The Jazz.com Blog
July 01, 2008 · 1 comment
According to the National Endowment for the Arts, there are approximately two million people in the United States involved in the performing arts: in music, dance, and theatre. In fact, there are more people who list 'artist' as their profession, than lawyers, doctors or farmers.
Yet one would hardly guess this when looking at support for the arts at the national and local level. Why has involvement in the performing arts been eradicated from our elementary educational systems? Why is there so little media visibility for the performing arts? Why are the potential benefits for lifelong learning in the performing arts not being recognized and fostered? Why are many segments of our communities effectively shut out of our leading performing arts organizations? And what can those in the performing arts world do about these challenges at the national, local, individual, and group levels?
These were some of the issues dealt with at Taking Action Together: The National Performing Arts Convention (NPAC), held in Denver last month. Gene Marlow, a frequent contributor to these pages (see his interview with Andy LaVerne published earlier this week), reports on the proceedings below.
Inspiring. Productive. Energizing. . . . These are the three words that come immediately to mind following the conclusion of what was an historic gathering of approximately 4,000 performing artists, executives of 31 national service organizations in the performing arts, and exhibitors at Colorado’s Convention Center, Denver, Colorado, June 10-14, 2008. Partly what made this an historic event was the fact that this was only the second time this convention had convened. The first was in Pittsburgh four years ago. It took three years to organize the most recent convention—and it showed. We have all been to conventions of one kind or another. Some you enjoy, many you don’t. This was the first time in my recent memory that a convention was so engrossing and compelling that I didn’t want it to end.
First, take a look at some of the 31 participating organizations: American Composers Forum, American Music Center, Association of Performing Arts Presenters, Chamber Music America, Chorus America, Dance/USA, Early Music America, International Society for the Performing Arts, League of American Orchestras, Meet the Composer, Music Critics Association of North America, The National Association of Latino Arts and Culture, and Opera America.
And look at some of the guest speakers: Dana Gioia, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, prize-winning actress, writer, activist and teacher Anna Deavere Smith, Bill Rauch of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Good to Great author Jim Collins, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, internationally renown Senegal dancer and teacher Germaine Acogny, award-winning conductor Marin Alsop, and La Sistema innovator Jose Antonio Abreu of Venezuela. In between all this, participants were treated to a preliminary presentation by Joan Jeffri, Director of the Program in Arts Administration and the Research Center for Arts and Culture at Columbia University. Her report, “Taking Note,” covered some of the emerging demographics of the performing arts world. The full report will be distributed later this year.
The proceedings on the fourth day were topped off by a 15-minute performance by Diane Reeves (who lives in Denver) accompanied by guitarists Romero Lubambo (of Trio da Paz fame) and Russell Malone (of Diana Krall fame).
The centerpiece of the proceedings, however, was the consensus-building “process” organized and executed by AmericaSpeaks. For more than a decade, AmericaSpeaks has used a 21st Century Town Meeting® model to bring together more than 130,000 citizens in deliberations about critical policy issues, and then connect the results to decision-makers.
Imagine the challenge of extracting a consensus among 4,000 attendees that would lead to a statement of national and local strategies and tactics dealing with the problems and issues surrounding the performing arts in the United States, and doing this in four days! This is exactly what the AmericaSpeaks leaders, together with a host of facilitators, accomplished. At the conclusion of the four days we all stood up to acknowledge our group effort and our commitment to take action together.
The first day all attendees were divided into four large groups. Each group was divided into round tables of 6-10 people. A facilitator hosted each table. On day #1 the attendees were presented with a draft “mission” statement regarding the needs of the performing arts in the United States. We were then asked to articulate three ways the so-called performing arts community has been “. . . most successful in reaching our vision as a community” and three ways it has been “. . .least successful in reaching our vision as a community.”
Everyone at each table was encouraged to participate. Opposing views were noted. At the conclusion of the 90-minute session, the facilitators met to compare notes. That evening all the notes were summarized for presentation to the entire group the following day.
The summaries of each question contained contradictions as well as consensus. For example, at the top of the list for the first question was: “We’re getting better at demonstrating value and advocating for the arts as a public good.” But at the same time, the first answer to question two was: “Failure to communicate and connect the relevance and value of the arts to the larger community.”
At the second caucus--everyone was directed to a different room with different people-- the results of the previous day’s summaries were presented. Apparently, the AmericaSpeaks executives worked well into the night to organize the summaries and publish them into a well-edited, printed document, titled The Daily Caucus. This was done on each successive day.
At the second caucus we were all asked: “Based on where we have been most/least successful, and looking to the future, what are the three most important opportunities/challenges our community needs to address in order to better reach our vision?”
The third caucus focused on this question: “For each of the highest priority opportunities/challenges, what are up to three of the most important strategies we need to follow in order to advance our vision (including actions at national and local, and individual organization levels)?
On the last day of the conference we were all gathered into a ballroom as one group to read and talk about the summary of the summaries. While previously we were divided randomly into rooms and tables, in this room we were divided into regions, the Northeast contingent being the largest.
Over the course of four days and much discussion three issues had bubbled to the surface among the several thousand attendees. They were as follows:
#1. Our communities do not sufficiently perceive the value, benefits, and relevance of the arts, which makes advocacy and building public support for the arts a challenge at every level.
#2. The potential of arts education and lifelong learning in the Arts is under-realized.
#3. The increasing diversity of our communities creates an opportunity to engage a variety of ages, races, identities and cultures in our audiences and organizations.
For each of these three central issues, three sub-sections dealing with enacting tactics at the national, local, and organizational/individual level were articulated. In turn, under each of these three sub-sections were anywhere from five to eight very specific actions to be taken.
At this closing session we were all given push-button keypads and asked to vote then and there on the specified “action” tactics. Within moments we could all see on large screens the results of the voting and what “action” tactic seemed to appeal the most and the least.
And action was the key word. After all, the convention itself was titled “Taking Action Together.”
There is no doubt in this writer’s mind that the mere action of creating this four-day gathering was in itself an impetus for a call to arms. For example, in the middle of the convention, Chamber Music America (CMA), through the leadership of CEO Margaret M. Lioi and CMA Program Director Susan Dadian, convened a breakfast meeting of all those at the convention involved in jazz. The meeting of about two dozen or so people (only about one percent of the convention attendees were involved in jazz) presented Ms. Lioi with a laundry list of actions CMA could take to replace some of those activities now absent as a result of the demise of the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE). In the next few months I’m certain CMA will outline what it intends to do to add to its already extant activities in the jazz area.
In addition to the speakers, caucuses, and exhibitors, the Denver convention was also a huge opportunity for networking with people whom you would not have otherwise met. It was also an opportunity to bump into friends one had not seen for some time. For me, the convention led to the realization that all performing arts groups, whether in music, dance, or theatre, need to move towards three objectives for future growth and survival: (1) internal organizational consensus building with regard to mission, (2) collaboration with other performing arts organizations, and (3) community outreach. These may seem like “duh” observations, but the focus of the NPAC provided the necessary environment and energy to get down to specific tactics that could be executed immediately at the local level—and it is at the local level that performing arts individuals and groups can do the most good, while the national service organizations (NSOs) are the ones to come together to attempt policy changes at the national level.
The NPAC was a meeting I wished many more could have attended. It was that productive, energizing, and inspiring.
During and after the NPAC I found myself making notes and writing suggestions for further action for each of the performing arts organizations I am involved with once I returned to New York in late June. They include: the Milt Hinton Jazz Perspectives concert series at Baruch College (New York City) that I curate together with a committee of my peers; the New York Composers Circle of which I am Director, Media Relations; and my own performing group, The Heritage Ensemble, a quintet devoted to the in-concert performance of Hebraic liturgical music in various jazz forms.
I had, though, another convention to attend the week following the NPAC: The JazzWeek Summit in Rochester, New York, a meeting of jazz radio programmers, promoters, and artists, which will be the subject of a follow-up article next week.
This blog entry posted by Eugene Marlow.