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A supply-and-demand approach to the arts?

October 10, 2008 |  4:31 am

Craig_smith_color_3 Does this man look like a dangerous radical?

Actually, Craig Smith is the very non-threatening classical music and arts critic for the Santa Fe New Mexican. But he has a rather unorthodox proposal for arts organizations during our global economic meltdown.

Smith e-mailed me in response to my Sunday story in The Times, "The Ageless Audience," examining the myth/reality of the graying audience for live performing arts. We ended up chatting a bit about the economy because, really, who talks about anything else these days?

Included in one of Smith's e-mails was this little gem: "Speaking as a former nonprofit administrator and fundraiser, I think [performing arts] groups should be looking to form partnerships or mergers, or even shut down and pass the assets on to healthier groups, if necessary, to keep their mission alive. As Jung quoted Freud: 'Sometimes the doctor should not try to cure at all costs.' Ditto for nonprofits: better to end an organization's life and pass assets on."

Whoa. We've all heard the phrase "art for art's sake" -- but how about giving up art for some other artist's sake? Somehow it's hard to imagine arts groups, fiercely individualistic -- dare we say egotistical -- as they are, hanging it up so another theater/symphony/dance company might survive.

A number of years ago I interviewed the president of a major East Coast symphony orchestra who suggested that, instead of complaining that the audience for live classical music is too small, orchestras should play fewer concerts. "I say take the OPEC approach -- reduce the supply of oil," said the executive, in an apt metaphor for these times. Not exactly Smith's point, but in the same vein.

Should arts groups be willing to call it their mission to preserve the arts community as a whole, even if that means merging with another -- or in the extreme, shutting down altogether?  "It would require self-sacrifice from some people, and put some out of a job quite possibly," Smith writes. "But organizations with similar missions banding together ... could save energy, time, and resources they could then apply to doing what they are supposed to do: help, excite, refresh, renew, feed, counsel, support, cheer, nourish, nurse, and heal."

What do you think? Let us know.

-- Diane Haithman

Photo courtesy of Santa Fe New Mexican

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