The “three faces of time” in arts participation

Andries van den Broek has a really cool new paper in Cultural Trends this year. It’s entitled “Arts participation and the three faces of time: A reflection on disentangling the impact of life stage, period and socialization on arts participation, exemplified by an analysis of the US arts audience

It’s a really neat way of thinking about the temporal aspects of culture, and completely original as far as I know (though van der Broek points out that analysis of generational cohorts goes back to Comte).

Here’s a taste of his argument:

This is the history of the arts participation of a fictitious character, Pete. At the end of 2013, he’ll be 50 years of age, which implies he was born in 1963. He is not particularly keen on visual arts or theatre, though he visits the odd exhibition and performance. He is more into rock concerts, but also attends the occasional classical music concert and art house movie.

How come his cultural repertoire is like that? Is this typical of his being 50? (Do other people at the same life-stage typically display a pattern like that?) Or, is this typical of 2013? (Does it reflect what is the cultural offer that year?) Or, is it typical of someone who grew up in the 1970s? (Does it relate to a taste pattern acquired in that era?) It’s probably the case that Pete’s cultural repertoire is affected by all three (and, of course, by many other factors too). But, which aspect of Pete’s cultural repertoire can be attributed to the fact that he is 50; which aspect relates to it being 2013, and which aspect to his having grown up in the 1970s?

van der Broek goes on to do some stats on the effects of these three frames, using US data from the NEA’s Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. This allows him to tease out the differences between, say, the formative cultural experiences of generational cohorts from, say, the effects of their life-cycle in determining their participation patterns. Overall, he finds that people are not participating in as much culture as they used to, and that the composition of artforms does change.

And what is that change? One of the main ones is that fewer people are interested in classical music. Younger generations are not replacing the cohorts of classical lovers that are slowly dying.

Most importantly, though, van der Broek finds that arts participation (at least as measured by the NEA) is declining in the US. “All in all, the upshot is that the future of arts participation is not threatened by the cultural behaviour of recent (or future) as compared to earlier cohorts, but by a general decline in arts participation irrespective of cohort (and of age).”

In summary, a really interesting paper and one that I expect I will be returning to.

New art is popular

This article appeared in Crikey on April 8th.

Celeste Boursier-Mougenot "From here to ear (v. 13) 2010". Mixed media, exhibited at the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane. Image: Queensland Art Gallery.

Your correspondent was in Brisbane last weekend, where he was able to spend a couple of afternoons at the Gallery of Modern Art’s latest contemporary art exhibition, 21st Century: Art in the First Decade.

The gallery was filled with people from across the demographic spectrum: young hipster couples, tourists, senior Australians, and families. So many families. This is an exhibition that seems to to capture the imagination of kids, as well as those who refuse to grow up.

And who can blame them? This particular vision of art in the 21st century could be criticised for many things (some have even used that most devastating of artworld barbs: “safe”), but one thing you can’t fault is its sense of sheer, innocent joy. GOMA’s take on the art of the past decade is filled with the interactive, the relational and the funny, from Martin Creed’s room filled full of purple balloons (Work No. 965: Half the air in a given space (purple)) to Carsten Holler’s signature slippery dip Test site, and from Rikrit Tiravanija’s key relational work — a Thai meal for four — to Olafur Eliasson’s giant Lego play pen, The cubic structural evolution project.

Martin Creed, "Work No. 956" (2008), exhibited at the Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane. Image: Queensland Art Gallery / Natasha Harth

Of these, Holler’s Test site is something of a signature work of the show, dominating the gallery hall over two levels as visitors enter the space. Crikey’s correspondent was struck by the long stretching lines of kids queuing to go on the slides.

Two of the most popular works at the show were interactive and tinged with a sophisticated play of emotions: Rivane Neuenschwander’s wall of ribbons with wishes printed on them, I wish your wish, and the indoor finch aviary of Celeste Boursier-Mougenot’s From here to ear (v.13). Neuenschwander’s work knowingly winked at the unattainability of so many of our hopes and dreams (Crikey particularly enjoyed “I wish I was a famous cricket player”), while Boursier-Mougenot’s work echoes some of the best installation work of the past two decades, such as Hirst’s 1000 Years, and takes it in a sadder, quieter and more sublime direction.

The exhibition certainly has several potential flaws. As a show substantially built up from the gallery’s own collection, it has an unashamedly Asia-Pacific focus; many of the works chosen to represent important artists such as Damien Hirst, Tracy Emin, Julian Opie and Chris Ofili are far from the best examples of their ouevre. On the other hand, this Asia-Pacific collection is the gallery’s obvious strength, and has taken on a chilling importance with the recent imprisonment of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, whose Painted vases are a part of the show.

A show such as this is something of a risk for a big gallery — or at least once might have thought to have been — especially in comparison to tried and tested blockbuster exhibitions of old masters. Hence, it must be gratifying for the gallery to mount such a well-attended show, despite the devastating floods of summer. Brisbane’s Gallery Of Modern Art/Queensland Art Gallery complex is now themost popular art gallery in the country, according to recently released figures.

It’s indeed interesting that two of the most exciting recent exhibitions in contemporary art in this country have occurred at Brisbane’s GOMA and in Hobart, where the Museum of Old and New Art, or MOMA, continues to wow Australian contemporary art lovers with a collection whose breadth and vision is unmatched in the country (for a recap, have a look at Andrew Frost’s episode of Artscape for ABC-TV).

According to Queensland Art Gallery director Tony Elwood, speaking on a panel discussion as part of 21st Century’s talks program: “We are a soft target because we are innovative and because we are in Brisbane. We work twice as hard to get half the recognition because we are in Brisbane.”

Pointing to criticisms that the exhibition is something of a “fun park”,  he answers: “It’s just disappointing that … by demonstrating just how much we want to reach out to whole ranges of audiences, that we then become a target. Contemporary art is always going to be the most critiqued and the most misunderstood of all the different art histories.”

As a result, Elwood says the gallery worked particularly hard on the ancillary aspects of the exhibition: its didactic panels, itscomprehensive blog and the handsome catalogue. The catalogue is notable for a typically clever essay on the theory of contemporary art by the inimitable Rex Butler, who canvasses the Duchampian nature of the exhibition in a few stylish paragraphs, before declaring, in a wonderful double movement, that “the new motto for art in the 21st century should be ‘Please don’t touch’.”

He means that, as art “increasingly heads towards a condition of total immersion, of a psychedelic or even neurological model”, it also embodies a contradiction: “It would be something of the hand … in an age of digitality.”

Of course, you don’t need to understand the history of modern art to enjoy 21st Century — and that’s precisely the point. In its large-scale installations for children, in particular, the exhibition demonstrates just how vibrant and enjoyable a commitment to new art can be. This really is living art.


New York Times paywall: round-up of the analysis

Nieman Journalism Labs’ Tom Coddington has a great round-up of the decision by the New York Times to introduce a pay-wall:

There were a couple pieces written supporting the Times’ proposal: Former CBS digital head Larry Kramer said he’d be more likely to pay for the Times than for the tablet publication The Daily, even though it’s far more expensive. The reason? The Times’ content has consistently proven to be valuable over the years. (Tech blogger John Gruber also said the Times’ content is much more valuable than The Daily’s, but wondered if it was really worth more than five times more money.) Nate Silver of Times blog FiveThirtyEight used some data to argue for the Times’ value.

The Times’ own David Carr offered the most full-throated defense of the pay plan, arguing that most of the objection to it is based on the “theology” of open networks and the free flow of information, rather than the practical concerns involved with running a news organization. Reuters’ Felix Salmon countered that the Times has its own theology — that news orgs should charge for content because they can, and that it will ensure their success. Later, though, Salmon ran a few numbers and posited that the paywall could be a success if everything breaks right.

There were more objections voiced, too: Both Mathew Ingram of GigaOM and former newspaper journalist Janet Coats both called it backward-looking, with Ingram saying it “seems fundamentally reactionary, and displays a disappointing lack of imagination.” TechDirt’s Mike Masnick ripped the idea that people might have felt guilty about getting the Times for free online.

One of the biggest complaints revolved around the Times’ pricing system itself, which French media analyst Frederic Filloux described as “expensive, utterly complicated, disconnected from the reality and designed to be bypassed.”Others, including Ken Doctor, venture capitalist Jean-Louis Gassee, and John Gruber, made similar points about the proposal’s complexity, and Michael DeGusta said the prices are just too high. Poynter’s Damon Kiesow disagreed about the plan structure, arguing that it’s well-designed as an attack on Apple’s mobile paid-content dominance.


Audience demographics for New South Wales museums and galleries

Museums and Galleries NSW, the peak body for that sector in the Australian state of New South Wales, has just released an extensive audience survey. Entitled Guess Who’s Goingto the Gallery? A Strategic Audience Evaluation and Development Study, it’s a fascinating trove of demographic information about 32 museums and galleries across New South Wales.

Some of the top-line findings highlighted by the report’s authors include:

  •  One persistent finding across galleries and across regions is the skew towards females and towards the over 55’s in the audience base.
  • Around 2 in 3 visitors are female (rule of thumb) and nearly half (47%) of the audience is over 55’s. Both of these are over represented in galley audiences compared to the relevant ABS data.
  • Metro Audiences are younger than the region audiences (41% vs 30% under 44 years old). However the regional population is generally older than metro population (37% vs 18% over 55 years)
  • Also, it is interesting the public gallery audiences skew away from the under 35’s whereas the age group in the middle (35-54, ie: “the family age band”) are relatively proportionate to ABS data (around a third or 32%). In other words, the increase in over 55’s appears to be offset by the dip in under 35’s.
  • audiences in NSW public galleries are showing a skew towardstertiary degrees, particularly post-graduate degrees
  • Interest in the types of events, public programs and exhibitions at the gallery varies primarily by demographic segment. In general, younger audience members (under 35’s) show different tastes to older audience members, and in particular younger audiences have a greater interest in live performance and music at the gallery (whereas older audiences are more interested in artist talks and workshops), and have a greater interest in contemporary art and emerging art forms such as digital media arts.

Why are orchestras so worried?

From my article on the ABC’s The Drum/Unleashed website today:

… when we talk about cultural policy in this country, the debate is always dominated by one issue: funding for cultural institutions. That’s not because they’re more worthy, more noble or more excellent than all the other things a cultural policy might fund or regulate. It’s because a noisy and well-organised arts lobby has made cultural policy all about funding for a small number of privileged organisations.

And how they scream when someone – anyone – suggests that perhaps we should take a second look at the status quo.

In late July, for instance, prominent composer and opera director Richard Mills let loose a cannonade in The Age, blasting attempts to “to advocate a radical reallocation of government funding” and launching a bizarre assault on the cultural validity of art forms like jewellery and new media arts, which he memorably described as “meretricious, self-serving claptrap.” The article was apparently an excerpt from a piece commissioned by the Australia Council itself, and is due to appear on its website soon.

The tirade was picked up by The Australian a week later, in an article by Rosemary Sorensen which gave Mills’ views a prominent splash in the national daily’s arts pages.

“From where I sit,” says Mills – the composer is also artistic director of West Australian Opera – “these don’t seem to be friendly times for the major performing arts sector and there is, in the industry, a perception of subliminal disapproval of our work emanating from Canberra that is puzzling and frustrating.”

On ABC1 News in Sydney this week, the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s Richard Tognetti went even further, whipping up a non-issue into a frenzy of fear and loathing. In one of ABC News’ less balanced efforts, viewers were informed – literally while violins played in the background – that “leading orchestras fear for their future because of potential government funding cuts”. There are no cuts announced, of course – but that didn’t stop Tognetti from warning that “one of the orchestras or leading companies might be destroyed.” Wearing his hippest flannelette shirt, Togentti was given just enough rope to say some very silly things indeed… such as “it’s a bit like saying we’ll burn all the books because we’ve all got iPads now.”

John Nicoll on the cargo-cult of screenwriting in Australia

The Black Balloon, which featured an AFI-winning script by writer Jimmy Jack, is a rare example of Australian film in which a script was developed by a non-writer/director

In today’s Australian Financial Review (a paywalled site, so there’s no link I can show you), John Nicoll has an excellent dissection of the script-mania that sees to be gripping Australian screen funding bodies.

Nicolls makes the point that:

the big funding agencies have themselves elevated scripts to god-like status with the creation of super script workshops, where a handful of carefully selected are put through intensive work-shops.

I’m going to reproduce some of Nicoll’s article at length over the fold, because I think its such a worthwhile exploration of this issue. What emerges is yet another false idol in the ongoing cargo-cult mentality of Australin screen policy (a problem I’ve analysed with my colleague Alex Burns in a forthcoming academic paper for Media International Australia) .

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The Australia Council turns its back on contemporary culture … again

The Australia Council has just released a major new piece of audience research. Entitled More than bums on seats: Australian participation in the arts, it’s a weighty and significant contribution to the field which features statistically significant market research surveys of more than 3,000 ordinary Australians.

Unfortunately, it suffers from some of the typical prejudices and problems of so much Australia Council policy and research.

Most notable is the definition of “the arts.” Perhaps for reasons of funding, or perhaps for political reasons, the research has defined “the arts” in a very narrow sense, essentially confining “the arts” to music, writing, visual arts and performance. Film and television – according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the most popularly consumed form of culture – are ignored, and, astonishingly, so are the digital arts and cultural expressions, like gaming.

It’s hard to believe that after all the debate and criticism of  the Australia Council’s recent history by people like Keith Gallasch, Marcus Westbury and myself, when it comes to the most significant piece of audience research by the agency in a decade, vast swathes of Australia cultural participation are simply ignored. But it’s happened. Again.

Here is the relevant paragraph, on page 13 of the report:

The focus of the study is upon the art forms that are supported by the Australia Council (visual arts and crafts, music, dance, theatre, literature). The definitions were agreed after a thorough consultation within the Australia Council and with key stakeholders.

So there you go: “the arts” are what the Australia Council funds. Unfortunately, this not only leaves out the most important cultural expression of the 20th century (cinema), it also ignores many of the important emerging cultural expressions of the 21st (gaming and digital culture). Sure, there are some cursory reference to “digital/video art” in the visual arts section, but you won’t actually find the words “games” or “gaming” anywhere in the report. Gobsmacking.

Moreover, it seems like a step back from recent well-intentioned efforts by OzCo to address digital culture. After looking at today’s  effort, one has to ask why the Australia Council even bothers with its “Arts Content for the Digital Era” strategy if it’s not going to bother to measure the most important forms of interactive digital culture.

It’s not that this isn’t a highly informative piece of research. Like the last such exercise, the Saatchi research report from the early 2000s, More than bums on seats represents important new data on the state of cultural participation in this country. I”ll be delving into it in more detail this week.

Still, it’s another piece of evidence of the ostrich-headed policy direction of the Australia Council under Kathy Keele. More than bums on seats is rather less than the full picture of cultural participation. What a shame.

Lyndon Terracini on “why our art’s in the wrong place”


Lyndon Terracini (source: Opera Australia website).

The former Director of the Brisbane Festival and incoming Artistic Director of Opera Australia, Lyndon Terracini, has orchestrated a well-publicised spray at Australia’s major performing arts sector in today’s Australian.

In an article by Michaela Boland, Terracini previews a speech today to the Australian Business Arts Foundation, which will dovetail with a forthcoming publication with Currency House:

Lyndon Terracini, the former artistic director of the Brisbane Festival, has arrived at the opera company with a bold vision to make it more accessible and more representative of the community. He believes storytelling in Australia has become predictable and conservative, and is concerned it lacks creative inspiration.

Even productions acclaimed as visionary, such as Benedict Andrews’s epic War of the Roses and the plays of Barrie Kosky, fall short of his expectations.

“I don’t think they have the element of daring that Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll had,” Terracini told The Australian on the eve of his speech.

Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, staged at the Melbourne Theatre Company in 1955, was the first mainstage Australian production, and signalled the end of British domination of the Australian theatre. Such a landmark effort is difficult to replicate.

“The work we are doing now is much more professional, even sophisticated, but where is our core ethos?” Terracini said.

“What has happened to the boldness and cavalier daring of our performing aesthetic? We’ve become comfortable, the art we’re making is very comfortable and we’ve become mean-spirited.”

In a speech in Melbourne hosted by arts publisher Currency House and the Australia Business Arts Foundation, which will be repeated in Sydney next week, Terracini will accuse contemporary artists of lacking courage in their work. He intends to pour scorn on the major performing arts companies for selecting performers from a limited ethnic pool.

“How many indigenous faces do you see in the SSO, MSO, Brisbane’s orchestras or the ACO? We’re not seeing them, and we should ask why,” he said.

Terracini intends to rectify the racial sameness that is obvious at Opera Australia.

“Opera companies have remained the same since their inception and the world has changed dramatically,” he said. “Yet 200 years ago the role of an opera company was very different to now. Opera used to be what the movies are now. People for all sorts of reasons may have had a prejudice about coming to opera, but once they come you can bet they will adore it,” he said.

Oh really? I’m not sure  if the stats would back that assertion up.  Continue reading

Creative destruction in the games industry

Necessary Force screen shot ... the demo couldn't save Midway in the UK

Necessary Force screen shot ... the demo couldn't save Midway in the UK

At The Guardian, Keith Stuart has a full and detailed description of the death throes of the Newcastle, UK studio of games company Midway.

… it all panned out like a typical studio closure. Often there are a few days, maybe even weeks, of confusion and uncertainty. Then the CEO arrives with awkward platitudes. Then the administrators roll in. Before this, the process of moving on will already have begun for the staff. It’s a tight community in the UK; news spreads fast via closed industry forums and business contacts. Everyone knows someone at another studio. CVs fly out via email to other publishers or to the many recruitment agencies specialising in the games industry.

Continue reading

Fewer people are visiting Melbourne parks

Seeing as its a gorgeous spring afternoon in Melbourne, I thought I’d keep it in theme and add a quick post about a study on Melbourne parks from the journal Managing Leisure.

It’s by Sharyn McDonald and Garry Price from La Trobe University. Their paper “Addressing declining metropolitan park use: A case study of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia” [Volume 14, Issue 1 January 2009 , pages 28 – 37] uses data from the government agency Parks Victoria to discover declining patronage in Melbourne’s municipal parks.

This refreshingly straight-forward paper asks:

“With competition for time and money a major constraint on the activities of many leisure seekers, metropolitan parks offer accessible, low-cost activities that can be scheduled into a small amount of free time. So why is there a decline in the number of visitors to Melbourne’s metropolitan parks?”

The reason? A number of factors including lack of playgrounds, strong competition from other leisure activities like shopping and sport, and, interestingly, a lack of parking are mentioned.

Possible solutions? Better marketing, for instance a public campaign informing local residents of alternative transport and lifestyle options, such maps showing bike paths, public transport routes and parks. MacDonald and Price also suggest that partnerships could be developed and strengthened between local municipalities and local sporting clubs who use co-located facilities in parks.