Friday, April 11, 2008

Day 64 "In the trenches" (crystalline-blue edition)

Counting down on the public-radio pledge drive--last two hours to pledge. Dharmonia said to me, en route from campus to radio station, "How come you do 2 hours a day for the whole week?" Of course, she knows the ethical ideals and goals that drive this kind of involvement (see this past week's posts for the nth iteration of those reasons), and she's certainly heard me rant and rehearse them.

But, 10 hours out of the last 3 weeks of the semester is in fact a pretty heavy investment of time. Of course, it's a little easier because you can sit there between live pledge breaks and tap tap on the computer, reading/ranking study-abroad scholarships, blogging, grading papers, etc--but it's still a pretty good-sized chunk of time. So why do it, beyond the high-flown reasons?

Well, another good one is that it represents absolutely massive virtual "face-time". Dharmonia and I used to do the annual pledge drive in Bloomington, because we were lowly hourly part-timers and we had to be there. But it was also fun, because there, in a relatively uptight and conservative public-radio environment, the one week of the annual pledge drive was a chance to kick over the traces, improvise, have fun, make comical pitch "carts" (cartridges--the old 8-track technology which was the standard method of delivering -0:30 second audio in the old days), and so on. There were some incredibly creative folks there (shout-out here to the great Chris Rund, author of the hilarious "How to Recycle Your Old NPR Coffee Mugs" series, and to Thomas Irvine, who voiced a particularly Yiddish version of Bonaparte: "Ah don' need a tote-BAG-uh!") and the pledge drives, though tense, were also the "funnest" events.

So, when we moved down here to the Great Flat, Dharmonia and I knew darned well that we were going to need both the station's resources (because she was going to need to continue producing her national program from here) and also the station's support. We'd had 11-12 years working public radio in a relatively conservative programming environment, and seeing the kind of visibility that radio could provide for local arts initiatives if only the folks making programming decisions could understand their capacity to help or hinder--but chose not to.

When we got here, and met the local public radio people, the vibe was immediately different. Partly this was just the difference between close-mouthed Midwestern social behaviors versus "Hah, how're yeew?!?" openness in West Texas. But it was also that the staff understood that their station, much younger and running much leaner than the Indiana operation, and founded by a bunch of classical-music fanatics even before they had an NPR license, had the capacity to be much more engaged with and responsive to the local arts community--and, if they were smart, should be. That in turn meant that the local staff were very glad to have a couple of new music faculty members arrive in town with some pre-existent skills at fund-raising.

So when they asked us to help out with their pledge drive, we said "Hell yeah!" It's not hard for us to do, we have a bunch of chops at it, and the staff are so happy to have a couple of extra energetic bodies that they're very receptive to what we bring to the table.

And, I knew damned well that 2 hours a day for 5 days twice a year, during the 4-6pm All Things Considered segment when all the upper-administration suits are listening, couldn't be wasted time. In fact, it's prime Face Time. The vice provost for academics of the university, a fervent supporter of the station and its direct supervisor, always makes a point of being on-air during the pledge drive. To be introduced to him as a co-pitcher, within the first 3 months of starting work, and hanging out with him for a week between pledge breaks, was invaluable networking. He damned sure recognized me in the coffee shop thereafter.

If you're a working artist, or a teacher working in the arts, then outreach, public education, public visibility--"Face Time"--is not just ego-candy, not just personal career development, but an essential part of hacking out a place for your art and art like yours in the undergrowth of administrative budgeting and community consciousness. I've blogged before about the crucial role that arts types have to take in generating awareness and sharing ideas across faculties and campuses, because other faculty are usually so busy that they haven't got the time to to inform themselves about colleagues' activities. That means that we have to find tactful but effective ways of selling ourselves, as a way of selling the value of what we do.

As working artists, and especially as performing artists, we embody the art that we do: singing, playing, dancing, acting, and so on. That means that the community needs to learn to associate us, quite literally and quite physically, with the art that we do. Face Time for us is Face Time for the art--and, by extension, awareness of and support for the art that we make.

And that's why Face Time matters. Go to the phones!

Below the jump: more crystalline-blue on the South Plains.

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