Saturday, April 05, 2008

Day 59 "In the trenches" ("Go to the phones!" edition)

Live-blogging the Pledge Drive here. If you want regime change--if you want a better world--if you want to do something local with global impact: invest in your local communities and, especially, in their human capital.

Part of that human capital is artists, and the infrastructures that support them. Really the single crucial insight of the sociologist Richard Florida's "Creative Capital" cottage industry, out of which he's now built an entire lucrative brand, is that, in the new millenium, what makes communities attractive for new jobs, new businesses, and new inhabitants having disposable income is their quality of life. It's not sports stadia, or expensive and ill-designed (because kicked-back to cronies) visitors' centers, or giant hotels.

Quality of life is created by people--not institutions, top-down dicta, or (even less) bricks-and-mortar buildings. All of those latter can help to enhance quality of life, but what creates quality of life is creative people: people who make art, who share art, who write things, dance things, teach things, share things. If you want to attract young metrosexuals with disposable income who will buy homes and boost your tax base, you need first to attract the painters, musicians, dancers, baristas, attorneys, programmers, and teachers whose creative productions make the community and appealing place to live.

Part of how you do that is by providing the resources that creative people need to make their art work: some spaces for gallery shows; a willingness to collaborate between campus- and community-based projects; some visibility for the artists' work so they can find an audience.

Typically, in towns this size, these things don't all work: the "Arts Association" will be dominated by amateur would-be artists who are threatened by anything more challenging then representational landscapes (or, even worse, oils of cowboys or Noble Native Americans), the local orchestra's programming will be slanted toward a graying and shrinking audience and its attempts to reach out to the "youngsters" will betray its disorientation, the local arts council will be dominated by developers, promoters, or advertisers, the single local arts reviewer will be a bitter and frustrated would-be "screenwriter" who's never sold anything and won't cop to the fact that he knows less than nothing about theater, music, or the visual arts (but who nevertheless hates anybody who, you know, actually makes art).

And, too often, the local public radio station will be equally dominated by folks who backed into the gig when other plans didn't work out. That doesn't mean they're necessarily not good at the job--one of my early public radio mentors, the great Michael Bourne, backed into Indiana's NPR affiliate when he decided he didn't want to write a dissertation, and he's one of the great jazz radio hosts ever--but it does tend to mean that some are people who thought their lives were going to wind up differently. That in turn can mean that they're really locked-in to their public radio jobs because they don't think they can do something else, or are bitter about being "prevented" from doing something else--and in turn take this out in uptight programming, an attachment to "the way we've always done things," or just general recalcitrance. All of these behaviors were visible at the IU station where Dharmonia and I started.

That's what makes this place so extraordinary. They're folks who really like their jobs, are massively engaged throughout the community in parallel infrastructure projects (Program Director is also one of the most in-demand accompanists, General Manager is a storm-chaser for local TV and teaches media courses, that kind of thing), and they really grasp, consciously, that the best thing they can do with the incredible resource that public radio access represents is to interface with the rest of the arts community. Maybe partly because Dharmonia had previous experience in public radio--and in the kinds of stupid resistance that some public radio types have to such interface--we are very conscious of how unusual and valuable this is, and are very willing to pull our weight by producing local programming and lending a hand with the bi-annual pledge drives (though I can't help but visualize some cotton farmer riding in his air-conditioned Massey-Ferguson haymow's cabin, listening to public radio, and calling his wife on the cell phone to say "Mavis, I think some damnYankee has takin' over the raydio station!").

Tune in here, this week 4-6pm CDT, and hear us building local arts infrastructure in the public-radio trenches, in real time. Maybe even throw 'em a few bucks.

No comments: