Networked_Music_Review

Uncertainty About Our Survival

To those of you who have already contributed to our fundraising campaign, thank you. We are deeply grateful.

As we look at 2009, there is real uncertainty about our organization’s survival. Faced with rapidly declining funds, we must either require a membership fee — thereby blocking public access to our sites; or we must take them all offline: Turbulence.org, Networked_Performance, Networked_Music_Review, and New American Radio.

We do not wish to do either.

At this point our only hope is that those of you who have not yet contributed to our Campaign for Sustainability will decide to do so.

Networked_Performance alone is accessed by 32,000 unique visitors per month; many of you return three or more times. If each of you were to give $5.00, we could continue to make our sites freely available.

Please act now. Pay via PayPal on the Turbulence homepagehere or mail a check to:

New Radio and Performing Arts, Inc.
124 Bourne Street
Roslindale
MA 02131

Thanks.

Helen and Jo
***********

The following interview with Salvatore Iaconesi and penelope.di.pixel, hosted on artsblog.it, details our understanding and experience of new media arts funding in the U.S. It is is the first in a series of interviews that analyze some of the issues of the rising financial crisis. Marc Garrett of Furtherfield and Simona Lodi of Torino Share Festival have also been interviewed. Go here or here, or read below:

Helen Thorington, Jo-Anne Green and Turbulence.org: let’s begin with a short introduction for the reader…

New Radio and Performing Arts, Inc. (NRPA) was founded in 1981– almost 28 years ago. At that time and until 1998, it commissioned artists to create original work for the public radio system (now some 797 public stations across the country). Our series, New American Radio (NAR), was a weekly national series which, in hindsight, was probably better known among radio art enthusiasts in Europe (thanks to the efforts of its then associate director, Regine Beyer) than in the US, where bottom line thinking (does this program bring in enough money?) had already infected the public system.

Note: In the United States, the public radio and television systems are not supported by annual license fees. Touted as commercial free, a small percentage of their budgets come from the federal government; the remainder from corporate “sponsors”, private foundation grants, individual donations and underwriting spots (resembling advertisements on commercial broadcasting).

Because of public radio’s dependent status, New American Radio (1987-1998) was classified early on as “minority programming” (translation: it didn’t have a large, well-to-do audience that donated substantially to the broadcasting stations); over the years the number of stations airing the programs declined; money became scarce; and in 1998 we let it go. 300 works from the series are now archived in Wesleyan University’s World Music Archive in Connecticut; 140 works are available for audition on the New American Radio.

In anticipation of NAR’s end, we extended the organizations mandate to include commissioning artists to create new work (net/web art) for the Internet, and in early 1996, launched the Turbulence website (http://turbulence.org). Funded by government and private foundations, Turbulence, like NAR, has been free to the public since its inception.

In 2002 Jo-Anne Green joined the organization as co-director. It is to her that we owe the studios, spotlight, and guest curator’s sections and — of even greater significance today — the research and blogging that makes possible the world-famous Networked_Performance blog, and (with Helen and Peter Traub) Networked_Music_Review. She also started Upgrade! Boston, one of 32 nodes comprising Upgrade! International. Jo-Anne’s most recent Turbulence project is “Networked: a (networked_book) about (networked_art)”.

NRPA is also responsible for co-organizing and co-presenting: the annual “Floating Points” speaker series on networked art at Emerson College in Boston, MA; a series of symposia on “Programmable Media” at Pace University in New York City; and several exceptional exhibitions, including “Mixed Realities”, which explored the convergence — through cyberspace — of real and synthetic places made possible by computers and networks.

During these months Europe began confronting the financial crisis that is spreading out from american markets: what are the characteristics of this crisis in the USA and which are the most clearly visible damages and repercussions, starting from your direct experience in Turbulence?

First a little history:

The United States’ support for the arts declined dramatically sixteen years ago, when right wing politicians objected to tax payer money being granted to performance artists Karen Finley, Tim Miller, John Fleck, and Holly Hughes. The Republican Party legislated that the federal arts funding agency could no longer provide grants to individual artists; during the Clinton administration, they attempted to abolish the agency altogether.

The following details a part of the context in which we live today.

A little over a year ago, the Guardian reported that Arts Council England funding would increase from £417m (2007) to £467m in 2010-11. Astonished by this news, we immediately compared these figures with those of our own federal agency, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). We found that the 2007 NEA appropriation was $125 million (£61m) for a population of over 300 million. Arts Council England’s 2007 appropriation of £417m ($855 million) was for a population of 61 million.

Intrigued by the post on Networked_Music_Review, a blogger by the name of Robin took the exercise one step further. He added Ireland and Canada to the comparison and created a chart (http://noisetheatre.blogspot.com/2007/10/comparing-national-arts-budgets.html). The results in € per person: US: .286 Canada: 3.96 UK: 9.86 Ireland: 18.6. Robin concluded “So, in the United States they’ll flip you a quarter and say “good luck”, in the UK you’ll get a tenner, but in Ireland each person has 19 euros of their tax money put towards the arts.”

But there is more.

In his first interview on “Meet the Press” since winning the election, President-elect Barack Obama discussed his plans to make an impact through arts and culture at the White House, saying that they are “thinking about the diversity of our culture and inviting jazz musicians and classical musicians and poetry readings in the White House so that, once again, we appreciate this incredible tapestry that’s America.” While this support is unprecedented, the tapestry to which it refers is conspicuously lacking in any but traditional forms.

We write this because it underlines an additional two-fold problem for us – one that existed here before the economic crisis occurred.

1) Funding organizations are largely comprised of staff — whose backgrounds are in the traditional arts — who bring together panels largely comprised of individuals with backgrounds in the traditional arts. For two years in a row now, Turbulence has gone unfunded by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) because the panelists have not known how to navigate a website. Each year we write more detailed instructions: do this, do that…look for this, look for that. Each year the Endowment asks us to do still more. This year’s suggestion: make a film of one of us navigating through the proposed artist’s site, so panelists can view the work in a traditional form (video).

2) Creative practice on the Internet has blurred distinctions between one form of practice and another. Nima Motamedi developed “Keep in Touch” and “Stay in Touch” as part of his thesis at Simon Frasier University (Vancouver, BC); he calls it research, not art. Martin Wattenberg divides his work into two categories: art and research. Have a look and see if you can tell the difference. This ongoing convergence, which we delight in, does nothing but baffle the uninitiated. The work is not art when viewed through their perceptually backward-looking eyes. Or, more simply put, as Australian friend Cass Meers writes, “there is a lag between new modes of practice and the implementation of new systems that can support this practice.” That lag is very much in evidence here in the US.

When you add the current economic crisis to these pre-existing conditions, you have to know that only serious financial trouble awaits the unaffiliated, non-institutionalized, not-for-profit with a mandate to commission creative work for the Internet, and hybrid work with a presence both on the net and in physical space and/or in virtual worlds.

This came in a recent email from one of Turbulence’s funders: “The trust has lost a huge amount of money, and I cannot be sure there will be funds for the arts this year. I’ll let you know.”

Other funders are also waiting. In New York State where arts organizations are many and united in securing support for their activities, the Governor proposed eliminating the remainder of the New York State Council on the Arts’ 2008 budget; in less than 72 hours 14,000+ emails were sent to the Governor and Legislators. The Governor’s proposal has remained unchanged.

What about the 2009 budget? No one knows for sure. A 20% cut in grant dollars has been proposed for the upcoming budget, starting April 1, 2009, but with the economic situation worsening every day, the cut may be a good deal more. Either way, those of us who have relied on it for some part of our operating support will find ourselves operating on much less – or out of luck altogether. At best NRPA can expect $12,000 from this source to meet the expenses of its staff and its operating costs for a year.

We foresee 2-5 hard years ahead in which both of us will have to find other sources of income to survive. We are both looking for work now.

Paradoxes: while we question ourselves about the crisis, a painting by Kostabi manages to get a 3 million euros price tag (and it is also not the most sensational case, either). Is the Art System really in a crisis?

With regard to your question about the art system; NRPA, unlike some arts organizations and artists, is less interested in being a part of the “artworld” (aka the art market) than in acknowledging innovation as an emergent property of digital networks and commissioning creative people from the truly impressive numbers participating in new media practice today.

The artworld reflects older and more accepted cultural hierarchies and values. Through Sotherby’s, Christie’s and high-end galleries, it caters to the wealthiest individuals who are the least affected by recessions. These individuals buy art because of its investment value; some because of the celebrity status of the artist (often, they go hand-in-hand). The artmarket has little to do with art; for it, art is just another commodity to be bought and sold at maximum profit.

New Media Art breaks copyright rules, erases the classical concept of “authorship”, is hardly collectable and, in general, it shows a somewhat “genetic” incompatibility towards reproduction/exhibition in classical museum and gallery contexts: is there a connection between these new ways of producing art and the crisi? Can the research on new media art have a heuristic role in the process of understanding and handling the crisi itself?

As you say: New Media Art breaks copyright rules, erases the classical concept of “authorship”, is hardly collectable and, in general, shows a somewhat “genetic” incompatibility towards reproduction/exhibition in classical museum and gallery contexts.”

But there is no causal connection of which we are aware between the changing landscape wrought by new media and the financial crisis. There is, however, a definite connection between the explosion of online content, the availability of media publishing platforms, music-making platforms, video publishing platforms, the hundreds of millions who are uploading and downloading video, audio and photographs all the time – and the future of what we call “art”.

Crisis or possibility? What tools can we use to confront it?

As Clay Shirky said in Here Comes Everybody, “Where a particular capability [such as creative production] moves from a group of professionals [call them artists] to become embedded in society itself, ubiquitously, available to a majority of citizens, [as the ability to produce and distribute one’s own creative work is now available to all with a computer and access to the Internet], you can expect a major change in the status of the profession.” (Shirky was writing about newspaper journalism)

In the Internet we have a many-to-many technology that allows us all to exercise our imaginations in a very public way; in time the exclusiveness and elitism that has shaped the artworld must pass away.


Jan 16, 2009
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What is this?

Networked_Music_Review (NMR) is a research blog that focuses on emerging networked musical explorations.

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