Sunday, November 22, 2009

Troy 100 critic finds publisher in agreement

The following was first published in The Record.

Troy 100 Forum – a twice-annual gathering of business, political, community, educational, religious, and cultural leaders – met this week at Sage College to discuss “How Do Our Arts & Cultural Organizations Contribute To Our Community? “

New to Troy, this was my first chance to attend and I found the environment stimulating; it was reminiscent of other programs I have attended elsewhere such as F.O.C.U.S. Greater Syracuse, a community-wide visioning process.

One of the audience members used an opportunity during the session to criticize The Record; a couple other people defended us, to a point. The conversation centered on whether The Record does enough to publicize and promote the arts. The person complaining said we didn’t run a press release she had dropped off and it gravely hurt attendance of an event.

I mulled over the conversation, discussed it with our editor, and decided to write a public response. Here it is:

First of all, I took the speaker’s comments as a backhanded compliment. It is always good to hear that whether or not we publicize an event has an impact on audience attendance. That signals that our efforts – and our readers – are relevant.

Next, it important to say up front that we do some arts coverage well: Bob Goepfert in particular does a great job for our paper with theater, and Bob and others do a good job with big cultural events and some of the music scene. And we publish a modest cultural calendar on Thursdays.

But it must be said that I wholeheartedly agree with the criticism. There is more we could, should and ultimately, will do.

I am in the camp of folks – many of whom attended the forum at Sage - who feel that a strong arts community greatly improves my quality of life. Beyond just the entertainment value, the arts cultivate cultural understanding and encourage critical thinking and creativity among each of us. And I also buy into the research that shows the arts are vital to a local economy – whether it is in generating sales of art which help keep retail revenue local and artists employed, or it is attracting tourists who seek out the arts and spend money on other things, or it is presenting the picture of a very livable community to people and companies considering relocating here.

So, having established that the arts are indispensible and agreeing the complaint is valid … Where do we go from here?

I would like to say first that the door is open to any arts organization or individual artist to contact me and get me acquainted with your work. I have hit some of the highlights such as Troy Savings Bank Music Hall and Revolution Hall, but there are many more places and people I have not been exposed to in my short time in Troy. Send me a link to your Web site or a brochure, invite me for a tour, or tell me about an upcoming exhibit I should see.

I would also like to meet with groups and start to understand the linkages between organizations and artists. Covering an individual performance is one thing but writing more deeply about trends and issues that highlight and impact larger numbers of musicians, painters, actors, etc. – similar to the discussion held this week - may be more captivating for readers and helpful to the arts community.

And if there is someone who is both an experienced writer and deeply connected to the cultural scene – we have a particular need for the visual arts – who is inclined to moonlight as freelancer, contact our editor Lisa Lewis. The more voices in our paper, the better.

The newsroom and I will work this winter on how we can more effectively use our resources to cover the community and I can truthfully say that the arts are in my top three areas of interest for improving coverage. Hopefully, we can make some minor changes soon but look for bigger shifts as we head into spring.

And now I have a concern and a request of cultural organizations. I have heard from several spokespeople of these groups that they do not set aside monies to market their events locally because they depend on our editorial efforts among other things to get the word out. Our interdependence is mutual; please consider setting aside a small portion of your budget to grow your local audience through us. I would be more than willing to set down and brainstorm ways to do this that are cost-effective and draw new people to your venue or work.

The actress Glenn Close reportedly said, “All great art comes from a sense of outrage.” Here’s hoping that from the outrage of the speaker at Troy 100 this week comes a greater understanding and better journalism.

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