It’s Tuesday, so we must be wired

Who knew that paradise was so cool and cloudy? Yes, friends, it’s June in the Great Northwest, and as I sit at my desk, two squirrels are making sure there will be a next generation, so yes, there’s one vote of optimism for a real summer. Not that I’m complaining, either about the weather or the squirrel jollies. I’m just doing some reporting.

Before he achieved apotheosis with The Wire, David Simon was a reporter, too, on the crime beat at the Baltimore Sun. And maybe he’s never lost his taste for the job, though maybe he now better understands how important it was. In fact, this recent blog post (yes, he blogs!), which was forwarded to me by ArtsWatch friend Greg Newland, gets right down to cases on the social utility of the independent reporter (in this case the crime reporter), and what happens when reporters aren’t around. Here’s his kicker:

“And for all of us, the stakes are profound. It’s hard enough to hold agencies and political leadership accountable in a culture that no longer has the patience or inclination to engage with the actual dynamics of actual institutions. At this point, we are having trouble as a society recognizing our problems, much less solving any of them. But absent a properly funded professional press — one that covers the civic bureaucracies with constancy and tenacity, we’re going to have even less of a shot going forward.”

Of course, I would add a range of topics to civic bureaucracies—business, say, and certainly the arts, because the arts help us achieve the social cohesion we need to create responsive bureaucracies. But more about that later…

For a long time, the problems of the city newspaper and the problems of the symphony orchestra have seemed similar to me, and one of the big ones is the demographics of their audiences, which get older all the time. Yesterday, I linked to a couple (or was it three?) posts by Greg Sandow about the problems symphonies are having, and today he started in on the solution. As we consider the direction of the Oregon Symphony in its soon-to-be post-Elaine Calder incarnation, Sandow is valuable, both because his ideas are coherent and grounded in decades of thinking about the problem and because they are so different from the conventional practice. Sure, he caricatures that practice a little too broadly, and I’m not totally convinced that his central idea is, by itself at least, the answer. But he IS provocative, in a good way:

“In a dozen, twenty, a hundred ways, we have to create an environment in which people come to a concert, feel a buzz, see musicians who plainly care that the audience is there. And know that the music is being played for a reason. Again thinking of an orchestra: it’ll be clear that the conductor, the musicians, the soloist, the board and staff of the orchestra, and other people in the audience love the music, think it matters, can and do say why it matters, at the concert, before the concert, after the concert, in the hall, in the lobby, on the orchestra’s website, on Facebook and Twitter, throughout the city, everywhere.”

ArtsWatch loves artists’ talks, and maybe even more we love video of artists’ talks, because then we can slow down and really listen (and look at the art, too). So, here’s Tom Cramer, who spoke at Laura Russo Gallery last month:

“I like the Arts and Crafts movement a lot because it was one of the first movements to stand up and rebel against the machine or rebel against the industrial machine. And there was a strong emphasis on making things by hand. That’s kind of what I’m trying to do, and that is make each piece a unique world. Each one is different, very different, in this show, I’m bored with shows where everything is kind of the same thing over and over and over, which is kind of a machine way of thinking.”

The Right Brain Initiative is an innovative program that supports arts education at a time when it’s vanishing from schools. I do a little volunteer work for Right Brain, even. What is the easiest possible way for you to get involved, too? Well, on Wednesday you can eat at Lincoln Restaurant, 3808 NE Williams Ave., Portland, where the food is delicious (I’ve eaten there happily before) and which is donating 10 percent of its Wednesday take to Right Brain. It would be fun to run into some of you there!

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