Monday, April 13, 2009

Culture in Indy - Not *gasp* my number one priority

I'm torn between two ideas. ("There are times when a man has to say what's on his mind, even though he knows how much it's gonna hurt.")

In a couple days, many Americans are staging Tea Parties to protest ... taxes and/or government spending, I think? I don't really know what it's all about, because I've gotten repeatedly and irrevocably sidetracked by the off-putting slogan "Tea Bag Obama." (Stupid pop culture for teaching me things I don't want to know and can't unlearn. Also in that category: this.)

Anyway, next Monday, some self-appointed Indianapolis cultural revolutionaries are staging their own version of the tea party, with a rally on Monument Circle to demonstrate ... that the arts are as important as sports, I guess? I don't really know what it's all about because I've gotten repeatedly and irrevocably sidetracked by the off-putting idea that people (me) are unemployed at higher and higher rates, and maybe increased investment in the arts is not the answer right now.

But here's why I'm torn. I know that locally the arts are responsible for great economic activity -- nearly $500 million each year, 15,000 full-time jobs and $52 million in state and local tax revenue -- for residents and visitors alike. And they're fundamental to the quality of life in our city. I'm on the board of Motus Dance Theatre and I'm a member of the IMA, and my own artistic expression and opportunities to appreciate the art of others are very important to me and my life.

However, I think that this rally next Monday is a bad move, both tactically and strategically, and here's why:
  • The energy resources being invested in planning, promoting, and organizing the rally could be better invested in lobbying legislators on behalf of the arts and developing audiences.
  • There's rarely a call to action after a rally, especially one like this. The people rallying will feel better about their actions, but it seems to me that the intended message -- "The arts are important to Indianapolis. You should spend more on the arts, Indiana Legislature. You should spend more on the arts, City-County Council. You should spend more on the arts, Individual Citizen." -- is probably (a) ill-timed at best, and (b) falling on deaf ears; those dollars will have to come from somewhere.
  • The IndyCULTUREMATTERS website claims that "Central Indiana’s cultural institutions have been sidelined in this city's success for too long. It’s time to make some noise." I guess I don't understand how cultural institutions have been sidelined and, being generally noise-averse, I don't see how "mak[ing] some noise" will have long-term, sustainable, substantial impact on how the arts are valued in the region.
Instead, based on my Zero Knowledge Whatsoever of what's already in the pipeline, I might recommend the following:
  • Personally invite every last member of the City-County Council to attend an artistic event that is accessible and significant to them. I believe that everyone connects with art in a different way, but that everyone connects with art. The savvy arts advocate would work with the Councillor to figure out what he or she might be into, and figure out an easy on-ramp way to engage the Councillor appropriately on an ongoing basis.
  • Engage cultural institutions' existing membership and audience base to develop Arts Ambassadors -- a "street team," if you will, but more elegant and less put-up-postersy. Use real, valuable, financial incentives to establish opportunities for IMA members to invite a friend (or many friends) to the museum, say, or encourage patrons of the First Fridays events to bring a friend. Encourage the growth of the Arts Community outside the current clique-ish circle of artists, staff, and donors.
  • Embrace social media and new technologies. The IMA has done a cool thing with their blog and Art Babble; it would be cool if every cultural institution in Indy could take such leadership. The Symphony has a cool new opt-in SMS program called mSymphony, which is pretty cool. (I say this because I got a free AndrĂ© Watts recording as a part of that program.)
  • Quit being so damn artsy. Hire a regular guy/gal (my dad is available, and he would be awesome) to tell you what sells -- and what doesn't -- to the general public arts-wise. If it's poetry, a lot of it should rhyme. If it's music, it should sound pretty, even familiar. If it's cinema, maybe there's an action sequence. If it's drama, it should connect us. If it's comedy, make sure it's really funny. If it's dance, make it relatable.
  • Also: double your arts-education staff and make it accessible: get into schools, churches, sporting events and show off what you've got to offer. The Arts for the sake of The Arts is what got us into this situation. And open it up with a free picnic or carnival or something so the Cousin Eddies of the world (a) decide to come in and (b) feel welcomed when they get there.
  • Have FREE ARTS WEEK or FREE CULTURE WEEK or FREE [WHATEVER] WEEK and promote the hell out of it. I'd probably do it during a week that contains a First Friday, and create a HUGE master calendar of events, maybe even planning special, super-accessible on-ramp programs to reach out to new audiences.
So anyway, I won't be at the rally next Monday. I'll be looking for a job that day.

But I'll be looking forward to a time when we don't even need to be having these conversations because the arts are a natural part of everyone's life.

1 comment:

shouldhavezagged said...

I had these same thoughts when I opened the e-mail asking me to attend the arts rally...okay, not the SAME thoughts because mine didn't involve this excellent list of alternative suggestions + I'm not out of work. You said it right, brother!

BTW, some free art event would be awesome as a tweet-up.