Saturday, March 20, 2010

Emory Arts Criticism Symposium

I want to thank everyone at Emory Creativity and the Arts for hosting the symposium on arts criticism today. I found the discussion really interesting, both on the panel and with the wide variety of people present, professors, students, artists, arts administrators, and of course editors and arts writers. My suggestion is to continue the topic of the future of arts criticism and focus it on dance in Atlanta specifically at the next DanceATL meeting in April (date to be announced hopefully soon!) I hope that people find this a useful topic to address? Please comment!

Today's symposium was on the role of the academy (higher education, though the early exposure to arts in elementary etc. came up many times as being very important and currently being reduced or completely eliminated.) From a practical level, those of us in small dance companies or making work as individual artists have a harder time getting coverage for what we do for one because we often can't afford to do more than a one-shot show, and also because as newspapers reduce their staff, the single writer left to cover all disciplines can only focus so much on dance. Though fortunately we do have two dance writers in town again, one of whom, Blake Beckham, was on today's panel. A question on the practical side was what we can do to continue to support critical writing about arts. One thought is to follow the model of Dance Source Houston, who uses some of their membership and other funding support to pay writers to cover the dance in Houston. Is that a model we would be interested in pursuing here? It is necessary especially in a vacuum where there are little to no voices speaking about dance online or in print. We have come out of that vacuum to resume some coverage, thank you to the editors and writers who are working to do that, but I'm sure no one would resent more voices being added to the discussion!
And now it's a beautiful day and I'm going to the park with my daughter! Enjoy spring! (before it rains again...)


  1. I look forward to the continuing dialogue. Couple things:
    1) YES, the addition of more voices is essential
    2) I think we get into tricky territory using membership fees to help compensate writers because that means - at some level - the artist is paying for their coverage. It then loads the exchange between writer and artist with a power dynamic rooted in the economics of the situation.

  2. We had a discussion at our table yesterday about the ideal criticism happening in a vacuum, and about how in the real world, transparency is key to at least reveal any biases that might exist.
    I put out the model of having a collective pay because at least it means the writers aren't being paid by one artist in particular. But I understand where you see an issue of the artists paying for it at all. It is just one solution being tried. Do you see any ways that DanceATL can encourage more dance coverage of all sorts, not only criticism in the sense of lengthy reviews?

  3. It seems to me that if a general pool of membership fees helps to pay writers, then it's really the collective dance community that's funding their efforts, not solely the artists who receive reviews. That raises a question -- is DanceATL an organization made up mostly of dancers, or do we seek out and embrace non-dancing audiences? Do we value providing them with the information they need to choose what they're going to see and to appreciate it? In a sense, it seems that the writers are serving the community by providing intelligent, informed dance criticism. In turn, the community, DanceATL's membership pool, gives something back to the writers, who continue to help build and educate new dance audiences. Perhaps, then, membership would continue to grow as audiences grow. It would be worthwhile to investigate how well the model in Houston has functioned, and if the economics of the situation, i.e., loaded exchanges between artists and writers, have been an issue there.

  4. I am happy to contact the folks who've been using this model in Houston. I got the bare bones when I talked with them about Dance Source in general, that they pay an editor who oversees other writers and/or writes herself and the reviews are posted on their website. It's been at least a year since they began so there should be some feedback at this point.

    Also, Nancy Wozny, who's in Houston, will be at a panel at the Dance/USA conference this summer and one of our staff members plans to attend. We'll see what the panelists' input is along similar lines to the symposium topic (on a national scale and sans academia).

  5. OK. Trying this again after a few days. My last attempt met with an error when I tried to post and I lost everything.

    I know I am late to the conversation and probably no one will read this, but I had to think about this for a while and had to put it out there.

    This is such a situational issue. There is the issue of how relevant formal criticism is anymore with the decline of print journalism and the preponderance of the social internet that has taken the place of much of that. Everyone has an opinion and now more than ever everyone has the capacity to publish their opinion (including me right now!).

    So when a publisher takes the chance to assign a reviewer, there is a necessary sense of the relevance of what is being reviewed. This important first part is entirely up to the dance company, presenter, choreographer, or producer in collaboration with the local community. With dwindling resources and revenue for the publisher, they have to prioritize where they spend their time to make as effective an impact as possible. Dance makers should understand this. The same decision process goes into each choreography.

    Really, both the presenter/producer/artist and the journalist require the same thing—active participation by the community. The best support we can give each other is to produce interesting work that the public will respond to. Give the critic something worth writing about so that the critic can create something worth reading.

    Also, part problem is that artists, already pushed to the limits with their resources, are relying on the critic and review as part of their marketing. If you think about it, due to the time requirements of a review, unless you are engaged in a long term run, the most you can get from that is part of a long term awareness strategy and reviews for future press releases.

    My point is we have to be certain that what we are wanting from formal criticism is really something they can and should actually deliver.

    Which takes me to my next point. I love the new interest in dance in general with shows like America's Best Dance Crew, So you think you can dance, Dancing with the Stars, etc., etc. One thing I think the critics can start doing is helping people (both audience and ESPECIALLY young choreographers) understand that dance can be and do more than the one or, at best, two dimensions exhibited in those more pop culture forms.

    The public already makes this distinction between "dance" (as art) and "show" (dance as entertainment). I think the connection can be made to demonstrate how they build and are a part of each other. We have to build or point out the bridge that exists between the two, that they aren't separated by class, a division which Modern Art has done so well to create.

    While I have appreciated the delicate handling of and sensitivity to the artists and the recognition that dance in Atlanta is (once again) in a nascent stage with the new growth and energy it is experiencing, audience and dance makers would benefit from more critical reviews. No one wants to squash creative and inspirational energy, but we have to all learn how to be frank and honest with each other. We have to, to push each other forward, to become better at our art and craft. Pruning, while seemingly destructive, is such an important part of vibrant plant growth. We should not be afraid of that process.

    That's just some thoughts,

  6. Thoughts from another panel in NY along the same lines as the Emory one, though without the "academy" thrown in: Doesn't sound like they had any great solutions either, unfortunately. Is this happening in all live events across the board, e.g. theater as well? There may be nothing to be done, we'll just have to perform for online audiences from now on! :P