Aug 062007

Yesterday, a Boston Globe editorial asked that Josiah Spaulding, Jr., president of the Citi Performing Arts Center (CPAC) be replaced. Of course he should go, but that will not solve the CPAC’s problems.

Bill Marx

Yesterday, a Boston Globe editorial asked that Josiah Spaulding, Jr., president of the Citi Performing Arts Center (CPAC) be replaced. The suggestion follows a public relations disaster: at the same time the CPAC’s budget for this summer’s Shakespeare in the Common was cut, Spaulding pocketed a $1.265 million retention bonus. When asked by the press about the cutbacks, Spaulding boohooed about tough times for arts funding. Surely that shameless hypocrisy, along with chronic mismanagement (CPAC has spent the last five years in the red), is behind the Globe’s belief that axing Spaulding would “move the organization toward greater transparency as well as prosperity.”

Of course, Spaulding should go. But that will not solve the CPAC’s problems. Around the country, nonprofit arts centers are morphing into corporate machines that are increasingly dedicated to hatching marketing schemes rather than nurturing creativity. Interestingly, the editorial does not mention a new strategic initiative announced by CPAC and no doubt blessed by Spaulding. As reported by the Boston Business Journal, CPAC is raising millions over the next seven years to come up with innovative ways to raise … millions more.

According to the report, the project will include setting up TV screens on the Boston Common that display live performances, providing kiosks where people can sign up for classes, and finding ways to use cell phones to order tickets. The article mentions no plans to create new cultural productions. (One easy step “toward greater transparency” for the CPAC — it should post a copy of the plan on its website.)

Why haven’t newspapers taken a critical look at this scheme? Do we have to wait for the screens to be planted on the Common before anybody registers a skeptical thought?

Those who demand transparency from the CPAC and other large nonprofit arts organizations must fight for it. For far too long local newspapers, for the sake of supporting the arts, have regurgitated publicity releases from cultural institutions rather than examine what is going on beneath the surface. Because the media has rolled over, it takes a conspicuous crisis to switch the focus from happy talk to serious investigation. Spaulding might have ducked any blowback for his obscene payday if he hadn’t cut Shakespeare on the Common’s customary three-week run to one.

If the Globe wants “a compelling and innovative nonprofit center for the performing arts” it will take more than a new president, no matter how talented, to make it happen. Newspapers, bloggers, and the public will have to hold its feet to the fire.


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