About the Summit
How We Chose the Five Public Projects
How the Summit “Competition” Works – Voting
Conceiving the Summit
Several Ways to Participate
Coverage of the arts in America is being transformed. Traditional news organizations have been dropping arts staff and reducing coverage. News organizations continuing to cover the arts are looking for new ways to do it. Artists and arts organizations are finding new ways to communicate without the traditional press. Something of a citizens’ army has risen up in the form of 300,000 arts blogs. At the same time, our culture itself is changing as people have more access to more culture than ever before. In the face of all this change, what is arts journalism?
It seems like a good idea to take stock. The idea behind the National Summit on Arts Journalism is to collect up some of the more interesting ideas and examine the thinking behind them. The question is how? There are hundreds and thousands of interesting blogs. We could have picked the ten best and asked the bloggers to share their secrets. Dozens of traditional news organizations have built on their coverage. We could have showcased them. There are talented critics and journalists writing great criticism and doing essential reporting in numerous publications. We could have chosen the best of these.
We chose not to.
Our working assumption is that there will always be a place for quality writing, criticism and. Blogs can be a vibrant form of arts journalism, but are they financially viable as a way of supporting those who write them? Established news sites produce great stories but will they be able to support enough quality arts journalismWe decided to cast a wide net.
Some of the projects we chose for the Summit are exploring unusual business models. Some are playing with redefining ideas about what arts journalism is. Some are covering an art form, others a geographical area. Some are challenge long held journalistic notions: are reviews really what readers want? Others are trying to invent new ways of telling stories, expanding tools for covering culture. We don’t expect to find definitive answers. We’re not endorsing any of the projects. They’re part of the Summit because we believe the questions they provoke are worth exploring.
Over the Summer of 2009, we issued an open call for projects. We had expected 30-40 submissions but got 109 by the deadline of August 17. Winnowing down the 109 to five was a daunting task. There are real unsung heroes and many “one-man bands” that do amazing work and are deeply valued in their communities. People who care about culture have joined forces in many cities to create projects designed to shine attention on the creativity found locally. In some places, established media have attempted to reinvent the ways they cover culture in hopes of finding new models that are supportable. Entrepreneurs have poured their sweat into reinventing the very idea of what it means to do cultural journalism. This is a time of experimentation; so experimental in fact that the submissions didn’t suggest any broadly agreed-upon themes or approaches to figuring out the new arts journalism. One thing seems clear: No single model is going to emerge any time soon.
Three arts journalists read all the submissions and visited all the websites, narrowing the list to 31. A panel of seven journalists then looked at the 31 and were asked to pick ten projects that they felt illustrated various themes or ideas. It is testament to the quality of submissions and the diversity of ideas that 27 projects were mentioned among the judges’ top selections. Two more judges were added for the final decision, narrowing from a list of 10.
We were looking to represent a range of ideas across the five. We didn’t, for example, want five projects that more or less tried to do the same thing. We looked at how the execution of a project matched the goals set for it in the submission form. And we were interested in the level of innovation and the effectiveness at serving a community. Some of the submitted projects have not launched yet; these ideas required extra scrutiny since there was nothing yet to see of the projects.
We had noted on the submission form that we were interested in viable business models. So what’s a viable business model? Viable does not mean “commercial” and some of the projects here are non-profits. What we’re looking for, then, is not so much a commercial business plan but some indications of potential (or real) long-term operational viability or sustainability. The submissions are clarification that we still have some way to go to establish viable sustainable business models. Yet there are glimmers, and a number of projects have now sustained themselves for several years.
Originally we conceived of this Summit without the competitive element. The idea was to pick interesting projects and showcase them. But we also wanted to find some ways to help some of the projects we featured. And we wanted to find a way of finding as many projects as possible to consider. The Hewlett Foundation had the clever idea of offering prizes as a way of encouraging broader participation and rewarding some of the participants. It worked beyond what we imagined, attracting many projects we didn’t know about.
Each of the five chosen to present gets $2,000. In addition, the project awarded first prize gets and additional $7,500; second gets $5,000 and third gets $2,500. Voters deciding the prizes are members of the National Arts Journalism Program and alumni of the NEA Arts Journalism Institutes. For more details of the voting, please go here. Voting begins at the conclusion of the Summit and concludes October 23. Winners will be announced October 30. Again we want to emphasize that these are “winners” in the sense that they offer promising ideas. This isn’t a coronation for a “best” arts journalism project.
Conferences have traditionally been a way to disseminate information, facilitate discussion and provoke action. But while conferences may be great for the people who are able to attend, there are many more who can’t. The traditional conference menu of panels and open discussions is often a stale and inert way of interacting. So we decided to do something new. We decided to stage a “virtual” summit.
We thought we’d have our ten presenters come to Los Angeles and present one after the other in front of a live audience. But we thought that we could have a big disparity in the ability of speakers to effectively make the case for their projects. So we decided to tape each speaker and with the help of producer Gabriel Peters-Lazaro, cinematographer Anastasia Shepherd, and the Institute for Multimedia Literacy, create multimedia presentations that would show the projects to best advantage.
We wanted to give the Summit audience as much opportunity as possible to participate. So we organized more than a dozen live satellite locations around the world where groups could gather and discuss. Online viewers can text questions or comments which will be visible in real time to anyone watching. They can also Twitter using hashtag #artsj09, which will be visible on the Summit streaming page. One advantage of pre-taping presenters? Some of them will be on the Twitter feed and viewers can direct questions to them. During the webcast, we’ll be plucking some of the more interesting comments and mentioning them live. We’ve also got bloggers who will be live-blogging the Summit at www.najp.org/articles.
Finally, at the end of the webcast, we’ll be filming video responses from members of the 200-strong live audience at USC Annenberg and uploading them to the Summit’s YouTube channel – ArtsJ09. Live satellite groups will be videoing some of their comments and questions and posting to ArtsJ09, and we invite anyone who watches the Summit to video their own comments/questions. There will also be opportunities to leave text comments on the Summit site.
Does this replace the interaction possible face to face? Probably not. This is an experiment. The stream could go down, the technology could fail, the multiple activities could be distracting. But the opportunity to involve more people in a conversation seems like an experiment worth making. This is a production with many moving parts, and dozens of people have worked hard to create something that hasn’t been tried before.