If we are not diligent in maintaining high editorial standards, arts coverage will morph into misshapen forms of infotainment and advertising. Once those monstrosities are set in profitable stone, quality arts criticism and the arts will face a problematic future.
By Bill Marx.
As I argued in my last piece, the end of the Boston Phoenix is a blow to serious coverage of the arts in the city. Meaningful talk about arts and culture is a vital part of Boston’s (and New England’s) cultural eco-system. Not only in terms of getting the word out about what is happening in the arts but providing vital evaluation and analysis. Critics flinging thumbs up or down is not enough: the articulation of the why behind a judgment is as important as the verdict itself. Once the public discussion of creativity degenerates into ever more ingenious forms of publicity—dedicated to selling tickets, pushing product, or generating gossip—the arts will have become a ‘prestige’ economic pastime rather than an indispensable realm of imaginative possibility.
The Arts Fuse was launched over five years ago as a response to the disappearance and/or dumbing down of arts coverage in the mainstream media. The challenge posed by technological change shaped its form: an edited, online publication dedicated to posting independent and thoughtful reviews and features on the arts that drew on a wide range of veteran as well as rookie critics. Journalism is lurching through a time of dangerous transition; those who care about the future of arts coverage must find ways to combine the best of the past with the exhilarating opportunities for innovation that the web offers. If we are not diligent in maintaining high editorial standards, arts coverage will morph into misshapen forms of infotainment and advertising. Once those monstrosities are set in profitable stone, quality arts criticism and the arts will face a problematic future.
Over the years, I have heard from many critics, artists, writers, arts organizations, and cultural institutions who recognize the importance of what The Arts Fuse is doing. These at times passionate words of encouragement and thanks serve as an invaluable source of inspiration. And they proffer strong reasons for public support of The Arts Fuse as an instrument that will help make the arts a central part of our spiritual and social lives, an essential alternative to media coverage on- and off-line that sees arts and culture as an entertaining luxury, a moneymaking time killer, or a “human interest” story.
Professional arts critics, now unemployed, enthuse that The Arts Fuse is a comfortable place to ply their trade, a site where they can make substantial use of decades of reviewing experience that newspapers and magazines are blithely tossing away. For fledgling reviewers, The Arts Fuse offers a valuable opportunity to be edited and advised by critics with enormous knowledge and hard-earned expertise.
The interactive qualities of the magazine excite arts writers young and old because it expands the traditional range of cultural dialogue. Our feature “The Judicial Review,” broadens the definition of a criticism, combining the reactions of critics, audience members, and experts. Mass Humanities (which funded a year of Judicial Reviews) as well as participating artists, organizations, and readers feel strongly that The Judicial Review is a promising way to use the web to generate civil, intelligent conversation rather than solipsistic fulminations.
The Arts Fuse is interested in covering the breath and depth of the arts in Boston and New England, so we regularly hear from writers and artists who are delighted to have their books, exhibitions, and stage productions reviewed. Many say that they had been ignored by other media outlets. They are grateful for the depth of the coverage, whether it is admiring or not.
Because The Arts Fuse staff is curious about what is happening in the arts and know that a lot of edgy work is done off the beaten path, we don’t just critique the works of large cultural organizations but the small as well. Each week, publishers large and small, theater companies, filmmakers, classical music presenters, and artists tell me and our writers that The Arts Fuse is one of the few places where their work is being looked at with care and insight.
It is also encouraging that a number of arts organizations around town see the importance of The Arts Fuse: current and past underwriting supporters include Ashmont Hill Chamber Music, Boston Ballet, Boston Baroque, Boston Book Festival, Boston Gay Men’s Chorus, Boston University’s College of Fine Arts, Boston Women in Media + Entertainment, Blue Heron Choir, Central Reform Temple, Elliot Norton Awards, Emmanuel Music, Future of Music Coalition, JP Music Festival, John Coltrane Memorial Concert, Moonbox Productions, and New Repertory Theater.
Greater resources would mean that The Arts Fuse can cover even more territory . . . there is no reason that the current stable of over 60 writers could not be doubled or even tripled.
So please help make The Arts Fuse‘s first-ever advertising campaign atop taxi cabs this spring a success. We want to encourage more of Greater Boston’s arts and cultural communities to see artsfuse.org as a essential resource. When you see the taxis, you’ll know YOU are a part of our success!
Here is the page where you can make your tax deductible contribution. The Arts Fuse is a 501(c)(3) non-profit.