Archive for the ‘Current Events’ Category

Detroit Hip Hop Artists Capitalize on Social Networks

Monday, January 31st, 2011

You have heard from Hubert Sawyers III on this blog before and this time he is telling the story about a hip hop artist he is working with personally to build a grassroots campaign to fund his debut album via Kickstarter. From “Progress Report: Using Social Capital to Generate Startup Capital,”

When I first met David Allie Strauss aka D. Allie, I was not aware that he would become someone that I would be in constant contact with years down the road. Back then, D. was just another dude that I would share the occasional microphone. I have since retired my dreams of hip hop supremacy, but I am glad to see Dave still at it. He has impressed me with his growing cachet from years of performing, bartending and overall hustle to make his dream a reality. As a former brother-in-the-struggle in the realm of music, I realize music is mainly seen as just entertainment to the end-user and most artists aka entertainers rarely have the end-user in mind. These days, me and D. are on the verge of becoming business partners, mainly because he understands the end-user aka YOU are his boss(es). (Emphasis mine.)

Ah, if only every artist thought like this. It is important to embrace the fact that your audience is your customer, and your customer is your boss. Your job is to make them feel special, wanted, needed, (and if you are Justin Bieber), loved.

I met Dallie a year or two ago at a Tweetup as well as seeing him around town and I remember him distinctly, mostly because he was a nice person. He remembered me and bothered to take time to chat. Maybe he was thinking ahead, maybe he knew, two years ago, the importance of social capital, maybe the fact that he did not blow me off like a lot of cooler-than-though artists do is the reason I donated to his Kickstarter campaign and genuinely want to see him succeed.

Maybe? Absolutely.

A common theme I see creeping up in arts blogs as well as conversations “in the field” is a very us vs. them mentality. From the tone of the writing to the ideas expressed, there is very little that makes me want to be a part of the arts community online, despite the fact that I have every reason in the world to be wholly invested: I consider myself an artist, I come from a family of fine artists, musicians, composers, dancers, and actresses, and uh, I write a blog dedicated to the arts. And to be perfectly honest, most art blogs turn me off. There is so much complaining, so much name-calling, so much blaming for the state of affairs the arts are in, and little responsibility, little genuine community-building, and little problem-solving. (I may be missing something – so please, leave links in the comments.)

So, when I see this project, from someone I’ve met, who was nice to me, who isn’t a complainer…but a doer…I’m all about it, and you should be too.

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra to Be Funded Via Taxpayers?

Friday, November 26th, 2010

A state representative in Michigan, and former professional singer proposes a tri-county (Oakland, Wayne, Macomb) vote to use taxes to support the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

[Vicki] Barnett said the DSO is an endangered cultural gem that adds to the region’s quality of life and can help attract new businesses.

She said she was asked by DSO musicians who live in her district to consider a public tax to keep the orchestra viable and competitive with other major U.S. symphony orchestras.

I’m just curious, how many other orchestras are funded with tax dollars? I’m assuming this is not uncommon.

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The Government Hates Young Workers, Especially Women

Saturday, April 10th, 2010
LANSING, MI - MARCH 17:  Michigan Democratic P...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

I had no idea the topic of unpaid internships was so contentious when I first blogged about it on Let’s Level the Playing Field by Ruining Everyone’s Chances, as it elicited vociferous and emotional responses from readers and fellow arts bloggers alike. I assumed it was clear that by forcing arts organizations to pay set wages for specific periods of time, it would reduce the availability of internships and ultimately hurt the pool of hopeful interns trying to get their foot in the door. In the already-competitive world of the arts, depriving interns of choices just makes it that much more difficult to get necessary experience and resume-building opportunities.

Since then, the unpaid internship debate has been making some headlines, with pro and con opinions abounding online.

Wall Street Journal, “War on Interns: Making It Illegal to Work for Free”

While the Department of Labor may insist the world owes these kids a living, the truth is that many young workers are willing to trade free labor for a chance to demonstrate their skills and build a resume for the next job. Especially in a bad labor market, the choice college students face may be to work without pay, or hang by the beach.

This isn’t exploiting young people. It’s letting young people exploit an opportunity.

The Washington Examiner, “Obama’s war on internships (and female employment)

Pricing interns out of the market proves especially salient for women, who make up 76 percent of the internship pool nationwide, according to the American Psychological Association. When opportunities evaporate for would-be unpaid interns, women will be the hardest hit.

The Future Majority “Unpaid Internships Bridge on Slave Labor

Despite the overall con opinion, even Future Majority writer says,

I’ll admit I did unpaid internships while in college full time and working part time and many of the innovative online experiments I run in campaigns I am only able to do with the support of a staff of unpaid internships because campaigns don’t want to pay their staff to try new things. So I rely very heavily on interns both for support staff and for new and sometimes crazy ideas.

To be clear, it appears the administration is only cracking down on unpaid internships with for-profit organizations, which seems it would not greatly affect non-profit arts organizations, but who knows what the future holds.

The major flaw in thinking with those who want to crack down on unpaid internships is they believe organizations will replace all previous unpaid job opportunities with paid opportunities and pull from the same pool of unexperienced workers. Like it or not, most internships often include a component of “real” work in addition to the educational experience that is supposed to be provided, and employers offering internships are likely to be more discriminating about the prior experience of applicants when they have to pay for it. Furthermore, it seems odd to have to pay a student to give them an education – this model is unlike any educational model I’ve seen – which all require payment by the student for their learning experience (either through tuition or taxpayer support).

The most amusing response I read on the topic shed light on the ultimate hypocrisy of our government in this debate. From Donald Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek:

It’s unclear, however, why the same young people whom the President judges to be unfit to choose for themselves whether or not to work as unpaid interns at for-profit firms are fit to choose for themselves whether or not to work as unpaid interns at not-for-profit organizations.  So I urge this administration, which is ever-vigilant at protecting us from our irrational and helpless selves, also to prohibit young people from working as unpaid interns at not-for-profit outfits – such as political campaigns.

Indeed, Mr. Obama should not only apologize to the thousands of young, unpaid volunteers whom he exploited in 2008 for his own profit – namely, to win his election to the highest pulpit in the land – he should also give to each and every one of them back pay (with interest) for their efforts on his behalf.

The bottom line in this entire debate is that people should be free to work for free if they want to. End of story.  The argument that young people are too stupid to make the decision to work for free and are being exploited because they are afraid to call out evil would-be employers is just laughable! I’m assuming they are equally free to quit the job? The argument that only rich kids can afford to work for free is equally comical.

Again, increasing the wage of internships will not increase their availability and many people need to work for free to gain experience. If someone truly cannot afford to work for free, their path may be longer and more indirect or they may need to work two jobs (one paid in an unrelated field and one unpaid) in order to gain experience. The reality is, an unpaid internship is simply a formalized extension of the oldest business and networking advice, “Do people favors for free.” This puts you on their radar, shows you are a go-getter, and makes you far more likely to get a paid position when it becomes available.

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Pop Star Lily Allen Cheats a Charity to Party

Saturday, March 27th, 2010
Lily Allen @ Bush Hall 18/07/06
Image by neil365 via Flickr

Lily Allen does a disservice to the arts and her image,

“Smile” singer Lily Allen reportedly blew off the Institute for Contemporary Arts’ Annual Fundraiser Gala Party on Wednesday so she could go clubbing.

Allen, who was scheduled to perform at the event, backed out at the last minute, claiming she had come down with tonsillitis. But the purported illness apparently wasn’t enough to keep Allen from partying—the 24-year-old songbird was reportedly spotted at London club The Social on the night she was supposed to be lending her talents to the charity event.

Well, that’s just kind of sad. I don’t think there is much else to say.

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Breaking Stuff Is Cool

Saturday, March 27th, 2010
Mocad Winter '09 Exhibition
Image by gehad83 via Flickr

If you are interested in taking out any latent aggression you have over the passing of the HRC in an artistic way – or celebrate the home run for your team – you may want to check out MOCAD’s “Smash Art” event on Saturday night.

This wild, Duchamp-ian activity promises to be a rollicking experience for all participants. Artists, collectors and hangers-on are invited to come to MOCAD bearing at least one piece of original art each. Participants will then be encouraged to collectively smash, mutilate and destroy the works that they brought. Everyone will then be encouraged to work together to create a new and different, monumental art piece as a collective with all of the remnants of the smashed works. Art works and the tools to destroy them will not be provided by MOCAD. We request that no glass, dangerous materials or any hazardous products be used.

The event is free to anyone and takes place on March 27th at 6pm.

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ArtPrize Opens Again

Friday, March 26th, 2010
ArtPrize logo
Image via Wikipedia

I feel like ArtPrize just finished, and yet, here it is again, the world’s largest art prize – open to anyone anywhere in the world as long as they can match themselves and their art up with a venue in Grand Rapids, MI.

Venue registration runs March 15 to April 15; artist registration runs from April 19 to May 27. With a whopping first prize of $250,000, second place of $150,000, third place of $50,000 and $7,000 for 4th through 10th place – it would be crazy not to try!

ArtPrize is also one of the world’s freest competitions, in that anyone can compete with only a $50 entry fee and anyone can vote for the winner, online or via

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Subsidized Art vs. The Middle Class

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010
Il pleut
Image by Julie70 via Flickr

I can’t make up stuff like this. From the Telegraph, “Children’s art club closed as ‘too middle class’ “,

The Paint Pots Arts Club, in Hackney, London, will have its funding withdrawn at the end of the month as council officials said their monitoring had found that it was not reaching families with the most difficult needs.

The club is funded by one of the Government’s flagship Sure Start centres which are aimed at supporting new parents and offer health services, childcare and early learning and employment advice.

Mrs Ritches [the director of Paint Pots Arts Club] said: “Middle class mothers struggle with work, sleep deprivation, and post natal depression just like any other mother. But the Learning Trust officials concluded that 68 per cent of all users were white. I told them just because they are white does not mean they are middle-class. But they said you could work out their properties’ value from their postcodes.”

A letter to Mrs Ritches from officials said: “Based on our monitoring information, the Arts Club is not reaching the families who have the most difficult needs. Accordingly I have to advise you that the contract for the Arts Club will end on March 31st.”

The article goes on to explain that instead of helping the needy via art programs, more direct assistance is going to be used. I am of the opinion that if subsidy is ever to be used, cash subsidy is usually the best idea if the goal is to help individuals maintain their livelihood in a way they see fit, since it allows recipients to put the cash to its most urgent need, which may or may not be art classes for their children. It seems the idea to start the art club in the first place was misguided. But I don’t think governments are in the habit of doing feasibility tests to assess market demand for a target demographic prior to the inception of their programs. I think they like the “build it and see what happens” approach, which often ends in waste and disappointment.

Perhaps a feasibility test would have shown lower income families cannot even allocate the time or resources to sending their children to free art classes, since it could be perceived as setting an expectation of continued education (resources used) at home or in the future when there is no guarantee funding for such programs will be maintained – as evidenced by this bizarre charade with The Paint Pots Arts Club.

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Arts and Econ Links of Interest

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010
Graph of CO 2  (green), reconstructed temperat...
Image via Wikipedia
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More Fun with Arts Labor Markets

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010
A panoramic scene of Covent Garden, London and...
Image via Wikipedia

In a move sure to make many in the arts cheer, Prime Minister Brown launches a new program to help arts “graduates break into showbusiness“. According to BBC News, “The Creative Bursaries Scheme is designed to help graduates secure what would otherwise be unpaid internships.”

So, what is it that will keep these talented artists in fiscally viable positions once their paid internships run out? Does the availability of government-sponsored internships have any historical correlation to the availability of long-term life-sustaining work in an artist’s chosen field? As I’m sure we all know, talent is no guarantee of a payoff in life or in the arts. I’m sure any of us can point to dozens of supremely talented colleagues that have not yet gotten the lucky break they deserve so much. At the same time we could point to supremely financially well-off artists whose level of talent leaves much to be desired. (A coloratura who pointed to the ceiling each time she hit a high-E in a Michigan Opera Theatre production of Die Zauberflote comes to mind.)

Could these paid internships be sending the signal that a life in the arts is not only super fun, but more affordable than it really is?

I would say so. As I argued in my recent post, subsidizing an otherwise already desirable activity means you will get more people wanting to do that activity, not less. Even subsidizing less desirable activities (like low income home-buying) means you’ll get more of it (and more of the supposedly unforeseen and unintended consequences). This is public policy 101.

Furthermore, compensating differentials ensures the arts market will always be flooded with shiny, happy, eager labor – subsidy or not. Just ask any dozen or thousand fledgling sopranos looking for work if they would like to sing at Covent Garden for free. Don’t you think they would all beg, borrow, and steal to make sure they were on that stage? Do you think they would consider themselves as being exploited? Perhaps after a certain amount of time, but the evil, evil market would ensure that at some point, no soprano would be willing to sing for free forever. That is, unless she was Florence Foster Jenkins.

To quote Professor and Economist Bryan Caplan, from his econ syllabus,

A. Do people always choose the highest-paying occupation open to them?  No.  “Man does not live by bread alone.”

B. Conversely, does everyone refuse to do the truly miserable jobs (like garbage man)?  No.

C. Easy to analyze this using S&D: the funner the job, the more labor supply increases; the more horrible the job, the more labor supply decreases.

(And yes, this is the theoretical textbook effect, and yes, this is keeping all things constant.) So when subsidy is thrown into the mix, i.e. Fun Job with Higher Wage Than What the Market Demands – everyone gets really excited about it and compensating differentials ensures a steadily increasing stream of labor to the newly subsidized arts market.

As far as I can see it, there are roughly two sides of the argument. One says, “Good for the artists that get the jobs and the government probably should subsidize more. No worries about the other effects, as long as some people are better off.” The other, “A life in the arts is hard. That’s about it. No amount of subsidy will permanently change the labor market. The more you subsidize, the more enticing it becomes, and the steady stream of unemployed artist hopefuls will just keep rising.”

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More Loveland to Love

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

For those of you who caught my original post about Jerry Paffendorf’s Lovelandhe’s since been featured on NPR as well as announced he’s coming out with Loveland Season 2 Pre-Game: The Legend of the Ghost Inches which means, in plain english,

The second property hasn’t been purchased yet, so Jerry calls the investments “ghost inches.” When you purchase an inch, you get a nice little deed package containing a magnifying glass to better survey your territory. The little money from deed sales goes back into the project. He also hopes to use the “profits” to provide microgrants to other innovative urban development projects in the city.

Again, I’m a fan of this quirky idea. I only wish the property being inch-auctioned off was the glorious ruins of Michigan Central Station. Then again, would having tons of micro-investors help the historical site fare any better?

I’ll be curious to see how, and if, the micro-investing concept evolves. What kind of steps will micro-owners take to develop their tiny plots, if any? Or will it be just a novelty like when your high school boyfriend bought a star and named it after you? (Yes, there is a star out there with my name on it, I even have the coordinates.)

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