I just read a forthright open letter about challenges facing the performing arts in America today. (Thanks to Roland Tec and his blog Extra Criticum for bringing this to my attention.) The letter, penned by the Collective Arts Think Tank, a New York-based consortium, asserts that the performing arts ecosystem operates poorly and is under siege.
That view is consistent with the themes of the book Outrageous Fortune that was published a year ago. Outrageous Fortune surveyed the new play development landscape and playwright’s earnings to conclude that the theatre ecosystem is broken and new models are needed. If you’re active in theatre and haven’t read Outrageous Fortune, it deserves your attention.
The letter’s opening paragraph: “Most artists and arts professionals do what we do because we love the work. That is, we did not enter the field of contemporary dance, theater and performance art because it offered a stable career, high wages or broad acclaim, although all three would be welcome. We entered it because we felt compelled, driven, liberated, saved, or any combination of the above. That deep sense of calling has also engendered, in some cases, innovative, organic solutions to longstanding shortages and roadblocks, and in other cases counterproductive and damaging habits, practices and mindsets within the field. Following are examples of a few strategies that do work, and a few prevalent notions that we feel are outmoded and unhelpful.”
Like Outrageous Fortune, this letter is more a spur to further discussion than a prescription for cure (though it does take steps in that direction). Anyone active in the performing arts – artist, administrator or funder – should read this letter. And if you’re in the Puget Sound region, don’t be put off by the New York-centric nature of the letter; there’s plenty here relevant to us.