Interpreting Culture, Part 2

As the shelf life of “new” continues to be defined by smaller and smaller time increments, how do we as arts administrators help artists to do their jobs – ask the timeless questions – in a timely fashion? I’m a big fan of John Seabrook’s 2001 book NoBrow: the Culture of Marketing and the Marketing of Culture, a series of essays that illustrate how these two phenomena work in contemporary American society. In one essay, Seabrook compares his own life to that of his father’s, noting the evolution of high-brow/low-brow distinctions are made through clothes: his father had a suit for every occasion, whereas “a Chemical Brothers T-shirt will get me further in many places than my father’s suit.”

One implication of Seabrook’s message is that in order to communicate effectively in a time when identity is defined by taste, arts organizations must realize that an artist’s message will be read in the specific context of a highly customized, consumption-driven life. People filter “high art” messages through the same lens they use to see billboards, print advertising, television commercials, product placements, movie trailers, product jingles…

What tools can we use to deliver artists’ content quickly and effectively? What role do we play in making sure their voices are heard clearly, and on time (particularly on a day like today)? How do we “buy in” to all the exciting two-way communication technology tools available to us now without “selling out”?