It’s not a good time for the arts in America, with budget cuts, looming deficits, and dwindling audiences seemingly national problems. But somehow, the Spoleto USA festival, based in South Carolina, keeps chugging healthily along, balancing its books and keeping its considerable audience happy with innovative presentations and high-quality music. “Last year’s festival set a box-office record, with ticket sales totaling slightly more than $2.5 million. The festival recently concluded a $26 million fund-raising drive that, among other things, increased its endowment fund from $600,000 to $7 million.” Among the highlights being planned for next year’s Spoleto: a full performance of an 18-hour opera from 16th-century China.
Some resistance to building a new Guggenheim is surfacing in Taiwan. “Those who object are mostly worried about a cultural invasion and the danger of an American cultural hegemony taking root.”
The dancers of Project Bandaloop work on the vertical as much as the horizontal. But once you’ve seen the ups and downs… “It’s not that the dancers can’t dance, or can’t climb, or can’t do both exceedingly well. They can. It’s that after watching them skitter up and down their riggings like spiders on steroids, and twirl and spin in midair, you’ve pretty much seen the whole lexicon. Their movement vocabulary is limited, the choreography even more so.”
The Zagat restaurant guide has branched into rating culture in a big way. “For the Zagats, the new surveys offer a chance to satisfy an A-list of recent investors who would like to see revenues keep growing at a time when the restaurant guides have all but blanketed the country. For Broadway, Hollywood and the music world, the new guides could lend statistical proof to the old lament that the public appreciates some work far more than the critics do. For the culture as a whole, the guides are yet another way that public opinion, once it has been measured and disseminated, is now doubling back to influence the public itself.”
Connecticut’s O’Neill Center is close to choosing a new artistic director. “The artistic director (wanted: a dynamic, inspiring leader with a large Rolodex) will be expected not only to save but to seize the day, to give the O’Neill something it has lacked: a clear, comprehensive and persuasive case for its existence. And to help bring in more money.”
More books are being published than ever before. But. “The book has become a product like any other – that is the price of the marketization of culture. Unwilling or unable to put time and effort into educating ourselves about the options, we end up buying what everybody else buys. Worse, we start enjoying the books we are manipulated into buying – even defending them against pretentious jerks who dare criticize them. In exactly the same way that we slowly become Ikea-people, we also become Booker Prize-people, Harry Potter-people, Stephen King-people.”
As a rule, London does not do skyscrapers. Or it didn’t, until recently. But with a new wave of British culture is coming a new look to the London skyline, and one of the centerpieces is a building which is best described as a 40-story pickle. “The architect is Norman Foster, a man famous for his audaciousness. He designed London’s city hall, an eye-catching if utterly weird structure that looks like a bicycle helmet attacked by a madman wielding a large, dull ax.”
David Hinckley is getting sick of the whole nudity thing. Don’t pretend you don’t know what he’s talking about, either: at some point in the last few years, it seems as if the entire pop culture universe just decided to get naked, or damn near naked, and strut around for all the world to admire. It’s getting old, and Hinckley would like everyone to put their clothes back on, please. Now.
With traditional over-the-air radio fast becoming just another tool of the global corporate music industry, music fans are looking to new technologies to replace the predictable playlists of their local radio stations. The phenomenon of Internet radio, in particular, is becoming increasibly popular, thanks to its easy accessibility and diversity of content. In addition, a savvy webcaster can personalize the content of his stream for listeners in specific regions, which can result in a global webcast that sounds more local than your local radio station.
Few regular concertgoers would likely be able to recognize more than a few members of their home orchestra. After all, there are nearly 100 musicians on stage for most orchestral works, and apart from the concertmaster and a few select wind and brass principals, most of the musicians seem fairly anonymous. But being a section musician in a major orchestra is hardly a low-pressure job. “Section players such as violinists or cellists play the same music everyone else in their section plays. Regardless of their individual approaches to their instrument, they are required to perform as an ensemble, not as 10 or 20 individuals. They are essentially willing cogs in a big music machine.”