Last week Americans for the Arts held a Private Sector salon on ARTSblog where they discussed where the interests of the arts and business intersected. Much of the discussion was very interesting, but one entry by Margy Waller stuck with me for a few days. Part of it was the timeliness of her subject. She cited the recent controversy at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) about a video that included ants crawling on a crucifix. She quoted a commenter on the NPR story about the controversy calling art the leisure pursuit of the elite.
It immediately made me wonder if the commenter was aware that admission at the NPG, like most of the Smithsonian museums, is free and that the gallery contains very accessible works of historical significance from portraits of Presidents, First Ladies, Founding Fathers and Cornwallis’ surrender to Washington at the end of the Revolutionary War to Stephen Colbert. I am not sure what more someone needs to feel that museum has something to offer them rather than deciding it is only in the purview of others. Even with the exposure provided by people like Stephen Colbert and millions of people wandering through the NPG for free every year, people are unaware of the experience the museum offers. The museums really only get national attention when there is controversy and at that point, no one is interviewing the person talking about the benefits of the arts or the thousands of other works hanging in the galleries.
This weekend when the Honolulu Symphony decided to ask a judge to allow them to dissolve rather than undergo Chapter 11 reorganization, (a request which as of this writing, the judge has granted), the 140+ comments people made on the initial newspaper article revealed just how uninformed and unaware about the symphony’s operations people were. I am not referring to people making spiteful comments about how elitist classical music is who weren’t making any effort to learn. There were plenty of them. But there were others conducting conversations in which people were learning about the business aspects of the symphony for the first time.
A commenter with the handle 1SWBP wrote:
“Shamonu–mahalo for the explanation. That makes more sense now. I appreciate your taking the time. My empathy now runs much more deeper and the union stuff makes perfect sense. I guess I never realized how ‘large’ our symphony was. I do regret not being able to get out more and enjoy them more often.”
What made Margy Waller’s post most inspiring however was a video of Cincinnati mayor Mark Mallory talking about the economic benefits the arts have brought to his city in his State of the City address last year. It reinforces the idea that you have to talk about what you bring to the table, and talk about it, talk about it some more and then get others to talk about it when people get sick of hearing you. A little depressing though that there are only 113 views so pass it on if you like it.