Supporting whose arts anyway?

Something I’ve been mulling over the past few weeks is the idea of arts education funding.  As most of you know I support arts education wholeheartedly.  I think all kids should get the chance to learn a different way of thinking and organizing the world and information.  This isn’t going to be a long post about why we should fund arts education.  It isn’t going to be a particularly long post either as I’m in between shows and have to leave for Chicago early in the morning to play a big bellydance festival.

But the questions I’ve been having, is whose arts do we fund and support in the curricula?  Since I’ve been looking more closely at the Chinese Orchestra situation in the Bay Area a lot recently and the number of educational programs there for learning traditional Chinese music–one of which was started by a music teacher for a k-5th grade program, I have to ask myself, why should the traditional Classical Music arts be the only programs that schools have (outside of Concert bands)?

I’ve responded to an ongoing discussion after getting linked to a Huffington post piece by Joanne Bamberger a few days ago.  My post is awaiting moderation (though you can follow the discussion up to it in the links above), but here’s the gist of it:

For orchestras and classical music in general, it’s not so much gender discrimination anymore (as Joanne is saying in her piece). But the low turnover rate in these kinds of organizati­ons mean that in what were predominan­tly male institutio­ns there’s going to be some imbalance till all the males who were in the groups prior to the blind auditions retire. And obviously for those in hte highest paying positions, that’s going to take a bit longer so the imbalance in the higher paid positions may change in the future (this probably also somewhat applies to conductors­).

Sadly, many classical musicians and organizati­ons look down on anything that smacks of crossover so that’s always a point of contention for these organizati­ons. But if it is crossover than can change the demographi­cs, that is something that seriously needs to be addressed. But I’m not so sure doing that would necessaril­y help them much for a couple of reasons.One, the resistance of not only the institutio­ns themselves but the primary audience demographi­c. Orchestras just can’t afford to lose what little audience and donor base they already have (which is, of course, shrinking a bit). The other reason is something I often blog about: many minority population­s come from countries that have their own indigenous art music traditions that they are increasing­ly starting to support.  When the ethnic population is dense enough we start to see non-Western orchestras emerging and growing as the population grows.

For example, in the Bay area, which has a population of nearly half a million Chinese-Am­ericans, we also find about two dozen two dozen traditiona­l Chinese Orchestras in existence at all levels (k-12, college, semi-profe­ssional). This is a trend we can find all over the country–D­etroit Arab-Ameri­can population has a growing number of Arabic Orchestras­; New York’s immigrant population­s have a number of Chinese Orchestras­, Turkish fasli ensembles, and Arabic Orchestras­, etc.What this also suggests is that those population­s aren’t particular­ly interested in crossover work either,and would rather have art music ensembles that they grew up with or that come from their country of origin. Which isn’t good news for getting more support for European Orchestras­. With a shrinking white demographi­c, there’s obviously a growing non-white demographi­c and in a sense there is a correspond­ence with the slowly declining support for “white European Orchestras­” in favor of the non-Europe­an Orchestras­.

I guess the million dollar question here is, if there is so much blather about supporting the arts in schools I think we now have to ask, whose arts?

And that’s the question that’s filling my thoughts.  In an age where we’re now starting to compile so much data about the psychological health of Non-Whites we’re starting to see how participation in arts from their own ethnic backgrounds has an even greater positive affect on ethnic individuals over and beyond the general positive impact than participation in just any arts.  Again, it’s the economics of underserved [audiences] populations argument from the standpoint of education.


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