Friday, June 24, 2011

New website, new blog

I'm moving the blog to Please follow me there.

Yessirree, I’ve finally gotten around to updating my online life a little bit. Just under two years ago, I left my day-job for more independent pastures and launched my new company sub-genre media. But, I had many years worth of blog posts over here at Springboard Media, which was never a company, just a blog, and I kept blogging there. Every single time I give a lecture or do a consultancy, this leads to confusion. On top of that, I never really liked the Springboard Media name. I had actually just grabbed that name for a project I was working on at the time and it stuck around. But lately, I’m getting tired of the Blogger platform, and figured that when you couple it with the fact that it was confusing…there needed to be a change.

Well, I’ve decided to finally launch the new sub-genre website using tumblr as a backbone. I’m still making improvements, and I’ll be adding a lot more soon, so please hold back on the critiques until I figure out how to make this look prettier. In the meantime, if you’ve ever liked reading my blog, please update your RSS feeds, etc to here. I’ll keep Springboard up as an archive of my past writing, and will refer to it via links here and there, but from now on, all of my writing will be from sub-genre, where you’ll also be able to follow more about my consulting (as I get around to adding it).

Thanks to all, hope to see you at sub-genre.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

The problem I'm having with Kickstarter

I'm a fan of Kickstarter and their team. I've used it for films I've helped as a consultant, and I've contributed to several projects (not all of them film related) through it. There's nothing wrong with supporting projects you love, and yes, there's a little bit of a funding revolution going on as a result. That's all well and good, but...

I've been thinking a lot lately about the unintended negative consequences of it, and particularly how these relate to our current political situation and the future of both funding for the arts and of what types of projects get support. We build our society and our future with little decisions. We tend to make them quickly and just focus on the novelty of new mechanisms, instead of thinking about their bigger implications. This critique isn't a thesis, but rather my initial thoughts on the subject.

On the face of it, Kickstarter is pretty harmless, and I think the founder's intentions are good. It's great that people can raise money for cool things from the crowd. It's hard to raise money, especially for the arts, and there have always been a lot of gatekeepers in the way. Now, the people can decide what gets funded.

I fear, however, that this particular phenomenon fits a little too squarely with the right-wing agenda in the US (and elsewhere, actually). Government support for the arts has always been miniscule, but it's now disappearing rapidly, with many states moving to cut their state arts commissions and one that already has. This year, we saw more attacks on the NEA, CPB and other public funding for media and the arts. Yes, crowdfunding helps bridge the increasing gap, but I'd be much more excited if I received calls to action to support public funding for the arts every five minutes, instead of another email announcing a Kickstarter campaign I can help fund.

Why should I need to help fund some filmmaker I love, when I pay taxes that I believe should support the arts, but don't. This smacks of the "big society" ideas going around in the UK to me. The government doesn't need to help the people anymore, the people can help the people. While contributing to a Kickstarter campaign doesn't make you a right-wing, arts-cutting person, by any means, the adoption of such trends can be detrimental to the argument for public funding of the arts.

Now, I'm not sure that's such a bad thing, to play devil's advocate. Heck, the State Arts Agencies are probably a lost cause, and the NEA hasn't been very effective (although their new leadership is trying hard). A crowdfunding system is better than no system at all, and I've seen multiple projects raise more money in less time through Kickstarter than the average government grant. But I'm also weary of some other things this trend reinforces.

First, I've already witnessed the following:
  • Funders who have already determined that they don't need to fund production and distribution, because anyone can shoot a film for cheap and give it away on YouTube, who now also add that it's easy to fund a movie, so why should they? Trust me, I've heard these arguments already.
  • Funders who understand that good films can be expensive to make and distribute, but who think that you should show them a successful crowdfunding campaign, to show community support. I'm all for the power of the audience, but some art isn't necessarily popular, and making it a popularity contest won't make better, or more effective, art.
  • Funders who don't know anything about any of this, but they smell a trendy subject easily, and are easily swayed. Many of these are now asking how your campaign went, even though they've never even looked at Kickstarter.
My biggest concern, however is this - guess who usually gets help when the people help the people? The rich and connected people. That's who. They've traditionally been the ones able to make indie films, by the way, even though people don't like to talk about it. This isn't exclusively true, of course, but it tends to be true - filmmaking has been a rich person's game for most of its history. In addition, the doc community is nothing if not an insider's clique, and Kickstarter isn't changing that much. There's a big danger, and it's a very likely scenario, that we'll just get more of the same in terms of what and who gets funded.

Take a look at who you hear from and support on Kickstarter. Unless you are an exceptional scout, I'm willing to bet the list is disproportionately Western, White and middle-class or above. Take a look at the most funded projects on Kickstarter, again it appears (from an unscientific survey) to hold up these assumptions.

Perhaps this will change. Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps we'll live in a crowd-funded world in the future and it won't look like this. I'm not so sure. Are you? I, for one, would like to see things mature to something different - government funding for the arts, that is accountable to, open to and influenced by the people. Perhaps augmented by the crowd, but not solely supported by it. Diverse in both projects funded and who funds them.

In the meantime, I'll keep supporting the projects I love on Kickstarter. Perhaps someone will start a Kickstarter campaign to build an arts agency that takes the place of the NEA someday. I'll contribute to that too!

Movie Recommendation - General Orders No 9

I spammed/emailed this to my friends earlier today, and thought I'd share it with you here. 

Friends -

I'm writing to tell you that the film "General Orders No 9" by Bob Persons opens this Friday, June 24 at the Rerun Theater in Dumbo, Brooklyn.

I first encountered this film as a jury member at the 2010 Slamdance Film Festival and it absolutely blew me away - I couldn’t think of another film I had seen like it, and I’m still haunted by its beautiful imagery, poetic narration and clear artistic importance. I was not the only one. Mike Ryan said the film was “one of the best I’ve seen at either Sundance or Slamdance” and Michael Tully described that the film “makes Malick look like a straight shot of Hollywood" (and this was well before Tree of Life came out). In a review with nary a word of critique, Robert Kohler wrote in Variety that it comes “seemingly out of nowhere...a true original.”

Kohler was correct - filmmaker Bob Persons is not a film-school educated filmmaker. Instead, he attended the Double Take Documentary Film Festival (precursor to Full Frame) as a spectator with no knowledge of the history of the form and became enamored with documentary film. He decided he needed to become a documentary filmmaker and taught himself how to shoot a digital camera, and learned the history of film by renting nearly every film at Atlanta’s Movies Worth Seeing video store (an amazingly well-curated video store, still thriving in this age of Netflix). As I said to Bob after his first screening, he then went out and made a masterpiece.

Since that time, he's won many awards for the film, and he's now working with Variance Films to release the film nationally. The film opens June 24th, this Friday, at the Rerun Theater in Dumbo, Brooklyn. It's a great venue, with craft beers, full bar and excellent food available in the theater (that's right, in the actual movie theater, while you watch). There will be live music accompaniment by the film's composer, Chris Hoke, with the Sunday matinee show (June 26, 2pm) which is not to be missed. The film is currently scheduled through June 30th, but it might be extended if it does well. As many of you know, the film's stay at the theaters, and how many it eventually plays, is based upon how it does during this first week. We hope to open in Manhattan, and then in many other cities (some are already booked, like Savannah, Denver and Dallas), but the odds will improve greatly if you buy tickets and see the film, and if you tell your friends who live in NYC to do the same. I'm helping arrange Bob's DVD, VOD and other digital sales soon after the theatrical tour of the film, and we'll announce their availability on the film's website, but trust me, you want to see this on the big screen.

For those of you so inclined, please tell your friends to follow the film on
Twitter and Facebook, and please help spread the word. You can watch the trailer here, check out the awesome movie poster here (hint: not only is it for sale, but some cool art from the film will be available for sale soon) and again, buy tickets here. Bob will be here for the Q&A after the Friday and opening weekend shows.

Hope to see you at one of the shows.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

General Orders No 9 - the Malick-y doc

As many of you know, I've been helping out a filmmaker I know (Bob Persons) with the hybrid distribution plans for his film, General Orders No 9.  Well, I'm happy to report that Variance is taking the film out starting June 24th at the Rerun Theater in Brooklyn. It will then tour to many cities and come out on DVD, VOD and all those other mechanisms not long after that. The trailer just went live on iTunes and it is a beaut. I didn't help in the editing, so I can honestly say it is one of the better trailers I've seen for an indie doc in quite some time. I recommend you check it out. For some reason, Apple doesn't let you embed the trailer so you have to click the link. Dumb, but so is the fact that their Twitter button doesn't work right now. Seriously. Makes you feel better about your grasp of tech doesn't it!

And what's with this Malick-y thing? One of the reviews of the film mentioned that it made Malick look like a regular ol Hollywood guy. We didn't ask him to say that, but it's true.
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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Report from DocAviv

I'm just back from the fabulous DocAviv Film Festival. This was my first trip to Israel, and I wish I could've stayed longer. I met wonderful people, saw some great films as part of the International Jury, went to the beach (a lot), visited many of the famous sites and learned a lot. While DocAviv takes place during Cannes, that doesn't matter much to the locals, who are coming out in droves, filling the theaters and having a great time watching some amazing docs.

We awarded two prizes. The first was a Special Jury Mention to the film Darwin, by Nick Brandestini. He's off to Karlovy Vary next, and you can check out the film here. We also awarded the International Competition Award to El Sicario: Room 164 by Gianfranco Rosi. Turns out El Sicario was recently picked up and will play NYC and elsewhere soon. I highly recommend both films as well as all of the others in competition. There was also an Israeli Doc competition (with many great films, Israeli docs are in their prime right now) and student film awards, as well as a DocChallenge and many special events (including my favorite: Food and Film). The festival is only 13 years old now (happy Bar Mitzvah), but is growing in importance and stature and I highly recommend that doc makers, industry and fans check it out. You can't get much better than May in Tel Aviv, with good docs, good conversations and outdoor screenings at the Tel Aviv Port!

While there, I also ran a workshop with Hypermedia on the Future of the Doc, called "Re:Invent." It was a full day workshop broken into three sessions: new business models for distribution and audience engagement, transmedia practices and pitching. I learned a lot from the audience - about particularities of Israeli cinema and possibilities, about new ideas and I hope I left behind some wisdom as well. The biggest things I learned are: 1. that Israeli Docs are great, the scene is vibrant and winning awards (this I knew, but learned even more while there, watching about 15 recent docs) and 2. that there's a pretty solid funding system in place, but not much for trying new models of outreach and distribution, and last 3. that the political situation makes many things difficult for Israeli filmmakers both at home and abroad (in many ways, and from many different perspectives, too much to cover here). There were two interviews that ran in conjunction. One at NRG, and you can see a Google Translation here, and one with DocMovies. Speaking of DocMovies, they have launched a really cool distribution service that is very filmmaker friendly, and I hope to cover more about that soon.

I've uploaded the slides from my workshop to SlideShare. Feel free to download them, and use them as you wish. I hope to give more updates from the festival soon.

DocAviv - Roadmap to the Future of Docs
View more presentations from Brian Newman

And a late edit: The organizers published this great Flickr Set of the day:


Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Up Next: DocAviv and building a roadmap for the future of Docs

I'm finally settled into the new apartment, and have found the buried computer cables. No, I didn't go completely offline thanks to my Android, but I am not much into typing the blog from my phone. While the rest of the film industry preps for Cannes, I'm now busy with a few filmmaker clients and with preparing for my next masterclass/workshop in conjunction with the DocAviv Film Festival, scheduled for May 18, 2011.

I'm working with Hypermedia to put on a full day workshop on the future of the Documentary. Here's the English version of the description and you can find the Hebrew version here or here. If you are in Tel Aviv, register and/or stop by and say hello, and tell your friends who might live there. While I hope to offer some new insights into the possible future of the doc, I'm really looking forward to learning from the audience how the film industry there sees the future, because their doc community is pretty strong and vibrant.

Here's the description:

Roadmap for the Documentary Filmmaker

Why try to predict the future when you can simply invent it?

Digital technology, new business models and a plethora of innovative production and creative tools – all these are combined together and promise many exciting years of research and challenges in the realms of documentary filmmaking. What are the possible directions in the field? Where do we go from here? How do we find the path to success in the new world?

This practical all-day seminar will lead the participants into the future districts of the field and provide filmmakers with a concrete, practical and up-to-date tool kit for turning an era of change into an era of new opportunities.

Content editor and producer: Ari Davidovich.

Wednesday, 18.5.11, at ZOA in Tel Aviv

Fee required, please register in advance.
For details and registration:

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sorry for the delay

Eternal clockphoto © 2009 Robbert van der Steeg | more info (via: Wylio)

While I've never been a daily updater, I've been better about posting lately...until this week. My personal life has intruded as my wife and I move our apartment this week to a new neighborhood - which is a good (great) thing, but packing is killing my computer time. Which is also a good thing! Back with more soon.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Helen Hill

Helen Hill holding chicken "Daisy" a...Image via WikipediaHelen Hill was a great filmmaker (among many other talents) who was murdered in 2007 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She was also an acquaintance, and because of that I've been following the progress of her husband Paul Gailiunas as he has been completing her final film. He's done, the film is now touring. There's a grand, big showing in Columbia, SC on April 16th - Helen was from SC and that's where we first met. Here's a note from Paul about the film. If you live anywhere near SC, I highly recommend making the road trip for this special evening.

"This is to announce that The Florestine Collection, the film Helen Hill started in 2001, has been finished and will have its first two screenings very soon. Helen began this project after she found more than 100 handsewn dresses in a trash pile soon after she and I moved to New Orleans from Canada. She wanted to find out more about the seamstress and make a film about her.

She received funding from the Rockefeller Foundation and continued to work on the film as a new mother and then after Hurricane Katrina, which ruined a lot of the material she had already filmed.

After Helen was murdered in January 2007, I decided that I wanted to finish the film that she devoted much of her energy to. I got an incredible amount of help and support from our friends and family, and I recently completed it as a 16 mm film print, which is how Helen liked to screen her films.

The final result is a 31 minute experimental documentary that includes Helen's beautiful silhouette and cut-out puppet animation, as well as re-printed flood-damaged home movies.

Helen put a lot of love and energy into The Florestine Collection, and she was very determined to finish it. I am glad to at least be able to present my interpretation of Helen's vision for the film."
- Paul G.

The film shows:
Saturday, April 16
Indie Grits Film Festival
Columbia, South Carolina

It also showed recently at the Ann Arbor Film Festival.

Thanks Paul. We all miss Helen, and we're all excited that you've helped interpret her vision and have completed this film. I hope many film festivals and exhibition venues book the film for further screenings soon.
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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Letter from the Future

Back to the Future DeLorean Time Machinephoto © 2007 Adam Lautenbach | more info (via: Wylio)
I am a 32 year old indie storyteller living in Pepsidelphia (formerly known as Philadelphia, before the crisis), population 23 million, and it’s 2018. I moved here after the “event” in New York City along with everyone else. Last night, I went to Lance Weiler’s amazing Opera, Hope, which was supposedly the culmination of a nearly seven year process starting way back at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival when he played his short film and premiered the interactive Pandemic experience, which began this entire Gesamtkunstwerk phenomenon (the German’s told us transmedia was a bad name, and this one kinda stuck). I was able to get a ticket through my friend who does code programming at TopSpin, which was lucky because all operas sell out immediately now that they work with established directors from gesamtkunstwerks.

I go to the cinema more often now that the Pepsi Alamo Drafthouse offers free screenings 24/7 to anyone who has drank at least 4 Pepsi’s that week. It’s really great because I only see one advertisement for Pepsi at the beginning and then the film plays, I order some great Vegan food and a Diet Pepsi water, or a beer and enjoy the show with all my friends. We pick the show we want to see the day (or week) before, and which theater we want to see it in – KidFree, MobileFree or FullActive. I usually go to FullActive because then I can see what my friend’s are thinking while I watch the show (from my retina display), and I usually sit on the left side of the theater. I’m not sure why, but I think the content is usually better there than on the right side. I think more of the clues to the film show to the audience on the left side, but maybe I’m wrong. Sometimes, I go see something again from the other side, but I already know the clues from the left side feed, so it’s hard to tell. The Alamo is really great because I can also choose to see the film edited specifically for my town. Always better than what I get on PepsiNet for free at home.

Speaking of which, I’m so happy Pepsi took over Netflix. That happened back in 2015, a year or so after Netflix had taken over Time Warner, and it made sense to change it to PepsiNet since they were now offering me internet service everywhere, as well as flix. Now when I watch films, I can choose which charities my points go to (I’m on the point, as opposed to pay plan which means I see more advertising for free access and get points for watching), and I always choose Sundance. Then, Sundance selects which indies get funded and then get to go on the Sundance Festival Tour.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Conclusion to 7 Trends for the Future of the Arts

Over the past week, I've been posting every few days about the future of the arts. None of what I brought up here was meant to be ground-breaking, but rather, was meant to be a summary of some key trends of the current moment that will likely have a profound impact on the arts (even if the trends aren't in and of themselves all that profound). I was hoping to spark some interest in the topic, and in the book where these thoughts first appeared: 20 Under 40.

In the original chapter for 20 Under 40, I ended with a conclusion that I won't print in its entirety here. Briefly, I argued that with these changes and trends come great responsibility for artists and arts organizations. We have a chance now to help shape the future not just of the arts, but of society. As I said in the book:

Perhaps the greatest threat to the digital future is society’s lack of imagination. What is needed most now is an ability to imagine what might come next, instead of trying to bend digital change to fit preconceived notions of the world. Herein lies the heart of why the arts sector must take the lead in these debates by experimenting with what’s next in technology.

The arts sector is well positioned to put forth innovations that harness the demand for participatory culture, for relationship and community building, and for connecting audiences more directly with artists. Such innovations can help people find the art and culture they desire and curate experiences that lead to discovery. They can help insure that democratic critical discourse remains an important facet of our cultural experience. Unless the arts sector takes an active role in creating the future, a new era of digital sameness may be the best we get, and our society will be the poorer for it.

My hope is that this chapter, and this series of articles on it will help spark some dialogue about the role of the arts in our future. You can check out each of the posts here, or buy the 20 Under 40 anthology here.

Editors Note: Oops, I forgot that I had promised to hint at three more key trends that I didn't cover in the book. This last bit was added after my original post:

I didn't have space in the chapter to cover the 10 things I think are vital changes. Here's the final three:

8. Diversity - The US is much more diverse than its current cultural marketplace. Arts organizations pay lip service to diversity all the time, but not enough is being done and audiences are changing and expect more options.

9. Global - We are a globally interconnected society now. I have more in common with people who share my tastes and cultural interests in Iceland (or Kenya, or....) than I do with my neighbors. Arts organizations need to think of whether they serve a global audience (not all will) and how they can do this more easily. Corporations ignore the state now, and perhaps so should we. In addition, we learn about and expect to interact with more global culture.

10. Remix - It's not just for music and video. Remix as a concept is seeping into other areas of culture and needs to be explored, encouraged and embraced by more arts organizations.

Bonus 11. Mobile - Ok, this one is obvious. Do I need to explain further?
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Electracy: The New, New Media Literacy - Trend 7 of 7 for Future of Arts

This is part eight in an ongoing series of posts on 7 Trends for the Future of the Arts. Originally published (and partially reprinted here with permission of the publisher) in the book: 20 Under 40: Reinventing the Arts and Arts Education for the 21st Century. I'm presenting selections from each trend, and you can follow the whole post series from here. If you are interested in these arguments, check out and think about purchasing the book here.

The New, New Media Literacy: Electracy

Digital technology has changed many things, but it has done more than give society nifty new gadgets and new ways to connect. Noted theorist Greg Ulmer has proposed that through digital technology civilization has shifted from orality to literacy to electracy—where all thought, processes, writing, storytelling, and business practices are based on or mediated by electronic, visual, motion media communication. This is not media literacy, but rather a paradigmatic shift which the cultural sector should not just be aware of but should be leading, as the changes electracy will bring about may profoundly alter the world.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In a world of Free, the Future Lies in Find: Trend 6/7 Future Arts

This is part seven in an ongoing series of posts on 7 Trends for the Future of the Arts. Originally published (and partially reprinted here with permission of the publisher) in the book: 20 Under 40: Reinventing the Arts and Arts Education for the 21st Century. I'm presenting selections from each trend, and you can follow the whole post series from here. If you are interested in these arguments, check out and think about purchasing the book here.

Trend 6: In a world of Free, the Future Lies in Find

In a digital world, a copy is just zeros and ones and thus—copies are free. This makes piracy of content much easier, but it also allows for the legal dissemination of content. Many companies are finding that they can use free as one aspect of their business model, often through advertising and sponsorship support or through the use of free content to attract people to pay for an upgraded “freemium” version.

It is important to note that this does not mean that free itself is a business model—that wouldn’t be sustainable, but rather that free access can be one part of a multi-tiered business strategy. Raise enough sponsorship and it could be mutually beneficial to you, your audience, and Target to make museum entrance free one night a week (which is not a novel concept).

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Communal Conversation trumps Marketing: Trend 5/7 Future of Arts

This is part six in an ongoing series of posts on 7 Trends for the Future of the Arts. Originally published (and partially reprinted here with permission of the publisher) in the book: 20 Under 40: Reinventing the Arts and Arts Education for the 21st Century. I'm presenting selections from each trend, and you can follow the whole post series from here. If you are interested in these arguments, check out and think about purchasing the book here.

Trend 5: Communal Conversation trumps Marketing

The Conversation. East End © 2011 jeff hubbard | more info (via: Wylio)When people join a social network, they do so for a variety of reasons including connecting with colleagues, sharing information, or possibly to find friendship, romance, or work. If you glance at most arts organizations’ websites, however, it appears that the administrators think social networking is just about marketing. Themselves. Constantly. If an organization is event-based, one usually finds a flurry of postings just before and during the events it offers, but rarely afterwards—unless it’s a tweet saying “hey, thanks for attending, see you next year.” This couldn’t be further from what audiences want, which is an ongoing dialogue and real sense of connection.

Arts organizations must participate in the building of online communities in a natural way or they will become, as many already have, just so much more noise in the Internet social sphere. This isn’t easy for arts organizations, or for most artists and other people, because real dialogue is hard. In fact, this is precisely the area where one often learns that one’s real queasiness around social media isn’t technical—almost anyone of any age group can learn how to use social networks. What’s hard is conversation, whether that’s in the lobby or online. The entire architecture of most museums, theaters, and arts organizations seems intended to minimize the chance that a staff member could engage in even brief conversation with the public. The architecture of the Internet, however, requires true, engaged conversation.

Until arts organizations realize they must actually participate in a dialogue with their community, they can’t create a proper presence online. While that dialogue will necessarily be different from one institution to another, reflecting different ideas of what constitutes dialogue, it must be genuine, ongoing, and it must have some compelling voice—be it from everyone on staff/commission or just the artistic director or performers. Arts organizations should also begin thinking about how this will evolve over time—likely becoming more participatory, more enriching, and more argumentative at the same time, and likely leading to entirely new art forms which could be co-created by those organizations who take the lead.

Next Up: The Future Lies in Find

Monday, March 28, 2011

Participatory Culture: Trend 4 of 7 for the Future of the Arts

This is part five in an ongoing series of posts on 7 Trends for the Future of the Arts. Originally published (and partially reprinted here with permission of the publisher) in the book: 20 Under 40: Reinventing the Arts and Arts Education for the 21st Century. I'm presenting selections from each trend, and you can follow the whole post series from here. If you are interested in these arguments, check out and think about purchasing the book here.

Trend 4: Participatory Culture

This sense of disintermediation has expanded into what is called participatory culture. Audiences can now easily participate actively in the art they consume, and expect to be able to do so. This is an historic return to the way art used to be practiced—by and for all. Ancient cultures valued communal art making and practice, with the arts integrated into community activity.

For too long, however, art has been placed on a kind of altar—to become a painter, a musician, a dancer or a filmmaker one had to learn “the rules” and follow the canon. Sure, punk rock existed, but to make “fine art” music, such as classical music, one had to learn an almost secret language. One had to take dance lessons, learn ballet, and compete. One had to go to film school and spend a lot of money on equipment. Art was no longer something to be produced by everyone, but something that one had to aspire to learn perfectly. And because it was hard, art became something that was largely consumed.

From today’s perspective one can see that the one-way street of art consumption was an historic aberration, and one society’s good to toss. Audiences no longer want to just consume their art—they want to be involved, to engage in the conversation around art and creativity and perhaps participate in its production. Technology facilitates the human need to connect, share, and participate—and this is great news for the arts.

Through digital technology and sharing culture, legions of people now have access to entire recording studios for free, cheap cameras, and programs to teach them any instrument imaginable. These digital consumers don’t think of themselves as amateurs, but as creative beings, contributing to culture. Each of these individuals now feel a greater connection to the arts and will likely explore more within their interests. In film, the YouTube mash-up creator may begin to seek out classic cinema, or avant-garde works because they now understand it better and feel a connection. They are participating with the arts, searching for a dialogue, and it is incumbent upon existing cultural institutions to tap into this energy and change how it operates to allow for a more participatory arts experience.

Organizations must address this shift in their programming and outreach and even in how they create and curate their shows. They will need to let the audience become more than just spectators. This doesn’t mean that all arts experiences must be participatory, as not all audiences desire the same levels of interaction, but rather that greater levels of interaction should be possible for those who increasingly expect such participation. While some arts organizations are beginning to experiment with programming that involves the audience, or that at least makes the experience more participatory, such as bringing the audience into rehearsals or having them add to a musical performance with their cellphones, the field as a whole should make every effort to make their experiences more participatory.

The value in some of the most successful web businesses today, companies like Amazon, Craigslist, Google, and Wikipedia, derives from the participatory contributions of their users. Users of Amazon gain insight into prospective purchases from the reviews left by other consumers. This value accrues to Amazon, it becomes a more trust-worthy site, but comes from the participation of its users. Facebook, one of the fastest growing companies online today, builds almost all of its value from the participatory activities of its users.

This new level of interactivity, sometimes referred to as web 2.0 culture, is growing and becoming more prevalent in the interactions of most people online. Arts organizations would do well to follow the lead of such companies and incorporate more participation into their organizations, perhaps gaining more value by encouraging dialogue and audience contribution than they can offer on their own.

Up next: Trend 5: Communal Conversation Trumps Marketing.
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Thursday, March 24, 2011

One Hundred Mornings

A little break from the 7 Trends for the Future of the Arts posts to plug a great film opening Friday in Brooklyn. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting the folks from Blinder Films at Slamdance a year ago, but I didn't get to see their amazing film, One Hundred Mornings, until later due to the fact that I was on the Doc Jury for Slamdance that year. A few months later, I was lucky to be invited to Ted Hope's This is That Goldcrest Screening Series to check it out. I became a fan.

Now, the film is opening in NYC – Brooklyn, to be precise – at the Rerun Theater. Buy tickets now. Run, don't walk. It's such an amazing piece of work, done so well by director Conor Horgan, and I hesitate to give much of a review, because I saw it with no knowledge of the story going in and found that to be such a great experience.

So, no spoilers at all, but quit reading here if you, like me, prefer to be completely surprised by a film.

One Hundred Mornings is a bleak, horrifying, yet somehow inspiring film about the complete break-down of a society post-somekinda-apocalypse. What I liked about it was that Horgan doesn't sugar-coat anything, he stays real. It's also terrifying. I can still remember minor details that give me goosebumps, but can't say much more without giving anything away. What was most amazing to me was that the sorry state of distribution has led to a weird state of affairs where something this awesome is having a hard time getting a release in the US. Luckily, they're here now, but they only have one week in Brooklyn, so they need some love. Go see this great film this weekend (or next week).

Here's the description from Rerun:

Winner of the Best Feature award at five international fests (plus a special jury mention from Slamdance), ONE HUNDRED MORNINGS is a chilling post-apocalyptic drama set in rural Ireland. Conor Horgan's arresting, moody debut makes its New York theatrical premiere with a week-long run, March 25 - 31.

Upended by a complete breakdown of society, two couples hide out in a lakeside cabin hoping to survive the mysterious crisis. As resources run low and external threats increase, they forge an uneasy alliance with their self-sufficient hippie neighbor. With no news from the outside world, they can't know how long they must endure living in such close quarters, and with such limited supplies. Conflicting worldviews spill forth, unspoken animosity fills the air, and a suspected affair drives a wedge between them all. As everything begins to disintegrate, each of them faces a critical decision they never thought they'd have to make.

The film showcases an exceptional ensemble of Irish talent, led by Ciaran McMenamin (THE LAST CONFESSION OF ALEXANDER PEARCE), Alex Reid (THE DESCENT), Rory Keenan (INTERMISSION) and Kelly Campbell (BACHELORS WALK).

You can watch the trailer below, or buy tickets here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Disintermediation: Trend 3 of 7 for the Future of the Arts

This is part four in an ongoing series of posts on 7 Trends for the Future of the Arts. Originally published (and partially reprinted here with permission of the publisher) in the book: 20 Under 40: Reinventing the Arts and Arts Education for the 21st Century. I'm presenting selections from each trend, and you can follow the whole post series from here. If you are interested in these arguments, check out and think about purchasing the book here.

Disintermediation—The Audience as Curator
Grupo Corpo Dance Groupphoto © 2005 alex de carvalho | more info (via: Wylio)
Also known as the rise of the crowd, digital technology has disintermediated culture, and this profoundly changes the top-down systems of the arts. For quite some time, arts institutions have talked about making art accessible to the masses. What was often meant, however, was that art resided here in this museum, with a special aura and we, the experts, will educate you, the masses, about its importance so you can come here and experience more of it.

Today, this talk continues, and true, a certain populism can be found in the blockbuster shows of Impressionism or Tim Burton, but disintermediation isn’t just about pleasing large crowds; it also means that audiences can gather around the long-tail of content. If audiences like obscure, niche works, they no longer have to wait for someone to bring it to them, but rather can pool themselves together online and form an audience for that art, often by connecting directly to the artist.

If one isn’t sure whether their tastes are shared by others, they can now find out by starting a blog, advertising it on social networks, and building an audience for, say, European free-jazz pretty quickly. If no local institution is bringing this work to a particular town, the digitally networked townsfolk can build their own tour, bypassing traditional booking agents, performing arts networks, and other middle-men to bring the artist directly to them. The fans no longer need to wait for a review in Artforum, receive a blurb via newsletter from their local orchestra, or wait longingly for their regional theater to stage a certain production. They can speak directly to one another, follow the opinions of those they trust, sample video and audio of performances or exhibits (often taken by amateurs), and coalesce around the art that they like.

Utilizing digital technology, audiences can now connect globally and discover new art forms and artists they would never before have found. They can also seek out more racial, ethnic, political, and religious diversity when they don’t see it reflected in their local arts organizations’ programming (or staffing). Having gotten used to the idea of digital content being available on demand, anywhere on any device—immediately, consumers will begin to demand this disintermediation and immediacy from other art forms and live arts experiences as well.

Arts institutions need to embrace this disintermediation. This doesn’t mean tearing down the walls and firing all the curators, but rather arts organizations should utilize the better aspects of this trend. True, many arts organizations have been experimenting with disintermediation and participation for some time (perhaps this is an ongoing experimentation for most), and many are having some success. That said, the field as a whole must contend with this phenomenon more directly and develop best practices because digital technology has compounded this expectation.

Today’s consumer expects that their content will be available on every platform simultaneously, watching their favorite film through Netflix, XBox, Amazon, iTunes on their cellphone, TV, or any other device. They don’t care about the established systems for discovery and access, and this too means that arts organizations must adapt and will need to collaborate and share more readily.

An audience member often follows the artist, so perhaps the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) should notify me when Grupo Corpo plays next in New York, even at a rival venue, not just when they next play BAM—and perhaps that venue would push their patrons back for another show. Perhaps subscriptions should be offered that allow me access not just to MoMA, but to multiple institutions, perhaps in multiple cities. Ticket selling systems of the future should likewise push content to me not just at my current location, but also to where I might be next. These systems should be “smart” enough to notify me of my favorite playwright’s next show, or my favorite actor’s new film. This sense of collaboration will be difficult because it challenges existing notions of competition and loyalty, but discovery of the arts is now disintermediated, and arts organizations that embrace these changes will thrive.
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Monday, March 21, 2011

The Rise of With-Profit Endeavors: Trend 2 of 7 for the Future of the Arts

This is part three in an ongoing series of posts on 7 Trends for the Future of the Arts. Originally published (and partially reprinted here with permission of the publisher) in the book: 20 Under 40: Reinventing the Arts and Arts Education for the 21st Century. I'm presenting selections from each trend, and you can follow the whole post series from here. If you are interested in these arguments, check out and think about purchasing the book here.

Trend 2: The Rise of For Profit and With Profit Endeavors:

Today’s combined economic and business practice turmoil also creates a perfect environment for strategic outside players to unseat established organizations. It’s not that the established players in the music industry, for example, didn’t see that change was coming due to digital technology. The changes brought about by digital technology are so disruptive precisely because in order to embrace the new paradigm, one must undercut an existing, often very profitable business model.

Likewise, it is difficult for established arts organizations to embrace change that might undercut their current business models, but this leaves room for others to enter the sector. One could argue that such a shift is already occurring today. For example, the amount of promotion, fundraising, sharing, career-building, and market-creation of such new online arts discovery services such as YouTube, Flickr, Spotify, Pandora, KickStarter and Etsy alone, all of which started very small and outside the nonprofit arts, have likely had more impact on the arts than any six nonprofit cultural organizations can claim in the last five years.

It isn’t impossible to imagine such services being created, much differently, in the nonprofit arts sector. For example, if a film festival had thought broadly about the combination of cheap access to the means of production and distribution and the growing forces of participation and disintermediation, it could have created YouTube. The site might look somewhat different, offer more curatorial sidebars and probably have a less catchy name, but it arguably should have been possible.

There was a time in the arts world when small arts organizations contributed to this sense of innovation. Organizations such as Nexus Press in Atlanta served as incubators for cutting edge book artists regionally, and the Off-Off-Broadway theater scene acted much the same way, pushing the field forward, taking chances and launching many careers. Today, however, that sense of excitement and innovation is sorely lacking from the arts sector. Innovation, risk-taking, and flexibility have migrated back to the for-profit sector, and cool new ideas aren’t brought to fruition as nonprofits, but as Internet start-ups that capitalize on the access to funding and the risk-taking, free-for-all atmosphere of the new digital economy.

Similar innovations could be developed in the nonprofit arts sector today, but due to the risk averse, highly structured funding environment that has evolved in the nonprofit arts sector, it is more likely that several organizations will get funding from a Foundation to think about and strategically plan for the future of their field. While they workshop their ideas for the future, two people in a garage will probably out-think them in two weeks and launch the next big thing that further disrupts the ecology of the arts.

Building a culture of entrepreneurship in the sector will require fresh thinking and innovative approaches to funding and support that aren’t readily apparent. Few nonprofits have unrestricted income with which to explore new, especially risky, programs and fewer still have enough general operating support to hire and pay the usually higher salary expectations of the skilled workers to build such new ideas. Most foundations won’t fund a new nonprofit until it has been around for three years, require grant proposals that take longer to write than most business plans and they often discourage any risk-taking, preferring “tried and true” programs.

In contrast, a sense of experimentation often, and importantly, without true strategic planning but rather a sense of “let’s just try it because it’s cool” is what works for most innovative companies and is what’s missing (and actively discouraged) from within the nonprofit arts. Ironically, this is what many arts organizations expect from their artists—experimentation and risk—and artists seem to flourish given this freedom. Unless this sense of exploration is recaptured, most innovation will likely be led by the for-profit sector.

If neither non- nor for-profit models seem to work perfectly, perhaps the arts sector should explore new ventures at the junction of the two, combining the assets of the for-profit and nonprofit sectors to realize both financial and social profits. This new space, perhaps called with-profit, as in social goals “with profit potential,” promises a rich field for the arts sector to explore. Such experiments could be undertaken by existing or new nonprofits on their own, in partnerships with existing for-profit organizations, or by creating new for-profit subsidiaries and/or affiliates of nonprofit arts companies. With-profit endeavors could use nonprofit funding to accomplish that which the market won’t support, while for-profits would step in to capitalize on those items that have commercial appeal. For example, perhaps nonprofit arts funding could be used to seed the development of 12 new plays, with a commercial arm (or separate entity) ready to step in and take the one project with the most promise to market. Of course, this would need to include some remuneration to the nonprofit and would require some clever legal thinking, but it could be applied to any number of art forms.

A with-profit partnership would allow a nonprofit to continue to serve its underlying mission, and maintain its tax status, while providing a vehicle for exploration of profit-making activities. For-profit partners (or divisions) could bring in investments, explore more robust marketing and program development with other for-profit companies and maintain an eye on the “double bottom line” of profits and mission. Such alliances are not uncommon in the health and science sectors and should be considered by arts organizations as well.

Next Up: Trend 3: Disintermediation, The Audience as Curator.
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Friday, March 18, 2011

Downsized and Merged - Trend 1 of 7 for the Future of the Arts

This is part two in an ongoing series of posts on 7 Trends for the Future of the Arts. Originally published (and partially reprinted here with permission of the publisher) in the book: 20 Under 40: Reinventing the Arts and Arts Education for the 21st Century. I'm presenting selections from each trend, and you can follow the whole post series from here. If you are interested in these arguments, check out and think about purchasing the book here.

Trend One: Downsized and Merged

The economy continues to bring bad news to the arts sector, but the real news is that is isn’t going to get better. The budget battles we see now in the US are only just beginning (and are spreading globally, but that’s another conversation). Already, state governments, and the IRS, in search of increased revenues are contemplating vast changes to the benefits of nonprofit status, and many foundations have had to curb support for such supposedly “non-essential” activities as arts and culture due to declines in their endowments. While many may agree that such cuts wouldn’t be necessary if it weren’t for specific policies being pushed to shrink government (such as tax cuts to the wealthiest few), the fact remains that such cuts are likely to continue.

In addition, digital technology fundamentally changes business practices, and is downsizing once large industries rapidly. Craigslist upended the entire business model of the newspaper industry, effectively downsizing an entire $1 billion sector to one $100-million company. We are seeing this now in other cultural industries, and we’re also seeing more companies avoiding state taxes by being entirely web based. The resultant decline in tax revenues from these shrinking sectors will greatly limit the ability of government to maintain minimum service levels, much less support the arts (regardless of whether this is the correct argument, it is what will be used), and foundations will look to pick up the slack from government – also at the expense of the arts.

As government and foundation revenue shrinks, arts institutions will increasingly look to earned income, but fundamental shifts in consumer behavior make this a challenging arena as well. Consumers have less overall spending power, and more options for their cultural and entertainment experiences. As consumers increasingly find their content online, they expect to find yours there as well, watching your performance online instead of attending it live. While this itself can be a revenue stream, it is also one where consumers expectations are for free and/or cheaper access, meaning online profit margins will likely be lower than any reduction in overhead costs. As these stresses combine, the nonprofit arts sector will likely have to rethink business practices, and contend with radically different economics.

Unfortunately, it’s not a stretch to say the nonprofit arts sector looks like a field of zombies—undead, potentially harmful shells of their former selves, haunting the landscape, unable to live or to die. Quite simply, funders, board members, and leaders in the arts need to take a hard look at reality and make some painful decisions. More organizations need to merge to save costs, end duplicative services, and achieve greater impact. Many more organizations need to be shut down entirely, having either served their mission well or having long ago abandoned any real hope of having a meaningful impact. These conversations aren’t easy, but they need to be had on a field-wide level. Even those organizations that are healthy enough to survive will need to consider downsizing their costs and refocusing their energies as the dwindling support for the cultural sector is likely a permanent shift away from robust public, foundation, and individual financing of the arts.

A thinned-out and downsized nonprofit arts sector is probably inevitable and may actually bring greater good. Strategically downsized organizations will more readily make this transition and might create more sustainable arts businesses. Mergers are often thought of as drastic measures to cut expenses or end duplicative services, but they can also be planned for to better prepare organizations to face new economic and cultural realities, fill strategic gaps, and lead to new programming and greater services.

Of course, downsized organizations will only become stronger, remain competitive, and possibly lead change through rigorous planning. Yet, these conversations are being resisted at precisely the time they need to be had. I explore some ideas for such change in my chapter, and there’s a lively discussion online now, sparked by NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman's recent comments on "Supply and Demand" (that's #supplydemand) and I gave my thoughts here. Love to hear more of your thoughts on this in the comments below.

In my next installment, I’ll speak about the rise of both for-profit and what I call with-profit endeavors in the arts.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Inventing the Future of the Arts - 7 Key Trends

I recently contributed a chapter to the book: 20 Under 40: Reinventing the Arts and Arts Education for the 21st Century. For the next few days, I’ll be presenting excerpts from that chapter here, in hopes to get some more conversation started about these issues, and in the belief that if you like what you read here you might buy a copy of the entire book – or just recommend it to a friend. I’m editing each section down a fair bit, not so much to “force” anyone to buy the book, but because while this remains long, I felt some sections needed shortening to fit the blog format. Read on, send me your comments and please share!

My fundamental argument in the chapter is that the disruptive changes we’ve seen as a result of digital technology will eventually affect all arts and cultural activities, not just those we’ve seen impacted thus far (print, music, film). Unfortunately, most arts organizations are being reactive and are trying to fit digital into their existing ways of operating, which mimics precisely those mistakes that led to crises in other industries. They must instead look strategically at these changes and make fundamental changes to their business practices in order to turn these challenges into opportunities.

While there are many challenges facing the arts, I argue that there are seven key trends brought about by digital technology that will arguably have the greatest impact on the arts sector:
  1. The future is “Downsized and Merged;”
  2. The rise of for-profit and with-profit endeavors;
  3. Disintermediation - the audience as curator;
  4. The rise of participatory culture;
  5. Communal conversation trumps marketing;
  6. In a world of free, the future will reside in find;
  7. The new, new media literacy is electracy

We’ll explore the first of these trends next (edited from tomorrow, as in: when I get to it), where I argue that the future of the arts is going to be "Downsized and Merged."

While most of the next few posts are geared for those of us working at/with arts organizations, I do think any artist can benefit from reading these posts and contributing their voice to the conversation, so please do so in the comments.

You can see all of the 20 Under 40 chapters here, and buy the book (or E-Book) here.
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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Slides from my speech at Sofia Film Fest Meetings

Sofia University, Bulgaria,Image via WikipediaI've been having a fantastic time here in Sofia, Bulgaria. I've met many great, talented people – producers, distributors, filmmakers, festival folks, etc. I've learned a lot from them about the state of film in Bulgaria (flourishing, yet having funding difficulties), of film financing and distribution in Europe (too much to share here now) and about Bulgaria generally. I highly recommend the Sofia Meetings to anyone interested in international co-productions, or to anyone who just wants to meet some great European film industry folks.

As usual, I spoke a bit fast at my lecture and many people asked me to share the slides. So here they are. If you've been to some of my recent lectures, there's not much new here, but some things have been updated, including some stats on Facebook usage in Bulgaria (strong). The speech was a general overview of changes to audience expectations, digital disruption and how artists are using these new tools to build their audience and make new business models. I didn't know my audience was going to be distributors until I arrived, but as I explained on the spot - nearly everything I mention here can be used by distributors, film fests and organizations as well.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Reclaiming DIY Slides from DIY Days

Here's the slides from my recent DIY Days NYC speech (below). I think it went well, and feedback was pretty good, but please give me more of your feedback below. I don't speak from notes, and there are very few notes embedded in the notes section of the slides, so I'll post the video from the presentation when it becomes available, but I do think you can get the gist of it.

I added a slide to specifically point out one important thing – it needs more diversity in the samples I show. I said this from the stage, when I was showing the slide on Sarah Jacobson, but I noticed a couple of tweets where people missed my explanation for this. Here's the text of the note I added:

"Note: In my live presentation, this is where I stopped and explained to everyone that this slide-set really needs more diversity, especially in regards to women. I searched the web for many more images of DIY women pioneers, for this section and the earlier one (where I show Barbara Kopple) and had a very hard time finding them – not that they didn’t exist, but it is hard to find images of many of these pioneering artists online (especially of the right size and image quality). This acknowledgement doesn’t change the slight, but does hopefully make it clear that I am aware of the need for a new version of this in the future that takes into account people like Susan Robeson, filmmakers who worked with Third World and California Newsreel and more. I welcome suggestions in the comments section."

And I welcome more suggestions in the comments of this blog. I've got a pretty strong track record of calling people out for not addressing the strong history (and currency as well) of diverse thinkers and artists in this space, but it needs to be pointed out that I had this same problem. I also suggested that it would make a good project - reclaiming this history online, and a few people volunteered on Twitter, I'd be happy to meet about this. Just for a quick example, I can link you to Susan Robeson on Third World Newsreel, but a cursory image search for her doesn't bring much up at the pixel level needed for slides. I am sure I could've searched better if I'd had more than three days to prepare these slides!

Anyway, hope you enjoy these.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Let the teens take over arts advocacy

I've been writing a lot lately about the state of the arts and threatened cuts. I even suggested we need some cool video to help make our case. Well, the students of the Rochester School of the Arts (NY) made one. Check it out, spread their word (ok, their video). Let's put them in charge of arts advocacy in the US - they can't do worse than the current advocates have done!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Getting with the (Jazz) Times

IMG_0286photo © 2007 interstatial | more info (via: Wylio)
I'm a big fan of Jazz, and share this passion with my friend and fellow strategic planning consultant Morrie Warshawski. About a year ago, he brought my wife and I along with him to see Vijay Iyer at Le Poisson Rouge. We'd heard of his music, but hadn't gotten around to seeing him perform live, and we both thought he was great (thanks, Morrie).

We've now been to see him a few times, and just a few nights ago, I went online trying to purchase tickets for a couple of his upcoming shows. That was an experience I hope to never duplicate again – let's just leave this short and say that the entire online experience for finding and buying tickets to Jazz needs a massive overhaul. Iyer's site is okay, but the venue websites were a disaster (hint to Vijay's designer though - deep links to the actual performance page, not the venue page would help). Anyway, the experience was worth it because while on his site, I stumbled upon this great article in Jazz Times by Iyer about the state of Jazz today – attendance, education and the difficulty in getting access to live performances.

The article reminded me a lot about the independent film world: attendance declining; less and less financial support from the government, foundations and individual donors (but a rise in crowd-funding to be sure); more and more musicians graduating from Jazz programs and entering a crowded marketplace; musicians building followers/fans, but mainly because each new artist is looking for some connection to a possible break; fewer (affordable and accessible) venues playing live Jazz, and a general problem of access, meaning being able to find good Jazz because of these fewer venues, outlets (radio, etc) - so how do people even find the music.

Substitute film for Jazz/music and you see the similarities. I often lament the same situation in film - where are all these newly minted filmmakers going to find a job and earn a living? Here's a great quote from Iyer on the situation:

"It’s a basic problem of supply and demand. In this period of economic fragility, when jazz venues, festivals and record labels rapidly appear and disappear like so many elementary particles, where are all these highly trained, capable, student-loan-burdened musicians supposed to go? And yet, young people are entering this area of music in droves, an oncoming swarm whose aim is true. It’s as if the impossibility of the prospect drives them ever forward."

I've always argued, however, that I'm never upset as a consumer that there's too many musicians – I can always rely on friends and curators to help me find the good ones, and I believe this is true for film as well. With more and more classically educated and self-taught filmmakers, there's more people "in tune" with the history, importance and vibrancy of the medium, so audiences should only increase. Like Iyer, any filmmaker or film industry person, online gathers a fair amount of friends and followers. We're building a little network of indie film lovers. That's all fine and dandy, but how can we leverage this network to greater effect? If we did, could we solve all the "problems" of indie film? (I say problems, because they are always equally opportunities) Iyer seems to feel the same way, and is taking the next step and wondering how we might put all of this together for the betterment of all of us:

"So there it is, in all its banal glory: It’s 2011 and we’re all connected, across generations, subgenres, levels of visibility and empowerment. We have an abundance of young, highly skilled music students and recent graduates who are completely linked in with the rest of the jazz community. And collectively we face a scarcity of opportunities to present our music across America.

So my question is, can we achieve anything productive with this de facto musicians’ network? Can we marshal this virtual community of ours to confront the current situation? Is it preposterous to suggest that we all work not just as artists but as advocates, instigators, programmers, curators—the musical equivalent of community organizers? Can we imagine a “Field of Dreams” model where we, with our massive network, build the very nationwide jazz infrastructure that we’ve been waiting for?"

Great question, great spirit. I think the answer is an obvious yes, but I'd go a step further - given that we have multiple networks of artists, all struggling with the same problems across multiple disciplines, how much greater impact on the world could we all have if we joined together. It used to be hard to link such disparate groups, but it is now (so obviously) so much easier. Disconnected communities can become a mass movement. The time is now, let's build the network.
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