The Art of Inclusion

ArtsWatch apologizes for concert review's errors of judgment and fact

by BRETT CAMPBELL, BOB HICKS, and BARRY JOHNSON

“Reviews now are different kinds of battlefields. Who is writing them is just as important — perhaps more important — than what is being reviewed.”

That’s from an insightful and important story called “Like it or not, we are in the midst of a second arts revolution,” published a few weeks ago by our friend and colleague Chris Jones, chief theater writer for the Chicago Tribune. We thought it said so much about the state of the arts and arts journalism that we immediately posted a link to ArtsWatch’s Facebook page. “Administrators, artists and critics all have to get used to the intensity of amplified opinion, and the widespread desire for empowered involvement, that now surrounds their work.”

A few days later, ArtsWatch found itself engaged on such a battlefield. One of our regular freelance writers, Terry Ross, who’s covered classical music for decades, wrote a review of a June 17 concert by Portland’s Resonance Ensemble that sparked outrage — “amplified opinion.” You can follow the action here.

Resonance Ensemble performed music by Renee Favand-See and welcomed other musicians in its last concert. Photo: Rachel Hadiashar.

To give our readers the chance to express themselves, we have let that battle play out before weighing in ourselves, and in general we’ve been impressed by the passion and thoughtfulness of many of the responses. The comments taught us important lessons about our community’s arts culture. As hard as it was to read them without contributing ourselves, we thought this thread was important beyond anything we could add. Now it’s time to state clearly where we editors stand, and to apologize, appreciate, and explain.

Factual Errors

First, some background. From the beginning, we have especially urged classical music concerts to open their programming beyond the narrow club mentality that often disconnects from today’s larger, more diverse culture. We have received both support and flack for that inclusionary philosophy, and we realize that others don’t share it, including, apparently, the author of the Resonance review.

ArtsWatch reviews of Resonance Ensemble concerts have ranged from positive to something we might characterize as “ecstatic.” Our writers, including Bruce Browne, Jeff Winslow, Matthew Andrews and ArtsWatch’s music editor Brett Campbell (who originally edited Ross’s review), have praised the eclectic programming of the vocal group as well as their music-making.

Ross’s account of …Only in Falling was more mixed and fairly standard, for the most part. He made negative, we would say unduly harsh, judgments about the complexity and craft of one of the songs in the program, one that dealt with the grief of losing a child; he thought one of the sections of the piece he liked best went on too long, though he praised that work extensively, too; he complained about the structure and the “bathos” of another; he quite enjoyed two more.

In the last few sentences of the review, in which Ross discussed an original piece by African-American actor Vin Shambry, things went from “fairly standard” to awful.

“Shambry’s second monologue, however, which opened the concert’s second half and came directly before Ms. Favand-See’s piece, was wildly off-target in its impersonation, in a slow, rhythmic rap style, of a Black Lives Matter screed about life on the ghetto’s mean streets and murderous cops, although blacks were not, to my recollection, specifically mentioned. This small bit of actorly free expression was desperately out of place and unwelcome in this setting,” Ross wrote.

Those sentences contained factual and interpretive errors, as well as opinions that none of the editors agree with. It’s important to distinguish the former from the latter.

Katherine FitzGibbon led Resonance Ensemble’s performance and programmed its concert. Photo: Rachel Hadiashar.

“There were a shocking number of problematic statements in the two sentences Ross wrote about ‘Brother Man’,” FitzGibbon and Shambry wrote. “To call it an ‘impersonation’ implies a kind of caricature or something inauthentic, which follows in the long tradition of minstrelsy and of rendering black performances as inferior to white performances. Vin’s piece was a genuine statement of his own perspective, his daily perspective which is informed by being a man of color living in our predominantly white city and in this time in the United States. Ross cannot understand Vin’s perspective – no one can fully understand another person’s perspective – so to label it as an “impersonation” devalues it and sets it aside.

“Second, Vin’s sung performance had nothing to do with ‘rap style.’ Rap incorporates ‘rhyme, rhythmic speech, and street vernacular’ (Keyes 2004:1). It is astounding that Ross would lump this performance into the category of rap.

“Third, this also had nothing to do with Black Lives Matter, which is an entire movement with a specific set of goals. Again, ‘Brother Man’ expressed Vin’s personal feelings and his experience of daily life.

“Fourth, Ross refers to the ‘ghetto’s mean streets’ and ‘murderous cops,’ neither of which stereotypes figured whatsoever in Vin’s piece.

“Fifth, Ross writes that ‘blacks were not, to my recollection, specifically mentioned.’ Ross’s tone when he refers to ‘blacks’ is not only off-putting but suggests that the experience of all African-Americans, Africans, and African-Caribbeans are the same (and linked with the ‘ghetto’ and ‘mean streets’). And if ‘blacks’ were not specifically mentioned (in point of fact, there is a single mention of ‘men of color’ in the piece), then why did he conclude that the piece was in the manner of a Black Lives Matter ‘screed’?”

Though we couldn’t have known that Ross’s story contained these errors without having seen the show ourselves, we accept responsibility for his words published on our site, we regret publishing them, and we apologize for those errors, and for their offense to the artists involved. Had we known they were erroneous, we wouldn’t have published them. We are grateful to Katherine FitzGibbon and and Vin Shambry for pointing them out and for responding in such a thoughtful and measured manner.

Unwelcome Attitude

As distressing as these errors were, though, what was more troubling to FitzGibbon, and to us, was the attitude toward art and programming revealed in the review.

“Sixth, and most devastatingly,” FitzGibbon and Shambry point to this sentence in the review: “‘This small bit of actorly free expression was desperately out of place and unwelcome in this setting.’ This statement troubled and angered us such that we feel the need to affirm how welcome Vin’s perspective was and is, in the world of classical music and whatsoever. We affirm that concert and theater performances are richer and deeper when they are inclusive of many points of view, both aesthetically and psychologically. (Ross also criticized other styles that were not classically choral, as in his remarks about the inclusion of singer-songwriter Nikole Potulsky, an artist with a national reputation who is just coming off a sold-out solo show in Portland). It seems that Ross has a narrow understanding of what ‘belongs’ on a classical music concert, and indeed, an understanding that does not reflect the fundamental mission of Resonance Ensemble, one of collaboration with many styles, art forms, and communities. We believe that art can provoke and move its listeners. Clearly, Mr. Ross felt provoked by and uncomfortable with the inclusion of Vin’s piece, and we ask him to consider why it did not feel ‘welcome.’”

Part of the problem, which FitzGibbon and Shambry identify, is the stance of the critic. We see this once-common formalist critical stance supporting the most conservative cultural values: the few against the many, the white against the black, the rich against the poor, the known against the unknown, the old against the new. It’s an approach that takes a lofty view of the history of the art form, upholding the standards of past masters and maintaining that anything new or unorthodox or in unexpected combination faces a mighty challenge to gain entry into the pantheon, and will be allowed in only reluctantly, once it’s proven its worth.

Nikole Potulsky performed at “…Only in Falling.” Photo: Rachel Hadiashar.

There is value in stressing the importance of tradition, but in doing so, formalist critics often undervalue the new art and experimental approaches that are forming under their noses. Although nearly all of our writers have ample grounding in the disciplines they write about, we wouldn’t call any of them formalists. They don’t spend time thinking, “Three stars or four stars,” or “B or B-.” Instead they think about how things work, what they say, what they tell us about … us.

At ArtsWatch, we don’t believe that our writers are priests who can offer absolution or gods, sitting in judgment. We are writers attempting to understand a very difficult subject—art—and then reporting back to our readers what we think we have understood. We know that our cognitive apparatus can help, that our previous experience can help, but that ultimately what makes art interesting is that it refuses to be pinned down like a dead butterfly in a taxonomist’s cabinet, neatly named and categorized and valued. That should be humbling to us, especially when we encounter what we don’t understand or react negatively to.

Although many readers think of the stories we write as reviews, we don’t really think of our writers as “reviewers.” We are writers whose subjects will be drawn from the work performed. We are under no obligation to say something about everything that is performed. We are obliged to do enough research to justify what we write. Our most important role is helping our readers establish the context for certain performances—in music, in the life of the performers, in the culture.

The real failure of those two sentences was that they didn’t provide sufficient context: What was Resonance Ensemble attempting to do with its programming decisions? Although it’s possible to argue that the group failed in one regard or another, that’s not only what the essay argued. It basically said that certain mixtures of music just shouldn’t be performed together, as a formal matter. Resonance never billed its show as a “classical music” concert. The program offered the kind of cultural and stylistic diversity that ArtsWatch writers have strongly advocated for since the site began.

Vin Shambry

While we recognize that Ross isn’t alone in his view of what constitutes a proper concert, we believe the reviewer shouldn’t play performance cop. As some cops do, Ross pulled over the performer who didn’t perform what he wanted him to, and then threw him in the slammer. We believe that this is not our role. Especially not in white Portland in the whitest of its art forms. We are looking for ways forward from the everyday bigotry that poisons us, from the racist past that clings to us, from the economic system in which it is entangled.

We keep coming back to the word “unwelcome.” We don’t think Ross meant it quite like many of us are reading it. He might have simply meant “inappropriate.” But at ArtsWatch we “welcome” every cultural expression. Every honest attempt to create something new from the cultural and personal material at hand is of interest to us. We may not understand it, we may misinterpret it, we may think it’s lacking in one regard or another: But we also think enough of it to bring attention to it.

Inclusionary Philosophy

In this case, one writer expressed a view contrary to the inclusionary approach to concerts that ArtsWatch has long propounded. If we disagreed with his apparent philosophy so strongly when we first received his review, then why did we publish it? Actually, that very difference in philosophy is what led us to avoid editing out a point of view that differs from our own.

Music reviewers and their readers frequently disagree about what they’ve heard, and that disagreement can actually be instructive—for both reviewer and reader. At ArtsWatch, this principle of independence for the writer is really important. We don’t have a uniform house voice or dogma. We’re not a Fox ‘News,’ imposing a party line. We believe in freedom of expression on our virtual pages, and we, like most artists, know that can make many uncomfortable. We disagree with a lot of what we edit, but it doesn’t follow that we shouldn’t allow it to be published. We can hardly advocate inclusion of challenging ideas in a Resonance Ensemble concert while at the same time denying that same openness to diverse ideas on our own site. That would turn ArtsWatch into a mere hug box where only certain ideas are permitted, and deny us the opportunity to see those views, consider them, debate them, confront them. Anyone who wants to see the result of living only in a bubble where certain ideas are permitted is invited to consider the election results that surprised so many last November.

However, in that same spirit of free expression, we also reserve the right to disagree with opinions expressed on our site. We feel so strongly that the attitude toward artistic diversity displayed in the review, and particularly the language in which that attitude was expressed, contradicts our bedrock values that we feel compelled to do so now.

As expressed in this review, Ross’s apparent critical opinion is that such diversity in concerts is inherently unwelcome. Those added performances detracted from the show for him. They wouldn’t detract from it for us, but there are other things we might find unwelcome. For example, two of us just attended a performance that was announced as a concert but wound up being mostly a lecture demo. That detracted from the experience for some of us. Ross apparently had a similar view of this non-classical programming in a concert that contained classical music. Though we believe it’s honestly held, we heartily disagree with this notion, and we’ll debate and even denounce it here — but we won’t censor it. One writer may believe that, but ArtsWatch as an institution never has and never will.

But while we wouldn’t censor Ross’s opinion, we have learned, thanks to the response to his story from our readers (especially Mary McDonald-Lewis’s analysis, in the comment thread beneath the review) that the charged way he expressed those opinions could indeed make the artists involved feel unwelcome in arts settings. We should been more sensitive to that possibility, and shouldn’t have allowed that language in the published version. We apologize to the artists involved for not doing so. We’re still learning to adapt to the new world Jones discusses.

Vin Shambry is one of the city’s very best actors, and the idea that his contribution would be “unwelcome” at any arts event is completely wrong. We apologize directly and profusely to him.

With …Only in Falling, Resonance Ensemble has bravely attempted to break down the barriers that compartmentalize people and music in our culture. We owe you our thanks for emphasizing that social role in your artmaking, and we apologize for causing anyone connected with the show, beginning with Vin Shambry of course, distress of any kind. Thank you for responding as you did. We are keen to make amends by embracing our role in the community with the awareness you have helped us develop.

For example, we might challenge our writers to provide examples of similarly inclined art that works better than a piece they criticize. If you don’t like Shambry’s piece, for example, how about this searing performance by Kendrick Lamar at the 2016 Grammy awards?

We have offered Terry Ross the opportunity to respond to this essay, and to the comments made on his original review. He writes: “I agree with my editors that the arts are not a battlefield and that my review gave the impression that I think they are. This was not my intention. I’m also sorry that my language was unduly harsh. I welcome diversity of expression and respect the work of artists of all kinds.”

What has been the outcome of all this “amplification”? While we regret the original errors of judgment, we also think the ensuing dialogue shows the value of including diverse ideas — both in arts performances, and in arts journalism. ArtsWatch gave Ross the opportunity to express his attitude toward concerts, and then members of the Portland arts community stepped up to make the case for why that position is wrongheaded, especially in the 21st century.

We’re seeing, played out here in the pages of ArtsWatch, the revolution Chris Jones wrote about in action — the new “empowered involvement” pushing back against the old critical priesthood. And while we are truly sorry about the dismay the review stirred up, we also understand that the response to it is making many, including us, more aware of the intensity of the legitimate fury simmering in our community. As the comments revealed, many are rightfully angry, not just about this review, but also about the arts world’s (including arts journalism’s) long failure to make everyone welcome — a serious and continuing problem. The story’s regrettable deficiencies notwithstanding, we believe that making those conflicting attitudes, that anger, that ongoing cultural transformation visible is what journalism is supposed to do. We thank our readers for making that happen this time through their comments.

Going forward, we pledge to continue to seek out art and journalism that share our core belief in inclusion, and to do our best to push against the barriers to it that remain in Oregon arts and beyond. Let’s start right now. Readers, what do you think? Please leave your constructive comments below.

Videos by Alan Niven.

26 Responses. Have your say.

  1. Jack Gabel says:

    I did not attend the concert in question, but checked related videos, read the OAW review, this article and the linked Chicago Tribune article. Like most of us, I’ve engaged the arts from many sides: consumer, student, creator, radio-show host, curator, producer, presenter, publicist, technician, adjudicator, board member, reviewer, fundraiser, etc. Working successfully in the arts, one need remember this: emotions tend to run high. Exchanges are sometimes testy, but usually good-natured, big-hearted and ultimately focussed on the art – telling feature of the true professional. The so-called “amplified” opinions, focus of this set of articles are really nothing new, e.g., Nicolas Slonimsky’s “Lexicon of Musical Invective: Critical Assaults on Composers Since Beethoven’s Time”.

    But, thank goodness, in the so-called “classical” fine and performing arts world, our common sense and civility typically spare us this sort of thing: from Gazette Review, “Top 10 Most Hated Musicians of All Time”, By Jessica Deml – Jan 12, 2017 http://gazettereview.com/2017/01/top-10-hated-musicians-time/

    from this brief sampling:

    • “…sung by her “white girl talk” voice with heavy autotune…Ke$ha has been known as the siren of trashy American party girl music.”

    • “Fans of Insane Clown Posse are called “Juggalos”. Even at their best, Juggalos are known for acting like white trash and insulting anyone not in their scene.”

    • “Other than being hated for sounding feminine, Bieber has a long history of run-ins with the law…”

    • “Brown is still constantly the brunt of crude jokes from his domestic violence incident in 2009.”

    we read demeaning commentary based on “class”, “race”, “age”, “gender”, “character” (often due to mental illness), and though the author could easily find examples in the critical media, he carefully avoids “race”, except for “white trash”, and for good reason – remember: emotions run high, e.g., from http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2012/02/16/146997896/why-do-people-hate-rap-and-opera – “Why Do People Hate Rap And Opera?” February 16, 20124:56 PM ET, TOM HUIZENGA

  2. bob priest says:

    I’m soooo glad you’ve finally ponied up an official stance on these matters.

    Now, I’m gonna let some other thoughts, opinions &/or directives play out before weighing back in with a few further thoughts & opinions of my own.

    Again, thanx!

    PS
    Good to hear from Jack Gabel here as he is clearly someone who’s been around the block in many guises.

  3. I’m reminded of what those of us who adjudicate high school monologue/scene competitions every year are trained to do: It is not our place to comment on the appropriateness of a student’s chosen performance piece. Our job is to critique the performance on the merits of the moment. Seems something worthy to add to a writer/reviewer’s toolbox.

  4. I will have more comment soon, but as a starter: in reading Mr. Gabel’s response, I find myself struggling to understand his point.

    He writes that debate over reviews can become heated, not as heated as other debates. That we are protected by “common sense and civility” from delving into denigration and character assassination.*

    He notes that passionate exchanges are nothing new.

    So other than “our people don’t shout,” (“thank goodness,” he adds) I’m confused as to his point.

    Who are the “so-called ‘classical’ fine and performing arts world”? What I gather from Ross’ review and the commentary, there were plenty of raised voices, and strongly differing opinions, not least among them is it’s time this “world” was deconstructed to recognize just how bold and exciting and wild this new world is becoming. Has become.

    I found the flames that followed Ross’ “review” invigorating and hopeful. If the establishment refuses to open the door, it will be broken down, and that makes noise and raises dust.

    Unless I’m mistaken, and I could be, this initial comment assures us all is well; that there is nothing to see here.

    I’m here to say all is not well, hasn’t been well, and there is plenty to watch out for. We live in times well past the need for change, and I’m so grateful I get to witness, support and participate in that change.

    I also found this follow-up article to be at once hopeful and disappointing, but more on that later.

    If I have misunderstood Mr. Gabel’s comment, I’d be happy to hear from Mr. Gabel (that is, the maker of the comment himself) as to his meaning. I stand ready for additional illustrative information.

    *There was plenty of coded hatred in the comments, by the way, specifically male writers offering left-handed compliments about my writing, using its length and typo corrections, along with an incorrectly applied “Bravo” (I’m “brava,” thanks) to imply that my intelligent writing was an affront, that I said too much, that it was shrill, that I posted too long a piece, that it must have taken hours to write, and that I was “proud” of it. All of this is to say “Shut up, stop showing off, stop going on, and stop being confident.” As women, particularly as outspoken public figures of a sort, we are used to these attacks, and can read between the VERY unsubtle lines. This is another example of privilege blinders, and a fine metaphor for the whole darn episode.

    Examples from the comments to my comment:

    “Seems like you are so enamored with your “treatise” that posting it twice was called for.”

    “…believe you should probably thank Mr. Ross for catalyzing you to deliver such a mighty & sustained “screed.”

    “Nobody cares about your typos, it’s the “substance” of your “screed” that troubles me & possibly a few others.”

    “Bravo! Great speech!!” (Sarcasm font)

    “You yourself, barely noticeable typos aside, apparently spent considerable effort crafting your speech.”

    • Jack Gabel says:

      The point: it’s not as bad as some might think … i.e., could be, has been and in some quarters is much worse.

      Consider this excerpt from J.L. Klein’s 1871 History of the Drama. (cited here http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/music_box/2009/02/great_composers_lousy_reviews.html )

      “This din of brasses, tin pans and kettles, this Chinese or Caribbean clatter with wood sticks and ear-cutting scalping knives … [t]his reveling in the destruction of all tonal essence, raging satanic fury in the orchestra, this demoniacal lewd caterwauling, scandal-mongering, gun-toting music … the darling of feeble-minded royalty, …of the court flunkeys covered with reptilian slime, and of the blasé hysterical female court parasites … inflated, in an insanely destructive self-aggrandizement, by Mephistopheles’ mephitic and most venomous hellish miasma, into Beelzebub’s Court Composer and General Director of Hell’s Music—Wagner!”

      That was then, this is now … you really have to look to the pop world to find anything occupying territory within three days ride, e.g., from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/rockandpopfeatures/8398505/The-10-worst-pop-songs.html

      “The lobotomised clunking of this revoltingly saccharine song’s rhyme scheme always makes me think it’s being sung by a patronising care worker to his immobilised charges on a geriatric ward. “You see I feel glad when you’re glad/ I feel sad when you’re sad”. You can almost imagine cheesemeister Manilow holding up flashcards. I’d be begging for the morphine.”

      hope that’s clear enough

      • Mary McDonald-Lewis says:

        Then my point stands. It is as bad as it’s ever been. “Nice” (people of privilege) use “nice” words. But it is as bad, and worse, as it’s ever been: by which I mean better, of course. Mainstream critics and their defenders reveal themselves in ire and bile, even while using phrases dressed in petticoats.

        But peek under and the true ugliness of the defense of status quo quickly shows itself. First in the review, in this case; then in the vile comments. Scratch a liberal white dude and he bleeds patriarchy.

        The world’s on fire, from tempests to tinder. These little flare ups are portentious. I might get caught in the flames and I’d like to build before it all burns down, but we may not be able.

        Whatever comes next will be better, and it won’t belong to one kind of human alone.

        Hope that’s clear enough.

        • Jack Gabel says:

          RE: “The world’s on fire, from tempests to tinder.” ABSOLUTELY – as artists, what to do? I did this (video linked below) with Agmieszka Laska Dancers and a lot of help from too many generous souls to name, sorry memory struggling, all in the credit roll – now as for “privileged” artists in the Global North, what’s the complaint again?

    • bob priest says:

      Mary: I stubbed my eyeballs, brain & gag reflex on your final paragraph & illustrative comments thereafter.

      You don’t know me, my work &/or what I have or haven’t stood for in my lifetime.

      Yet, ah yes, YET, you decided to lump me in with those stereotypical guys that like to shout down gals with “coded hatred” rather than engage on equal footing.

      Simply put, there is precisely NADA in the first three quotes you’ve highlighted above (all mine) that addresses you based on gender. I would have written those very same comments to you had you posted under the name Marc McDonald-Lewis, M. McDonald-Lewis or any other nom de cyber. In other words, I believe you quickdrew what appears to be your well-practiced use of the “Woman card” on the wrong guy.

      While I’m relatively sure you are no fan of gender-based discriminatory profiling, I can’t help but ask why you chose to paint me & my words through that odious lens?

    • Jeff Winslow says:

      It was indeed a great speech – no sarcasm there, but of course there’s a catch – as speeches go. Like many speeches, more full of brilliant oratory than actual effect.

      Also there is no shame in expending time and effort on craft. No art, music, speech, can be done without it. I find it extraordinarily bizarre to interpret this as an attack. I’m sorry I didn’t respond to your follow-up question about craft in the other thread, but I’ll just say here: my intent was to point out common ground between what you had done, what Vin Shambry had done, and what I believe is the ideal basis for the evaluation of art, and that common ground is craft (The fact that you had put in the time across many previous dialogues, as you said, rather than that particular one doesn’t change the point.) This is a GOOD thing, for heaven’s sake.

      Of course, I did use it to argue against your more dramatic assertions. As long as craft is a paramount consideration, I’m not worried about changing ideas or tides rolling in from wherever.

      Also you mentioned typos first. The complete text can still be read in the other thread, but here’s the gist:

      McDonald-Lewis: “… there were typos I wanted to correct”
      Priest: “Nobody cares about your typos…”
      Winslow: “… barely noticeable typos aside…”

      You could eat yourself from the inside seeing “coded” “hatred” in stuff like this.

      • Mary McDonald-Lewis says:

        In fact it wasn’t a speech, it was a comment. “Speech” carries meanings that don’t apply as regards my intent. To understand and accept that I mean what I write (that I mean what I say) directly, intimately, and honestly is a far oratorical cry, is it not, from fiercely felt, pointed, penetrating expression? I wonder how my words might be considered then.

        Should my words fail me as authentic communication, that is one thing, and I have no complaint there. But you mustn’t attempt to weaken their affect by framing them as something they’re not.

        To applaud, to declare my remarks oratory, to describe my contribution as a treatise or speech, and to attempt to ridicule me for posting a corrected version — that is, to mock me for my words?

        This is Ross’ review, with its unspoken meaning, unfolding in real-time.

        • Jeff Winslow says:

          I’m sorry if you feel unwelcome, that is absolutely not my intent – speaking of intent. As far as I’m concerned, you’re welcome to go on and on here as long as you want.

          But intent is only a small part of communication, isn’t it? Sometimes intended praise of craft is heard as coded hatred, for example. Sometimes an intended comment is heard as a speech. I read “Look at the horizon. See the rising tide? It’s rolling in, and it’s going to leave every nice parlor with the chairs overturned and the vases afloat. A movement can never be small….” not to mention your grand finale with the dinosaurs, and regardless of your assurance that you mean what you write directly and honestly, I’m inescapably reminded of the countless times over the last 45 years that acquaintances have told me that Jesus is coming any day now and I need to fear for my soul. How are we to sort it all out?

  5. Katherine FitzGibbon says:

    Thanks to Oregon Arts Watch for this thoughtful and thought-provoking response. I appreciate several aspects in particular. The OAW editors affirm their own philosophy of inclusion, as well as their philosophy of including diverse opinions of writers in their publication. They corrected the factual inaccuracies in the original review, quoting the points in the letter Vin and I had written. And while they do not wish to censor their writers, they apologize for not having edited the “unduly harsh” tone of the original review (a phrase used both in the editors’ commentary and in Terry Ross’s brief quotation). They note that they have learned “that the charged way he expressed those opinions could indeed make the artists involved feel unwelcome in arts settings.” I appreciate the spirit of learning and reflection that the editors convey here. And I especially appreciate the specific apology they make to Vin, as well as the acknowledgement of Resonance’s mission and history of creating barrier-breaking concerts that include many styles of music performance.

    There are ways that I wish this response went further. I would have loved for Terry Ross to have engaged more deeply in this conversation by offering a more substantive and substantial response. The editors of OAW describe the ways that they listened to and learned from community responses. It would have been helpful and healing for Ross to have described the ways he listened and learned.

    I appreciated as well this statement by the OAW editors: “Part of the problem, which FitzGibbon and Shambry identify, is the stance of the critic. We see this once-common formalist critical stance supporting the most conservative cultural values: the few against the many, the white against the black, the rich against the poor, the known against the unknown, the old against the new.” This was one of the few places that acknowledged the role of class in this discussion. I would also add gender to the list of conservative values: the men against the women. (Readers of comments on the original review will see gender writ large.)

    These class and gender biases worked against Nikole Potulsky’s song, “Baby Mine.” I feel that Nikole has been treated poorly throughout this discussion. As Vin and I wrote, Nikole is a world-class folk music performer, so Ross’s calling her performance “amateurish” was totally off-base. She performs in a folk style – a style historically for the working class, the disenfranchised. She’s a beautiful singer and sensitive guitarist. And she wrote a song that is about an issue experienced by many women (and men, of course) – the issue of child loss, of wishing you could hold a child in your arms. As a woman who has had a miscarriage, and as a woman who has seen friends go through other unspeakably difficult child losses, I listened to this song and felt like it told our stories of grief, and in a musical style that conveyed them as a simple lullaby that heightened their poignancy. I saw audience members in tears. Ross’s repeated dismissal of Nikole’s song as “amateurish” seems like another way of limiting his desired concert content to the conservative, upper-class cultural values cited above by the OAW editors. I feel that Nikole deserves an apology too, but I can only take care of my own part of this, which is to say: Nikole, I am sorry that I did not defend you more vociferously from the beginning. Your music is brave, tender, and rich, and having you be part of the concert deepened the whole evening for me and for many others.

    My former student Will Preston, now a writer himself, commented to me that his issue with the original review was that Ross’s “argument appears to be based on nothing more than the fact that the pieces didn’t fit within his expectation of what ‘proper programming’ ought to be, rather than considering what Resonance was trying to accomplish… and judging it on those merits. I think this is also supported by how condescending the tone is. I mean, ‘This advice would have been well heeded by Katherine FitzGibbon?’ Really? That basically implies that the concert was a ‘mixed bag’ because Kathy didn’t consider what these pieces might sound like next to each other! That’s a completely absurd claim. If the reviewer had actually tried to engage with the programming and still found it problematic, it’d be a different story. But I see no evidence for that in the text.”

    Part of Will’s sentiment was conveyed by the OAW editors – that the concert review seemed to focus on what “proper programming” should be. But I’d like to second Will’s suggestion of an alternative framework. What did the programming try to accomplish? Was it successful?

    The response that Vin and I originally wrote was primarily limited to a commentary on the final paragraph of Terry Ross’s review. I wanted to be careful not to appear to be a disgruntled or defensive artistic director rebutting a bad review. I always seek to learn from reviews and audience responses. What did we do that “resonated” with our audience? What didn’t work? What can we do better in the future?

    I’ve decided to come clean on a couple of aspects of my own personal response to this matter. I was troubled by the opening salvo of the review, “Be careful with your programming. This advice would have been well heeded by Katherine FitzGibbon in putting together the June 24 concert of her choir Resonance Ensemble at Portland’s Yale Union.” My programming is careful and intentional. I resented the implication that I forgot to take care with programming. In fact, I told the audience that we had carefully paired musical works together: waves of grief being answered by waves of healing. AllClassical host Christa Wessel posted on her Facebook page that she felt the concert to have been “thoughtfully curated by Katherine FitzGibbon in a way that – in my experience – very few concerts are.”

    I’ve been thinking recently about Reni Eddo-Lodge’s important article, “Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race” (http://renieddolodge.co.uk/?p=842). As Eddo-Lodge writes, “They’ve never had to think about what it means, in power terms, to be white- so any time they’re vaguely reminded of this fact; they interpret it as an affront.” Or, “It must be a strange life, always having permission to speak and feeling indignant when you’re finally asked to listen. It stems from white people’s never questioned entitlement, I suppose. I cannot continue to emotionally exhaust myself trying to get this message across, whilst also toeing a very precarious line that tries not to implicate any one white person in their role of perpetuating structural racism, lest they character assassinate me.”
    I can’t know what it feels like to be an artist of color or a person of color. But I can do what is in my power to think about structural racism in the arts and in society and create inclusive concert spaces (and classrooms). I can listen when people of color share their truths. And I can do my best to invite concertgoers and our Portland arts community to ask themselves the hard questions, without defensiveness or (if applicable) white fragility, with openness to mutual understanding. And so I ask if our community can think about the power dynamics in our arts scene. Would some of the responses to Vin’s work have happened had he been white? Would the questioning of my supposed lack of care in programming have happened had I been a male conductor? Would the questioning of Nikole’s music have happened if she had been performing upper-class art music, or a text about a male experience? Would people have read the letter Vin and I wrote with as much respect if we would have allowed more anger to show through our language?

  6. Vin Shambry says:

    Why didn’t you all ask me what I think before you post something public?

    The only thing I would like to add is that this debate is about more than what style of artistry is welcome in a classical music concert, and who has the right to make that call. It was also about white supremacy and segregation. It was about if I, as a human, father, husband, actor, lover of classical music and Star Trek, and performing artist, was not fully welcome there because it was a space for white people. Please just say it like it is. If I was ONLY welcome because I offered my blackness as a political statement or used it as a minstrel performance (a role that makes white people comfortable with me)

    You see, being a black man is not a political statement that I can take off at the end of the workday. I still go grocery shopping and do pre school drop-off while black. When debate rages about the “appropriateness” of my performance, the unspoken subtext is about the appropriateness of my body existing in that space.

    There’s no way to separate my blackness from my humanity.

    I can’t help but wonder if I were a white man doing that very same performance, if Terry Ross would have had the same reaction.

    That’s the thing with racism, there is no way to know. So these questions and doubts just simmer inside.

  7. Kevin Jones says:

    My questions are not so much pointed to the critic’s opinion but rather his license. His was more of a social commentary that spoke more to his personal interpretation of one of the many racial narratives that exist in our US of A. He also allowed us a rare peek into a particular Portland psyche. He articulated how this narrative is symbolized in his mind. Was it just me? I read contempt, apathy, and intolerance. Was he not saying; “I’ve had enough of all this racial rhetoric peppered through our white mainstream culture. Keep all that vitriol on your side of the tracks. It doesn’t fit in our world. AND , IT FOR SURE DON’T BELONG IN OUR THEATERS“.

    I notice that there was no reference to VIn’s talent, his musicality, or how he interwove classical and African musical motifs into a rich poetic commentary. The critic chose to step out of his role as a theater critic and made a condensed simplistic comment on the BLM movement. Was it an informed, studied critique? Well…. I wonder if he understands the true ideology of Black Lives Matter. Can he appreciate the impact the movement has had on bringing to national attention an injustice that I, for one, have been repeatedly subjected to for 50 years.

    It’s unfortunate that both the art and journalism community lack the appropriate diversity within its leadership. It forces those who just want to do their art to have to wince and cringe and grimace constantly though this ongoing onslaught from the keepers of the status quo. If we had a strong representation of diverse leaders in our community I believe the writer would have checked himself before the “ink” ever reached the paper. But to be fair to the writer: Who is there to illuminate him?

    And this notion of inclusion. It is a misnomer. In order for this transaction of inclusion to exist in this domain, somebody has to ask to be included. Nobody is asking. (Who would be asked?) We don’t need to ask to be included because we are artists. It is our job to remain outside the culture just enough to make commentary of it. As artist we are charged with the job of the interpreter of culture, our job ends when the work is consumed by the audience.

    Here’s an alternative way to think about Vin’s work. The artist’s effort to communicate his or her intent is both informed by, and limited to, his or her cultural perspective. No individual exists completely outside of some cultural context. Within that cultural context, the artist embodies different symbols that have meaning within the culture. His navigation of the cultural landscape will be informed by these symbols and will also inform the art too. This is perhaps what is meant when we talk about an artist’s “voice”. It was created by a particular person with a particular experience in a particular social context. The artistic product reflects those particularities (the artist’s perspective or point of view) and the meaning it conveys is determined by them. In addition, any form of communication (like language or art) requires the use of the symbolic tools of the of the culture. This means that in order to reflect the culture through artistic representation, the artist has to be able to stand both outside and inside a culture simultaneously (but never be totally in either place). Only from that vantage
    point can the artist use the symbolic tools of a culture to communicate what he or she observes about the culture itself. This is what is known as “artistic commentary.” It
    conveys the artist’s intent, or impetus for creating something.

    So I have a suggestion for all theater critics. Write about the art! Stop writing about race, stop writing about culture, stop writing about anything other than what you are expected to write about. The ART!!!! You are not social commentators. We don’t expect you to culture watch. We expect you critique the Art. Did you like his Art? Was it it captivating? Did you like his voice? Did the art move you? Yes? No?

    We need you to stay in your lane.

  8. Jane Vogel says:

    Inclusion begins within your organization. Women, people of color must be included in every facet of your organization. Otherwise the efforts toward inclusion are cosmetic rather than structural and systemic. It is not about ‘adapting to a new world’. Women and people of color are not new to the world. It’s about examining the old and deeply rooted reign of white male supremacy that still has a vise grip on the arts,. You may not perceive yourselves as priests or gods, but you hold power and privilege that emboldens the bias of the prevailing dominant culture. Making amends requires introspection, examination, ongoing analysis, and actions that reflect true accountability, particularly around unconscious bias. It will take time, courage, and openness to change from within. I hope this is the beginning of many challenging conversations and that you seize opportunity for transformation. That is what art is all about. Best to all.

  9. Jane Vogel says:

    Inclusion begins within your organization. Women, people of color must be included in every facet of your organization. Otherwise the efforts toward inclusion are cosmetic rather than structural and systemic. It is not about ‘adapting to a new world’. Women and people of color are not new to the world. It’s about examining the old and deeply rooted reign of white male supremacy that still has a vise grip on the arts,. You may not perceive yourselves as priests or gods, but you hold power and privilege that emboldens the bias of the prevailing dominant culture. Making amends requires introspection, examination, ongoing analysis, and actions that reflect true accountability, particularly around unconscious bias. It will take time, courage, and openness to change from within. I hope this is the beginning of many challenging conversations and that you seize opportunity for transformation. That is what art is all about. Best to all.

  10. Maria Choban says:

    Vin Shambry’s opening question:

    “Why didn’t you all ask me what I think before you post something public?”

    It made me realize I need guidance with my own enlightenment aimed at my own liberal racism. I would love for Shambry, Jones, Vogel, African-Americans weighing in here, to provide links that might help me and others feel and ruminate. Here is what I found that helped me, but I’d love to have these links vetted because I’m afraid I’m missing crucial points.

    1. A clip from Lee Mun Wah’s 1994 doc (The Color of Fear)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywp4w_q_Tj8

    2. I found that clip from Fitzgibbons’s excellent link to the post “Why I’m no Longer Talking to White People About Race” by Renni Eddo-Lodge
    http://renieddolodge.co.uk/?p=842

    3. “10 Ways White Liberals Perpetuate Racism”
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/george-sachs-psyd/10-ways-white-liberals-pe_b_8068136.html

    4. And from that article I linked to Pender and Beverly’s “The Racism Root-Kit: Understanding the Insidiousness of White Privilege”
    https://sachscenter.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/PaulPendler-Root-Kit.pdf

    5. The movie, “Get Out”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Get_Out_(film)

    6. The documentary “13th”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/13th_(film)

    Reading Shambry’s opening volley made me realize that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I’m googling, but how do I know I’m actually pinging articles or films that actually mirror your experience?

    Please help me and others by including links I should read/watch/listen to.

    Thank you for your sincere and well articulated anger. I’ve never been a fan of academic dialogue. It only makes me angrier because it feels defensive and coded. And if I can’t argue against it rationally, I am not taken seriously. You are teaching me how to argue without becoming an academic wimp.

  11. I am glad to join this conversation, most especially because many voices I respect are in the room. To the contributors: thank you for educating me further, for giving me a broader, deeper vision, and for challenging me to always strive to see clearer, and further.

    I wrote earlier that I found Oregon ArtsWatches’ response to the Ross review both hopeful and disappointing. In the day that has passed I’ve had a chance to think about these mixed emotions.

    I am pleased that the editors of ArtsWatch took the time to think through the issues around allowing Ross’ unedited, un-commented upon review to be published; around the responses it engendered; around what responsibility the publication bore then, and bears now; and around what actions the publication needs to take next.

    I’d like to ask whether the same thought went into sending an older, traditionally-informed white male critic to a clearly non-traditional (or at best “blended”) performance. Whether the editors brought rigorous personal and organizational investigation to the review once it was submitted. If the editors checked in with their biases when reading it. Whether the editors entered into any dialogue with Ross prior to its publication.

    I’d like to know more about whether thought went into measuring this review against the publication’s journalistic standards, and even if there are standards to measure against that address the specific issue of arts outside of privilege.

    The editors’ reply to this controversy was reasoned, “balanced,” (we’ll get to those quotation marks in a moment), sanguine and above all, earnest. I believe their words and intentions.

    But, and this is where I was left hungry: I wonder where the institutional outrage is.

    I wonder why the response didn’t feel more dangerous: dangerous with seismic changes. With naked vulnerability. With bold decisions. We had a chance here to take on the very real charge of very real growth. For a fundamental shift in the business of arts criticism. This could have been a clarion call that, Oregon-style, could have set an example for the nation. But the pub’s conclusion feels like a promise to just “do better next time,” and with so many reviewers, and with the awful blind spot just revealed, I don’t feel optimistic that something exciting lies ahead for us in the world of race, gender, class and arts criticism here in Portland.

    So let’s talk about the roles Equity and Justice (caps intentional) could play in ArtsWatch, and how these notions compare to diversity and inclusion.

    Here are a few thoughts about the difference between Equity and Justice and diversity and inclusion, which I’ve taken freely from this article: http://bit.ly/2nkkEKM.

    “Diversity asks, ‘Who’s in the room?’ Equity responds: ‘Who is trying to get in the room but can’t? Whose presence in the room is under constant threat of erasure?'” For an African American artist and his work to be defined as “unwelcome” and for a lauded female artist and her work to be defined as “amateurish” certainly smacks of “erasure” to me.

    From that same article:

    “Inclusion asks, ‘Is this environment safe for everyone to feel like they belong?’ Justice challenges, ‘Whose safety is being sacrificed and minimized to allow others to be comfortable maintaining dehumanizing views?'”

    Ross’ article was a treatise on discomfort — his, as he led his review with the scold “Be careful with your programming,” (inverted: “Your programing felt dangerous”); as he chastised Nikole Potulsky for using only three chords (three chords just like O Solo Mio, Amazing Grace, Knocking on Heaven’s Door, Ring of Fire, Rock Around the Clock, Lay Down Sally, La Bamba, Cecilia, All Along the Watchtower, When Will I Be Loved and too many others to mention) in her “lame” song about the death of three babies, one of them hers; as he described Vin Shambry’s piece as “wildy off-target” (to whom?).

    Diversity and inclusion are comfortable liberal principles, that upset no one, leave everyone feeling awfully pleased with themselves, and that allow for unself-examined (at the very least) reviewers to be published under the banner of “balance” in a world of institutionalized race, gender and class imbalance. (Told you we’d touch on “balance” again.)

    Middle and upper class white men have had the bully pulpit for millennia. They’ve never NOT had it. Inclusion meekly suggests they may continue to hold sway in public taste, so long as they don’t actively prevent a few non-privileged from making it through. Those few, that is, who overcome barriers so invisible as to be part and parcel of nearly everything we encounter in America: schooling, employment, the law, housing. The list goes on and on.

    Equity shouts “time’s up!” and demands that powerful change be made to ACTUALLY balance our society.

    So what does that look like? For Oregon ArtsWatch, get around your conference table and get uncomfortable. Invite the artists of the Resonance production, and Resonance’s producers, in for the conversation. Bring in other community leaders to talk with you. Listen more than you speak. And be sure Ross and all other freelancers are at the table for those discussions.

    Bring on new freelance reviewers who look different from you, who live differently than you. Publicize that you will send non-privileged artists to performances to shows for short reactions, and then do it. Identify, nurture and mentor young non-white, non-male, non-privileged writers to expand the publication’s voice.

    And craft a manifesto. A dangerous one. One that will shock cracks in the castle of privilege; that leaves ArtsWatch open to criticism; that risks the pub’s own stability. That’s when you’ll know you’ve gotten it right: when what you’ve written scares you.

    Craft a manifesto that lights the way for critics and their publications all across America.

    We’ve had the review and the controversy; we’ve had your response and more commentary to it. We’ve also had Ross’ reaction, written through gritted teeth, it seems to me. Now it’s time to benefit from the situation, isn’t it? Benefit: from Latin benefactum, “good deed,” and bene, from the Latin, meaning “well, or good.”

    For the health of our arts, our culture, our city and its people, let us be dangerous, and do the good thing.

    • Tom Manoff says:

      Perhaps you can offer yourself as a reviewer. You can thInk. You can write. Give it a try. Know any others who would bring more diversity to journalism? I can assure you that arts editors (still with a job) are looking for that person. However, arts criticsim will not pay the rent. It’s either a labor or love or ego. Finding that person for whom love of the art dominants his or her ego is the trick. My model for that rare journalist is Brett Campbell.

      • Tom, you’re very kind to say. I’m always available, when I’m in town, to respond to the arts, if asked, and have worked in that field, among other areas, as writer. I too consider Brett’s, Bob’s and Barry’s work some of the best in the country, and we are damned lucky to have them. I have been reviewed by all of them in one form or another, and have performed with Bob in Maeterlinck and Sibelius’ Pelleas and Melisande. Oregon ArtsWatch is a gift to our state that I know will continue to grow, and evolve, and keep the arts squarely center stage.

  12. A post-script: I do not know Brett Campbell, but I hold Bob Hicks and Barry Johnson in the highest regard. I once again stress that I believe and salute their response to the issue. Had I any less respect for Oregon ArtsWatch, I would not take the time to invest my thoughts in this process with such care. I’m proud of ArtsWatches’ response thus far, and look ahead with hope. Thank you to the publication for this opportunity for all of us, and to my colleagues here: Chrisse Roccaro, Katherine FitzGibbon, Vin Shambry, Kevin Jones and Jane Vogel.

  13. Kyle Martin says:

    I have been sitting with this response for a while, and perhaps it is no longer timely. I apologize for that. Situations often don’t provide the space and opportunity for reflection before a response is required and as such I am coming back into this debate a bit later than might even be useful. That being said I wanted to take the time to fully understand my own outrage, its target(s) and reasoning, as well as understand the other points of view that run the gamut of ideals so that I could ensure my position and response had the kind of reasoning and reflection a situation like this deserves. So without further ado:

    I first want to thank OAW’s willingness to respond to this situation. Not all publications are willing to engage in a dialogue and as such OAW deserves appreciation for their willingness to do so. Thank you.

    Having said that, I fear that they missed the entire point of the outrage many of us spoke of and worse their response proved to be more a defense of Ross than a refutation of his position. For a start, when they call Mr. Ross’s review “unduly harsh” and “awful” they fail to say WHY he was harsh and awful. They write in a way that leads the reader to assume their position without specifically stating what makes them deem Ross’s work unduly harsh and awful. Reread their piece. Can you give any direct quotes that have them state what was unduly harsh? What was awful?

    They point blank don’t say. What they do say, and spend quite a lot of time doing, is respond to Ross’s critics, as opposed to Ross himself. They stated that they disagree with Ross by saying that none of the editors agree with his opinion, and yet the majority of their piece was spent interpreting and giving alternative understanding to Ross’s work.
    For example: “We keep coming back to the word “unwelcome.” We don’t think Ross meant it quite like many of us are reading it. He might have simply meant “inappropriate.” So, which is it? Do they disagree with his stance or do they think we have misunderstood him? If disagree, then why try to explain it for him? Why do they defend positions they state they disagree with?

    I concede that it could be because they are trying to not leave Ross out to dry. But to that I say sometimes we shouldn’t defend the indefensible. Some times we have to leave those we respect, love, or otherwise think highly of out on the thin limb they took themselves out on, else risk falling off the tree ourselves.

    Moving on, they categorically fail to address the racial undertones of Ross’s piece. Vin Shambry’s performance was called unwelcome. Ross went on an almost tirade about how this was nothing more than a Black Lives Matter screed about life on the mean ghetto streets. Though he also stated (inaccurately) that he didn’t recall any mention of “blacks.” At an ABSOLUTE minimum that was a tone deaf and completely privileged diatribe about something Ross knows NOTHING about. At worse they show how Ross truly feels about Black lives and Persons of Color in general.

    His assumptions were astounding and his conclusions were the absolute definition of White Privilege.

    In a musical ensemble whose theme is focused on human experience, to say that one minority human’s experience is unwelcome is what White Privilege is. Ross doesn’t have to live in the same circumstance as a Black man. Ross doesn’t have to deal with hearing door locks when he crosses the street. Ross doesn’t have to worry about being extra careful during a police interaction out of fear. Ross doesn’t have to face the things Persons of Color face, and he can choose to ignore those troubles if he wishes. That is White Privilege. Vin can’t. He doesn’t get to take his skin off at the end of the day. He doesn’t get to go on a vacation from being Black. Vin is, and shall always be, a Black man. As such, no matter how unwelcome some may find his performance, they are no less the experience he has faced. In a performance that was themed around human experience, finding a section unwelcome says more about the writer than it does about the performance. Yet, OAW says nothing about this. Why not?

    Also, I found it laughable the amount of time OAW spent defending Ross in comparison to his own short deflection of his piece. They are so audacious as to say they believe the REAL failure was the two sentences about Shambry’s piece didn’t provide sufficient context. Are you kidding me? Let’s just say, for the sale of argument, that was indeed the problem. Why are the editors taking it upon themselves to try and explain the context that ONLY Mr. Ross can provide? He is the one that found the performance a BLM screed. He is the one that found it unwelcome. Let him explain.

    Hell, they are so tone deaf they made their own slip of the digital tongue. They say their writers aren’t supposed to play performance cop and Ross threw Shambry’s performance in the slammer. No folks. Ross made a reference to BLM and murderous cops in a review of a piece that NEVER mentioned them as justification for why the performance was unwelcome. If OAW wanted to make this lamentable comparison, perhaps they should have realized that what Ross did was more like something else that happens far too often when police encounter unarmed Black men.

    Consider: Ross came after Shambry’s piece with no facts and several falsehoods, no point of reference, and no consideration of Shambry’s point of view and outside of EVERYTHING performed that night, deemed that one performance unwelcome. Dare I say, he thought Shambry’s performance a threat to everything else performed that night? You put the pieces together and see if you think that phrase OAW chose to use was appropriate.

    Also, I maintain my initial point that the point of a critique is to help the performers grow and improve. Anyone with a third grade writing level can state “I didn’t like this.” It takes far more nuance, experience, and intelligence to explain WHY something didn’t work. WHY something failed in its goal. HOW it could have achieved its purpose. At no point did Ross ever do these things. He simply stated what he did and didn’t like and gave a few minor reasons why he didn’t like it.

    As an artist, if you LOATHE my work, I still succeeded in my goal. I made you feel. I don’t really care that you loathed it. Please, spare me your diatribe about what you liked and didn’t and why. Tell me if it worked or didn’t. That is of value to me. That is of value to an audience considering viewing the piece. Your opinion about a performance’s value is meaningless. Your professional opinion about a performances’ effectiveness and the reasons for it is priceless.

    Lastly, I would like to take a moment to discuss something I found troubling: all the various contradictions and typos in the post. I don’t mention this to nit pick. I mention these issues because it makes me worry about the seriousness with which OAW takes this situation. For example, they claim the arts shouldn’t be a battlefield, yet in their opening paragraph they call the debate that has ensued a battle and battlefield. They say they aren’t reviewers yet call Ross a reviewer and his piece a review. Just two small examples out of an article full of stuff like that. I cannot even count the number of grammatical and typo errors (which undoubtedly I have in my response, however I am typing this on my phone and am not a professional writer). How did that piece get through their editing process? WHY was it allowed through their editing process? That many issues from a dedicated publication issuing a statement about a controversy makes me feel that their response wasn’t given much consideration or care.

    Ultimately, I don’t feel that OAW’s response actually addressed anything of value, but was instead an amazing Red Herring. Stop telling us what we should think, or telling us how we might differently interpret someone’s very poorly constructed literary work and tell us what YOU think about Ross’s work. Tell us, in no uncertain terms, if you agree with or disagree with Ross’s piece. What you agree or disagree with, and why. You are entitled to your opinions as the proprietors of your publication, however we, your audience, are entitled to our opinions of your work. Rise up and earn the readers you have by showing us that you are willing to make an actual stance about this.

    Yours,

    Kyle Martin

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