So, speaking of the NEA, what has Chairman Rocco gone and said now...
“You can either increase demand or decrease supply...Demand is not going to increase, so it is time to think about decreasing supply.”This is of a piece with Rocco's earlier controversial pronouncement, early in his tenure, that maybe the NEA should be focusing--more like a European culture ministry, frankly--on the best art America has to offer and leave Peoria (literally) to the local level. Or to put it another war, in a time of such scarcity, an agency like this is going to have be more selective--so let's make sure the funds are going to A-List talent.
“There is a disconnect that has to be taken seriously — our research shows that attendance has been decreasing while the number of the organizations have been proliferating,” he said. “That’s a discussion nobody wants to have.” Foundations and agencies like the endowment should perhaps reconsider re-allocating their resources, he said, perhaps giving larger grants to fewer institutions. “There might be too many resident theaters — it is possible,” he said. “At least we have to talk about it.”
Well I do certainly bristle at the thought of local arts scenes being left out in the cold completely, especially considering many are in states and townships that will probably be axing their arts funding entirely soon.
But-- I do think his introduction of the terms "supply and demand" are worth mulling over--just not necessarily in the context he means.
First we need to remember the context of these remarks was about new plays. (They were delivered at the Arena Stage's big new play festival in DC. Awwwk-ward...) So while this will even further anger playwrights out there, it's not as if he's saying "eliminate half of all theatres."
I, for instance, have long wondered whether even such a mecca as New York City can sustain ten or more mid-size nonprofit subscription-based theatres devoted to new plays. There clearly is not enough audience "demand" (in numbers) to buy that many tickets and/or subscriptions a year for New Play X, up front, no questions asked. Maybe enough to fill 2 or 3 such theatres year-round. Maybe enough to go to 10 or so scattered productions, buying single tickets along the way. But otherwise: I will go on the record saying that new play supply has outstripped ticket/subscription-buying demand in nonprofit Off Broadway land.
By qualifying this by stressing the ticket and subscription sales, I mean: "...at these prices." I might as well also add: "... at these production expenses."
Notice no one talks of a supply/demand problem for movies. Or bands.
That's because when the expenses are low and talent just keeps doing its thing, there is no such thing as "too much supply." That only becomes a problem with millions of dollars are spent on supplying the supply.
Maybe this used to be a problem with movies. But what made Indie Cinema possible and flourish--especially in the last decade--is the sudden cheapness of the equipment and the viability of Digital Video. And Netflix. The monetary investment that goes into making a film does not dry up the moment of the first screening--as it kind of does on the stage. The DVD copy of the film can be marketed and shown in perpetuity in a variety of venues and platforms.
Supply is only limited in an industry where the cost of supplying becomes prohibitively high.
Which leads to Rocco's follow up remarks in a (worth reading) blog post of his own:
There are 5.7 million arts workers in this country and two million artists. Do we need three administrators for every artist? Resident theaters in this country began as collectives of artists. They have become collectives of arts administrators. Do we need to consider becoming more lightly institutionalized in order to get more creativity to more audiences more often?Now, not to scapegoat Arts Administrators once again. And, I'm sure there's every reason to question his figures there. (How many "artists" don't necessarily identify as such on whatever census/poll he's citing?) But--worth thinking, again, about the expense of the supply.
In brief: how do we make the performance and "distribution" of new plays as (relatively) easy and inexpensive as shooting your own DV movie or circulating MP3's of your band?
In other words...eliminating the middleman?
I'll leave the rest to you. For a full account of the events at Arena check out their blog that recounts all the rowdy back and forth.
Oh, and by the way, NY Times? A statement posted on that official Arena Stage institutional blog by one of the session participants does not count as "the blogosphere" (let alone "reverberating through the blogosphere"), especially when posted by "the public relations and publications manager at Portland Center Stage."
No, this is what the blogosphere looks like. (i.e. people with blogs!)