If you craft your creative activities in order to appeal to journalists, critics and arts bureaucrats, then I think they will suffer. And the more you get involved in trying to figure out what these folks want, then I think the more you will be distracted from good creative choices. But maybe I'm just confused! Set me straight if you can.
One of the most interesting articles I have read on arts funding was in a Canadian newspaper so long ago I probably couldn't find it online. The gist of it was that arts funding in Canada has a problem. The federal government, in order to stay at arm's length from arts funding, has set up the Canada Council whose mission is described as follows:
The article focused on writers, but a similar dynamic could be at work in music as well. The problem was that there had grown up an assortment of writers who frequently received funding. The method for determining that funding was through a jury of other writers chosen by the council. No writer on a jury could risk being too critical of an application by another writer in the club for fear that next year that writer might be on his jury. If you were in the 'club' you usually got your applications approved. If not, not. In order to get in the club in the first place, you need to be doing something that other writers in the club would recognize. I see some problems there, the main one being that over time writing in Canada becomes hopelessly stodgy and unadventurous--you never want to risk your next grant not being approved. Of course, in many places arts funding is determined directly by a government-appointed bureaucrat so the problem is much worse.The Canada Council was created by an Act of Parliament in 1957 (Canada Council for the Arts Act) to foster and promote the study, enjoyment and production of works in the arts, and operate at “arm’s length” or independently of government.Since then, the Canada Council has evolved into a dynamic organization that is Canada’s leading supporter of the arts. We are proud to have contributed to the lively cultural life and abundance of exceptional art that we now enjoy in Canada.
There is a more subtle issue also at work in the current debates over arts funding. Instead of direct political interference or an old boy's club calling the shots, we have a kind of anxiety over the fact that classical music just doesn't seem to appeal to as many people as we would like. It especially seems to have a problem with younger listeners who receive little exposure to it. Instead of hearing it occasionally on the radio or television, perhaps taking a few piano lessons, they are surrounded their whole lives with a constant stream of popular music. Confronted by classical music they initially find it boring. No surprise there.
So what's the solution? Somehow make classical music more like popular music so those raised exclusively on the latter will feel more comfortable? That does seem a likely approach which I talk about in this post. Early on in this blog I responded to a promotional article in this post in which I questioned the whole idea that classical music should apologize for not being more like popular music.
Let's acknowledge one thing: classical music and popular music are different things. The idiosyncratic way I define classical music as "that music that has shown exceptional quality over an extended period of time" means that I classify not only music by Guillaume DuFay (15th century), Rameau, Bach, Beethoven, Shostakovich, and the Beatles as classical, on the other hand I also am reluctant to call music by bad composers classical even if they wrote string quartets.
But I have created a problem for myself: 'classical' music for the most part is still dependent on certain institutions and traditions such as the symphony orchestra, the conservatory and the opera house. Without them, it would be very difficult to experience classical music because, despite my definition above, most classical music does come in the form of symphonies and string quartets and piano sonatas even though it extends to early music and I think slowly incorporates new music. Symphonies, conservatories and opera houses have never been commercially viable so, in the absence of wealthy nobility, we are forced to seek funding by government.
But we should always keep in mind the dangers of so doing: the dangers of political influence which can mean excessive funding of 'progressive' causes as well as the opposite; the dangers of failing to do good creative work because it seems too risky; the dangers of diluting the art so as to appeal to people who have had little or no exposure to it and other dangers I haven't even thought of.
If at the end of the day we have some kind of 'classical' music that barely resembles the real thing, then we haven't gained much, have we?