was a very entertaining speaker and the session was quite enjoyable. I encouraged my Assistant Theatre Manager to go because he hadn’t really heard any of this before. And our discussions after about how we should proceed were pretty productive.

Our mayor is the chair of the culture and tourism committee of the National Conference of Mayors and he is pretty enthusiastic about those causes. (He also bills himself as the “Singingest Mayor In America.” I was surprised that he didn’t take the opportunity today.)

He spoke, I think longer than anyone expected, about how important the arts are. He also stayed for the full 1.5 hour session. This impressed on me how important the topic of the arts was to him because he is always on the go. I have seen him get off a 7 hour flight that crosses the international dateline, speak at a meeting about public transportation and then out to another meeting. Since he was still around as the Q&A started, the moderator brought him back up to the stage to field questions about the arts in the city.

A few observations about the session with Kaiser. The first isn’t predicated on something he said. The session opened traditionally with a welcoming chant and then a hula display. I am not Hawaiian, nor am I practitioner of any Hawaiian performing arts. However, my investment in those art forms were such that I wished they had done a slightly different program. The hula was accompanied by singers playing ukelele. This is something many people are familiar with due to movie depictions. So what I found myself wanting was for a performance on ipu heke–double gourd drum. I wanted him to go away perhaps surprised about Hawaiian performing arts and knowing more than he knew when he arrived.

Later, I was gratified to hear him say that was what he aimed for in his programming–having people surprised at some of the events he put together. His example was the Arab Festival at the Kennedy Center earlier this year. He noted nobody expects you to celebrate Arab art in the current political climate.

At one point he underscored how much the arts are dependent on the kindness of strangers when it comes to arts education. This is no great revelation, I am sure. He gave the example of a 3rd grader who benefits from her teacher loving the arts and providing many opportunities for exposure. When the child moves on to 4th grade, if the teacher doesn’t like the arts, then the child doesn’t get any exposure. If the 4th grade teacher doesn’t like math, they don’t have the option of shirking instruction in that. It occurred to me this is actually the case even in states that mandate an arts component because few schools value the subject enough to monitor compliance or ensure a valuable experience.

For me, the talk solidified and confirmed some thoughts I had over Thanksgiving about how I should be approaching various elements of my job. It was good to have the Assistant Theatre Manager start to move in the same direction. I hadn’t really spoken with him about my thinking yet because I hadn’t entirely figured out how to put it into practice. Today was a good catalyst for that conversation.

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