Tag Archives: arts criticism

I’m a little tired of hearing about the “Arts Leadership Void”

When I started reading this article from Charles McNulty in The Los Angeles Times, I was more than a little afraid that it was yet another cry of hopelessness around this seeming lack of anyone fit to fill the shoes of the geniuses that began the regional theatre movement.  (It turned out to be a wonderfully written article with a lot of things to think about, in fact, I will probably refer back to it again tomorrow.  But the first paragraph set me off and I feel the need to voice my thoughts.)  Don’t get me wrong, the founders of our major (and some minor) regional theatres across the nation deserve the praise that they receive; they cut a new path and created a new way to produce theatre.  Many of us owe our ability to pay our bills through work in the theatre to these trailblazers.

However, to say that no one is ready to take the reins, or that those who are out there are woefully unskilled or under-qualified for the job is ludicrous.  Look around (you don’t have to look too hard).  We are the artistic directors, associate artistic directors and managing directors at small and midsize theatres; we are the regional theatre directors working at your theatres, or your peer theatres, for over a decade; we are the marketing and development directors within your own organizations who volunteer their time to serve on the boards of other nonprofits.  We are here and we are more qualified than you think.  Those years at smaller organizations have given us concrete knowledge of the same things that you learned as you grew your organizations into the multi-million dollar institutions that they are today.  The time we spend on these other boards have taught us to look at the big picture and developed our skills in board leadership.  We are passionate about the field and the mission-driven work.  We are more likely to take calculated risks that reaffirm that mission than the corporate folks your boards seems so enamoured with over the past few years. 

Worried about the lack of institutional knowledge?  Perhaps that isn’t what the organization requires right now.  We bring a new perspective, one that is sorely needed.  One that puts aside the things you may still only be doing because you’ve always done them and can run honest analysis of multiple options without the baggage of history.  A perspective that honors why you built this theatre in the first place: to create great art.  The financial and production history we can easily learn. We can read financial statements and examine budgets with a new eye.  We can also debate the finer points of the voice (or lack thereof) the organization is using on social media sites.

We may or may not be attending the fantastic Emerging Arts Leaders meetings that Americans for the Arts and local arts advocacy organizations facilitate across the nation.  We may not see ourselves as “emerging” at all, but rather fully present and arrived.  We may not be of your generation, your race, or your gender, but we are here and we are ready.


Side note to those leaders who are emerging: if you look to take the reins yourself one day and currently see gaps in your skills, take action now.  Check our the emerging arts leaders groups, here’s the link for more info about the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts & Culture Coalition’s meetings. There are fantastic classes that can teach you the knowledge base, but, also, get yourself onto the board of an organization you love.  Your skill set will grow and your perspective will broaden in ways you can only imagine.  Set yourself up for success.  Your passion will take you the rest of the way.


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Theatre critics: are they essential?

A week ago Variety caused an uproar in the arts community by firing chief theatre critic David Rooney and chief film critic Todd McCarthy.  David Cote, writing for the Guardian, went as far as to say, “eliminate critics at your peril.”  My question is, are we upset because this trend is going to cause the general public to not have access to “an authoritative critical voice” as Cote says, or is it because we will no longer have authoritative quotes to use in our advertising and grant applications?

Don’t get me wrong, it think it is sad and more than a little scary to see the move that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution made last year repeated by one of the most respected papers in the industry.  It concerns me that Variety stated it “doesn’t make economic sense to have full-time reviewers” in the same breath that they reported publishing 1,200 reviews last year.  It also worries me when this news is right on the heels of the paper pulling a negative review after the producers of the film complained.

But, I think we need to be honest about our motivations here.  It is really the fact that we are scared our audiences are going to get all their critiques from random folks on the web or is it the knowledge that, for many arts organizations, the published review is the only press we receive.  The days of the weekly arts features, preview articles, and special interest stories are long gone and, especially for small and emerging organizations without advertising budgets, the review often represents the entirety of mass promotion.

That being said, is it more useful for us, as an industry, to beat our heads against the wall of failing newspapers and spend all our time decrying the lack of scholarly dialogue on our productions or should we, instead, focus on what we can do to improve how our potential patrons hear about our work?  So much more is in our hands than at any other time in our history.  We have the opportunity to create communities with Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube; to immediately publish patron reviews and comments on our websites and within the social network; and to join forces with sites like,, and the forward thinking partners like Public Broadcasting Atlanta to reinvent the way our news is spread.  This is the “unfreezing moment” for our publicity, in the vernacular of Jerry Yoshitomi.  We need to jump into the game now to help create the new pardigm, before our public finds its own and we are once again out of the conversation.

Side note, if you are in Atlanta this weekend and want to explore the arts criticism conversation in more depth, check out the symposium at Emory on Arts Criticism and the Role of the Academy.  The Friday portion in booked solid, but you can still get into the panel discussion and roundtables on Saturday.


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