ArtsWatch News & Notes: A door closes, a door opens

Oregon ArtsWatch goes daily, because the arts are every day!

Today, The Oregonian did not arrive at my doorstep.

And today, Oregon ArtsWatch is broadening its mission to emphasize regular, daily stories and news updates concerning the arts and culture in the state. The two events are directly related, as you might imagine.

We started thinking about starting Oregon ArtsWatch four years ago when we realized that in-depth stories and commentary about arts and culture in Portland and the state were on the verge of disappearing. The Oregonian had already begun trimming its arts staff and the paper’s arts report was shrinking. No one else had the resources or the determination to fill the role the newspaper was leaving behind.

Not that we wanted to reproduce what The Oregonian had been doing! We thought that the newspaper’s coverage in the arts (and all the other sections) needed to improve to have a chance at surviving in the “new media” landscape. That meant better use of technology, sure, but it also meant better writing and thinking, exploration of public events, audio and video forms, and greater overall intensity. We believed that something crucial was often at stake in our concerts, art exhibitions, plays, books and films, and the ways they reverberate in our communities, and we needed to be better at locating and communicating what it was.

We are now two-plus years into publishing Oregon ArtsWatch, and during that time, especially lately, we’ve watched in consternation as the newspaper has almost completely abandoned the arts as a field of inquiry. We had counted on the paper to provide basic coverage of arts news and events. We figured we’d contribute the longer stories, essays, reviews and news investigations that The Oregonian pursued less and less frequently. But this summer the paper announced a series of staff cuts that practically wiped out the remaining arts critics, and its arts report is drastically diminished, especially local, on-the-ground coverage (as opposed to TV and Hollywood).

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And today The Oregonian didn’t arrive at my doorstep—or anyone else’s.

So we are going to change what we do a bit. We are going to provide a regular daily stream of arts news reports and our regular course of reviews, commentaries, essays, stories and news reports. We already do some of this: Brett Campbell’s Weekend MusicWatch is the nearest equivalent, and we have some ideas for other columns along the same lines. If you follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our FaceBook page, you get a dose of this information, too. But we want to make sure that everyone has access to the basic information in the arts that The Oregonian once provided.

This is going to stretch us, both on the aspiration side (which is a good thing) and the resources side (which isn’t). This summer and early fall we’ve received lots of new support from our members and sponsors, which makes it possible to even consider expanding what we do. And we’d love to have lots more new members and sponsors on board to help us out. ArtsWatch believes that paying journalists and critics for their work is the only way to ensure that we continue to receive it. So, yes, please, if you can and feel so moved, contribute to ArtsWatch. Just as important, tell your friends about us and encourage them to visit. The one thing we DO want to re-create is the reach and impact of the old Oregonian.

So yes, even though today The Oregonian was not delivered to my front door…

…that doesn’t have to be a catastrophe for the arts community. Together we can create something that is better for us than the newspaper was. We just have to be more mindful of it. It won’t just land on our porches every day. If we want news and commentary about the arts and the way they intersect the larger culture, we’re going to have to make a concerted effort to make that happen. We aren’t alone. Today, Oregon Public Broadcasting officially announced a new arts radio program, “State of Wonder,” hosted by April Baer, which debuts at noon on November 2. We’re confident that informed, independent, important reporting and commentary about the arts are going to be here for a very long time.

Before I started typing this morning, I looked over the stories I was expecting to land on the site this week. And I thought, I’m even more excited about this batch of stories than I was during our best weeks at The Oregonian (in another lifetime, I worked there for 26 years). The stories are ambitious, the writers are creative and resourceful, and they don’t have a huge apparatus behind them, paying good salaries and making sure they happen. Something’s at stake for us with every story, just as it is for every artist and arts organization in town with every exhibition, show or concert. Personally, I like that (well, all except the good salaries part), and I’m hoping you’re going to like it, too.

Unless someone wants to contribute a sizable regular subsidy, Oregon ArtsWatch can’t replace what The Oregonian did when it was fully staffed with full-time editors, critics, reporters, and calendar clerks, all supported by designers, copy editors, and photographers. But that’s OK. With your help and guidance we can figure out what we really need and work to make it so.

NOTES

Just for starters, here’s the Tuesday, Oct. 1 edition of the ArtsWatch News & Notes.

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