Baby Steps

Last semester I was charged with the task of finding an internship to complete my Master’s in Arts Administration at BU. Seems simple right? It probably would be if I hadn’t had the added challenge of our decision of whether or not to move back to Texas. We moved to Boston about two years ago, and we have really enjoyed it, but Texas feels like home. While Boston remains the city with the most arts organizations per capita in the country I know that it is important that I take what I have learned back to my home state. Arts Administration is a relatively new field of study and some people feel that it isn’t necessary and most that most learn more on the job than in school. I have had the unique opportunity to work in a lower level job within my field concurrently with my study. I feel that this has been the most enriching eighteen months of my life.

Okay, back to the main point of discussion: my internship. After becoming well acquainted with the Boston art world I felt it might be better and prepare for the more challenging feat: the possibility of moving back to Austin, where I had very limited knowledge. Trying to find an internship across the country is a bit challenging. I came up with a list and then started making calls and asking questions. After a few days of research I decided to pursue an internship at the Long Center for Performing Arts.

Yesterday I met my boss.

My head is still spinning from the possibilities presented to me yesterday. We will move back to Austin in June and I will start my fellowship at the Long Center for Performing Arts. Wow, just reading that sentence triggers a whole host of emotions ranging from excitement (primarily) to nervousness.

The Long Center is celebrating its third anniversary in Austin, Texas. It occupies the space of what was formerly known as the Palmer Auditorium. After some very generous seed money from the Long family and some aggressive capital campaign funding the Long Center became a reality. It was constructed with over 90% recycled materials from the original facility that stood in its place, and it is the most state of the art performing arts center in Austin to date.

Yesterday we discussed the challenges of maintaining an arts organization in Austin in comparison to Boston, and discussed possible projects that I could work on during my fellowship. I am really excited about sharing more of the details, but would like to refrain until most of them are a bit more concrete. 

I can't wait to get started, but from today until early Friday afternoon I will be Brown-Symposium-ing! 


My Final Quest in Education, Technology and the Arts

Last Wednesday I had the opportunity to meet with Steve Lambert, a faculty member at SMFA. I knew that it was imperative that I meet with him before leaving for Texas as almost everyone mentioned his name during my previous discussions, and thankfully he agreed to meet with me.

Steve teaches a hacking class and a class titled, “ Free as in Freedom not as in Free Beer,” and has also collaborated with the Yes Men. As soon as I heard about his hacking class I knew I needed to track this guy down.

Steve self-identifies as a nontraditional teacher with nontraditional expectations for his students. He created the hacking class in reaction to the number of software training classes that were offered at SMFA. He explained that he felt commercial software training resulted in students being reliant upon software and training is something that should not be part of the art school experience. An art degree should be more like a philosophy degree. In addition to this commercial software puts institutions into almost a hundred thousand dollars of debt after purchases are made and software updates. For these reasons his classes only use open source software, which is very often better than their commercial counterparts as people have the ability to augment it as needed.  Students must create their own website (which enables them to archive and share their work), and use their own server (instead of relying on the school’s). He also requests that none of his students copyright anything they create in either of his classes.

The most challenging part about teaching this class seemed to be de-programing traditional students and pushing them to solve problems on their own.  Obviously this mentality is not necessarily limited to the arts or technology; however teaching students to be independent of the teacher helps students continue their work even after the class has ended. Steve starts his class by giving his students some ideas about how to go about solving problems… the last one being asking him for advice. 

All of this has really just clarified my thoughts about technology, education and the arts. The Internet and the technologies surrounding its access and use have really changed the way that we receive information. In some way these technologies have actually made us more self-sufficient as we no longer have to work as hard to find information.  While technology has really taken off it seems like legislation always lags behind, which always affects the way that we make use of it, and as I said in my first post, creating art by means of technology is only natural as we surround ourselves with it day in and day out.
Whew. Let’s get started.


An Adventure in Education, Technology, and the Arts Pt 2: Information. Access. Research.

I like to think of myself as a curious individual who really appreciates knowing how things work, but I must admit, there are certain inventions and technologies that just dumbfound me.

A Series of Tubes: At Terremark's Miami headquarters,
undersea Internet cables emerge from the Atlantic
and connect to the rest of the country
John B. Carnett
Do you know how the Internet works? If you are reading this you probably should. I came to this realization today during a conversation with my friend Shannon. She mentioned that there are actually cables that run from continent to continent on the ocean floor. Pretty crazy right? I laughed. Then she found proof! Despite how very removed we have become from the hardware that provides our connection there is still a very physical aspect to the Internet and it requires constant maintenance and is maintained by humans! We are not as "wireless" as we think we are! The Internet has truly changed how we share information.

Last Thursday I met with Darin Murphy, SMFA’s librarian. We had a very eye opening discussion and I have been trying to condense our conversation into a post so that I can better understand what I learned.

Darin and I began our meeting by discussing the issue of technology in relation to arts and education. He cited a NYTimes book review from mid-December by Robert Darnton, a professor at Harvard (who coincidentally contributed to the Radcliff Symposium, “Why Books?”). This book review centered on the challenges centered around scholarship in libraries everywhere. Digital and technological research is needed now (and by now we mean yesterday). Research centers at Harvard and MIT have recognized the importance of the [instant] dissemination of scholarly research and have began practicing copyleft by allowing their research to be accessed for free instantly. This allows for the burden of dissemination to shared and through this research is actually enhanced do to the simple fact that people have access to it. Takeaway message: access to information is key.

How does this relate to the arts?

Artists are constantly pushing the fair use envelope, and a critical point of art making is having access to scholarly research. In this instance scholarly research pushes art forward, and decision made throughout the artistic process are believed to be influenced by scholarly research. Fair argument. We discussed a website that provides free access to research to anyone (once you register). The website is constantly fleeting legal action, and in order to keep information free flowing the website is changed. This seemed counterintuitive to me. While making research free for all to access the website's accessibility is compromised by its constant need to escape legal action. This actually brings me back to the discussion about copyright I had with James Dingle the week before last as it could be argued that those who do need to access the research do not wish to profit off of it, but simply advance their research or creation.

If scholarly research was freely accessible it would create a more egalitarian society and more egalitarian art.

We then discussed different art projects of note that had been produced with technology, specifically the New York Times Special Edition project that was organized by the Yes Men, and how their very public projects make their art and their cause very accessible and also pushed the copyright/fair use envelope. The Yes Men self identify as, "Impersonating big-time criminals in order to publicly humiliate them. Our targets are leaders and big corporations who put profits ahead of everything else."

New York Times Special Edition Video News Release - Nov. 12, 2008 from H Schweppes on Vimeo.

We also discussed the challenges of maintaining and supporting performance and digital art archival. Darin expressed that one of his biggest challenges in the Museum Schools library was making archival data available to students due to lack of funds. He pointed to the Mobius Artist Group, a performance group comprised of sound and performance artists that was formed about 34 years ago in Boston. The Mobius Artist Group is internationally known; however much of their early work has not been archived, and thus, it is difficult to really study their earlier works. For this reason it could be said that the lack of research available to performance art is hindering their growth.

Information, access, and research. These are the three things that push us forward in life and in our art, and technology can make it all so much easier. Whether or not we access the information needed for research legally seems to become the next issue.

I actually have more to share, but this is getting a little long, and I need to stop editing this post before it gets even longer. I leave for Texas in about 38 hours. I am so excited and more nervous than ever! I plan to do one more update before I leave (I had one last discussion yesterday!) and then I will do a few next week just to document my experiences in the Austin area. If you are still reading... thanks for doing so! The feedback I have received after my last few posts has been really encouraging!


Number Four: A reason to be angry

I have started this post four times now. I have had so much to share and I haven’t known where or how to start, but I have calmed down a bit, and I think I am ready.

I have been angry.

"Kids will leave their mark, with or without the arts."
This image was to advocate the importance of art education
by the
Arizona Arts Commission.
Deciding whether or not government support for the arts is a good idea or even necessary has always been an interesting yet frustrating argument for me. To be honest, I usually find myself advocating against government support of the arts. This stems from a very overbearing belief of mine that government support for the arts runs synonymous with censoring them. As I mentioned in my second post, government officials often feel that they are held responsible for what artists produce with taxpayers' money.

To be clear, I think it is all well and good that people believe the government should support the arts in this country; however I do not believe that the government has ever been able to accept the implications of supporting artists.

Throughout our nation’s history our government and their constituents (myself included) have struggled to really define the role that the Fine Arts play in our society. Most arts organizations are classified as 501 (c ) 3 charitable corporations, this is literally defined as an organization that provides a service to the public that the government does not provide. As charitable corporations: arts organizations receive a tax break and are allowed to receive contributions from individuals who may then deduct those contributions from their federal income tax.  Pretty sweet right?

The problem with this is that new start-up organizations often need seed money or organizations that have been around for a while cannot seem to cover the less glamorous overhead costs. Donors do not want to give money so that arts organizations can keep their lights on, they want to donate to a cause that will somehow validate them as an individual, which is fair.

This is where the government comes in. Who else could be burdened with the responsibility to fund unglamorous projects or projects that truly enhance society (example: bringing arts service organizations to inner city youth)?

See? It really does make sense for the government to invest in the arts.

The problem with playing the funding game with the government is pure politics (no pun intended). Government officials have a responsibility to their constituents and they do not want to be known as the person who cut healthcare funding in order to keep the arts commission in business. Sadly, arts funding in this country accounts for a fraction of a percent of most governmental budgets (in FY10 the budget of the NEA is a very modest $160 million, which equates to about $0.50 an individual). Thus cutting arts spending rarely saves a large amount of money.

My main issue with the propositions of budget dismantling and in some cases a complete obliteration of state arts commissions (Kansas) is that it alters the public’s perception of the Fine Arts. By providing funding to the arts the government has more or less created a stamp of approval (albeit small). This validation shows citizens that the arts are really worth investing in and the arts are necessary in our society. Budget cuts are a necessary evil, especially in hard times; however failing to provide any funding or just shutting down a state’s arts commission sends a message that cannot be taken back.

As long as art advocates do not wager an argument that relies on art for art’s sake, we have a chance. Politicians are not looking for a warm story that really changed a life, they are looking to see what is in it for them.  Examples of such arguments are as follows:

  • The arts create jobs, thus, they can be used as an economic stimulus. Over time the arts have even been proven to economically rejuvenate cities (see: North Adams, MA).
  • The arts preserve culture and heritage. People often think that culture and heritage live in the art of the past, but practicing artists create new parts of our culture and heritage every day.
  • The arts can be used as a device to drive down crime rates through inner city programs.

The issues surrounding government funding are often misunderstood. Funding for the arts is necessary. Who funds the arts is up for discussion. My personal concern is the public’s perception of the arts in response to extreme changes in funding. If people stop believing in the arts we will no longer have anything to wager. 


An Adventure in Education, Technology, and the Arts, Pt 1

Restroom Stall Conversations
It is hard to imagine why it took me so long to realize that I had the resources right in front of me this entire time. I am a term employee at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Don't be fooled. This is not my first rodeo. This is actually my second time working as the Graduate Admissions Assistant. I mainly process applications; however a considerable amount of my time is spent organizing portfolios. For this reason my exposure to technology, education and the arts has been almost exclusively administrative--facilitating the processes that eventually lead to creating art (whether it be with technology or not).

I have been grappling with the topic of the arts, education, and technology since my last post because it appears that my fellow conversants are more interested in discussing the creation of art through the use of technology. Today I finally realized that everything I needed to really explore this topic more was all around me. After a series of conversations I was given a list of faculty who would shed light on the processes of using technology to create art. 

Although my "research" has only just started I have come to a few conclusions or have at least I have found myself gravitating toward certain ideas. Initially I thought that using technology in the process of producing art would some how compromise the artist--bringing to question, "Where is the hand of the artist in the work?" While it could be argued that a certain amount of control is lost when creating art with technology it was pointed out to me that my generation and anyone younger would be more comfortable with using technology as a means to produce art simply because it is natural. Thus, in a sense creating art by means of technology is only natural in this era because that is what we surround ourselves with. 

The first challenge that was brought to light when creating "media art" was affordability. This was actually during a conversation with a professor in the video editing lab, James Dingle. He explained that while students can create many things while they were pursuing their degree they struggled outside of school because they didn't have access to the equipment or software that they needed to create their art. Second, artists and students alike are faced with the challenge of staying relevant in the ever-changing realm of technology, and after creating media art where does one exhibit it? Most galleries are not equipped for high tech installations nor are they keen on nontraditional exhibitions. This issue will probably evolve with time though as video art is cited as a backlash against traditional gallery exhibitions. Other challenges included the tools and skills required to harness technology. James admitted that technology is such a large world that students and artists can get lost trying to decide what tools to use, how to use them, and where to start. "Freedom is powerful," he said, but it is easy to get lost. 

We briefly touched on the question, "What is art?" and the separation between Fine Art and entertainment and how do you separate them on the Internet (and if you need to). The most interesting concept that James brought to my attention was how do artists formulate their own ideas when they have access to so many others instantly on the Internet (think Google). Technology makes connecting and networking so easy; however it also makes it incredibly difficult to stand out because you are surrounded by so many others. And if it so easy to create then how is it art? 

The final subject we covered was copyright and fair use. In my background I have usually encountered these issues from the administrative (read: rule enforcers) perspective. Legal issues aren't something that usually covered in art school, and I have always felt that they should... until today. Prior to today's discussion I had viewed artists who use other's work as feeling a sense of entitlement to things on the Internet; however James pointed out that very few people who he works with or his students create art to sell it, thus, in a sense they weren't hurting the "copyright owner" by using an image as part of a larger work. He also cited that most of his students most likely view things like Google Image as a platform that provides tools to help produce larger works. He used Cliff Evans' work as an example. He creates on art by using the Internet and hundreds of images. 

Wow. Can you believe that people were willing to just drop what they were doing and talk to me about the arts, education and technology? I was, but I think that if a random person came to me expressing an interest in what I was passionate about I would probably do the same. Aren't passionate people awesome? 

More to come, just you wait ;)


What I am really thinking about..

I can't believe that it is already February! I guess time flies when you are constantly digging yourself out of the snow! This week it was actually colder in my home state of Texas than it was in Boston... that was a little bit difficult to hear because I am really looking forward to my week-long visit at the end of February.

I will be traveling to Austin, Texas, to speak at a symposium at my alma mater at the end of the month and I am both excited and nervous! I was invited to speak almost two years ago by one of my favorite former professors who is actually organizing the entire event also known as the Brown Symposium. This year's theme is, "Think, Converse, Act: The Salon and Its Histories." A really great post about what the Symposium's Director means when referring to salon culture can be found here. The symposium itself will feature three lectures on salon history by scholars and three moderated conversations "among professionally and ideologically far-flung individuals about important but elusive disciplinary intersections in today’s world: (1) art, science, and religion; (2) education, technology, and the arts; and (3) ethics, the arts, and public policy. (quoted from the Brown Symposium homepage)" I will take part in the last two conversations happening on February 24 and 25. 

I find the prospect of speaking about education, technology, and the arts to be challenging as there are a few approaches that one can take. I think that technology has constantly challenged the way that artists create and audiences experience; however I believe that the changes that we are seeing are more widespread than we have ever before seen.  Technology does provide useful tools and resources to build a new knowledge base for arts education, but I think that it comes at a very high price. The movement toward technology is expensive and in many cases institutions wish to “upgrade” but arts organization rarely have the resources necessary to do so and maintain said technology. Web based technology, like social networking, provide an easy way artists and arts organizations to share their work and events. Any type of technological tool also requires a certain amount of training and time, and the time spent maintaining social networks makes them just as much of a burden of anything else…. Even if they don’t cost money! 

Speaking about ethics, the arts, and public policy is also a little challenging but for different reasons. Many of the challenges that the arts experience are due to things that have happened in the past. I think that the controversies that were spun out of control during the late twentieth century really shaped the way that the American public values art and sadly it is the root of what has become the struggle for the arts in this country.  The tensions between the government and the funding of public arts projects or even funding arts education in the public school systems are sadly all related. Government funding for the arts in the post modern era has become a conflict of interest as the government does not want to be held accountable for what an artist creates. 

All of these issues have been mulling around in my mind for the last year and a half because it is at the center of arts administration. The most challenging aspect of preparing for this symposium is deciding where I stand on issues. In most cases I find myself somewhere in the middle... I guess we will see where I end up after loads more reading and a bit more time! 

Have a great week!