The Sally Field Problematic in Dance/USA’s e-journal

A little commentary/essay I wrote was just published in the Dance/USA e-journal. You can see the whole piece here, and here’s an excerpt:

“Times are perennially hard for modern dancers,” wrote Guelda Voien in the New York Observer this past summer, “but company managers, dancers and grants groups said the current climate may be among the most difficult they’ve ever faced.” Here in Washington, D.C., arts organizations large and small have been impacted by the general economic recession. Part of our concern as a field, highlighted by Voien’s piece, is whether giving has declined (and will rebound), or whether it is in decline and we have yet to hit bottom. The key question in this moment is: who, or what, is to blame for these hard times?

Research in The Americans for the Arts (AFTA) State of the Arts (2009) report makes a case for our field’s troubles being about more than the economic recession. The numbers show that, “between 1998 and 2007, the percentage of foundation funding directed to the arts decreased from 14.8 to 10.6 percent. The corporate giving share to the arts decreased from 10.3 to 4.6 percent during the same period.” The arts are losing philanthropy market share, and while recent hardship may be entirely related to the economy, the AFTA report shows that as an industry our relative value is in question….

….The AFTA data deal with all the arts – not just dance – and many of the problems faced by the dance field today are challenges shared by other fields. Like dance, jazz music is having a difficult decade, and, like dance, perhaps there is no single cause to blame. Writing in 2008 about the decline of jazz music, critic Marc Myers wrote, “Our quest for simplicity always demands a date and time for major historical turning points. The truth is that the reasons for most major events such as Rome’s fall or the Great Depression are a bunch of little factors that converge at roughly the same time and feed off each other.” Managers in the arts are struggling to balance audience building with the creation of valuable new repertory and the dwindling audience’s preference for things they already know. Simultaneously, in this down economy, foundations that already have less to give are prioritizing feeding people over providing arts opportunities.

Again, click here to read the piece on the Dance/USA site. BIG thank you to dance/usa journal editor Lisa Traiger for her help on the piece.