WHAT'S AHEAD FOR ARTS, CULTURE

MICHAEL JANAIRO
Section: Unwind,  Page: UW9

Date: Sunday, January 2, 2011

2011 is the Year of the Rabbit, according to the Chinese zodiac. So it promises to be a quiet year (or at least quieter than 2010's Year of the Tiger). Unless, of course, the kind of rabbits were talking about are the battling ones from Richard Adams' "Watership Down."


From my lofty perch, er, messy newsroom cubicle, here is how I see the coming year shaping up in broad terms for arts and culture in the Capital Region.


More cuts


2010 may have been bad for arts funding, but all indications point to 2011 being even more difficult for cities, towns, counties and the state. Hard choices will have to be made about taxes and services, and the arts are likely to be among the victims of austerity plans.


More collaboration


The Albany Symphony Orchestra and Capital Repertory Theatre presented a joint production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" last fall, and that kind of collaboration between arts organizations is not only sure to continue but must for these organizations to expand their audiences. These collaborations, though, shouldn't be limited to productions, but should also encompass such things as advertising, marketing and deals that include partners outside the arts, such as bars, restaurants and stores that may share a similar audience.


Digital divide expands


People will likely consume more culture via technology -- computers, TV, DVDs, CDs, downloads, iPads, smartphones, etc. -- than via a live experience at a musuem or theater. Why? Likely it's because it is easier and less expensive in the short term. The divide has been shown to cut across class lines: a recent Pew Research Center survey finds much greater use of digital technology -- 95 percent of respondents in households that make more than $75,000 per year, versus 70 percent in households that earn less. But another divide exists between the passive consumer of digital content (the person who replicates the live experience by watching or listening) and the active participant who is engaged with digital content by commenting on it or sharing it through social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter.


Another Pew survey found that 37 percent of Internet users are actively engaged with digital media, and these people will have a completely different experience with the arts than others, an experience where they can feel a sense of participation and ownership. In other words, if you aren't plugged in to things like Facebook or Twitter, then there are probably things happening at your favorite theater group, museum, exhibition space, band or classical music organization that you know nothing about. And more is likely to happen in the digital sphere in 2011, so if you aren't there you will likely miss out.


More risks


Tough economic times for artists can produce one of three responses: becoming more conservative, staying the same or taking risks. I think for many artists, 2011 will be a year in which they will see a bleak economic landscape and say to themselves, "What the heck. I may as well do that crazy or weird or risky thing I always wanted to do but was too afraid to do." This can only be a good thing for art lovers out there; unfortunately, I'm going to assume that this work will be done in private studios to germinate outside the public eye, so it may be a while before the public can reap the benefits from the arts of austerity.


Risks, of course, aren't solely taken by artists. Arts audiences, too, may feel compelled to take risks in 2011 by exploring things outside their comfort zones. In Thursday's Preview section, musician and music critic Greg Haymes suggested as much when he encouraged people to visit just one arts event at just one arts venue they have never been to before.


I think this is a great idea. After all, we spend much of our daily lives deepening the grooves of our experience from home to work or school and on to usual haunts of restaurants and arts venues. If one of the points of the arts is to take us outside our daily lives to make us see, feel and think differently, then shouldn't we take up Haymes' suggestion and take ourselves out of our well-worn grooves so we can take the risk of experiencing something new?


My hope is that 2011 will see people at all levels -- artists, art administrators and audiences -- taking a risk. For many people that can be as simple as doing something a little differently, exploring a new possibility, creating a new partnership and going someplace new, not any place where no person has gone before, just someplace new to you.


Michael Janairo can be reached at mjanairo@timesunion.com or 454-5629. He blogs at the Arts Talk blog at http://blog.timesunion.com/localarts.