Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Diversity VI: Quality is Interactive? No, Diversity is Interactive

This diversity thing is fun!

I fell asleep thinking of Scott Walters' post discussing quality last night. I want to take something he said as a jumping off point for a reflection this morning. He said:
I think quality is interactive. Like a rainbow, which exists only when rain, sunlight, and an observing eye are in proper relation to each other, quality exists when a play with certain characteristics in a production with certain characteristics interacts with an audience who recognizes, appreciates, and is able to interpret those characteristics.
I agree. But maybe that speaks to our problem in diversity: a problem that has just as much to do with the audience as it has to do with the playwrights and the artistic directors. I couldn't find any good statistics on the demographics of theater-goers (I found plenty on Broadway, but I don't know if that's representative of theater as a whole -- I mean, I bet it's not), so I'll try and research more when I'm not jotting this down in a hurry to get my ideas on the page.

The problem is, if a play is considered to be quality based on its interaction with the audience, what does it mean to have a dwindling, educated, homogenizing audience?

I will say this: one of my classmates is the child of illegal immigrants who grew up in South Central LA. When I heard on NPR recently that California's latest round of budget cuts had basically decimated what was left of LA's arts-in-schools program and its ground-breaking jazz in parks, my heart broke to think that I would have even less of odds of working with anyone else from that same background.

Before we reach the level of MFA or not MFA, there's a moment in elementary school where students either get involved in the arts, or they don't -- even if they won't become art-makers in the future, they will become the arts audiences. As budgets get cut and public school scale back their programs, increasingly that moment is becoming only available to school districts in wealthy neighborhoods, or to private schools.

If that's the case, then the cards are being stacked against the arts to begin with. If arts are something only the wealthy, educated few receive, then no duh the arts are going to be made by the wealthy, educated few.


Scott Walters said...

Exactly. The MFA discussion is the last inch of a very long rope used to hang the under-privileged.

CultureFuture said...

I was going to put to you a thought experiment wherein we ignored the MFA problem and built a different system that decentralized the theater world, and asked if the MFA problem would remain an issue if it only applied to the New York City world.

But today I saw your post about Buckminster Fuller's quote, and needing to return to creating a separate system rather than papering over the cracks in our own, and that's basically what I wanted to get at with the thought experiment.

That's why I think your CRADLE(arts) project is far, far more important or effective than the lottery thing - it's not focusing on the last inch of the rope, it's focusing on why these people have a rope around their necks.

Scott Walters said...

It is SO easy to get sidetracked. I really enjoyed being invited to be part of a conversation at Arena Stage, and I think I had things to contribute, but ultimately it takes me away from the real work. I am interested in your commitment to arts education in the K-12 education scene, which I agree is an important part of the equation. Tom Loughlin and I are beginning work on the educational aspect of the <100K Project (now CRADLE). I don't know whether you are interested enough to be involved in such a far-flung project -- whether it would take you away from YOUR main focus -- but if you are interested, let me know. You have been doing an excellent job on your blog, by the way -- I haven't highlighted it enough on my blog. I will soon.

CultureFuture said...

It's a pretty complicated question, since I'm not sure exactly what it involves. I have a lot of commitments in the NYC area, and I'm not sure what my life looks like after graduation, but I would definitely be interested in it in some capacity. Let me know what you see if I was involved, and I can figure out how it stands in my life. I definitely would love to help the project out.