BtBA Prologue – A Cultural Perspective: 5 Days in New York

With both anticipation and excitement I am on my way to participate in an arts and cultural management tour of New York. In keeping with both its iconic status and its pseudonym, the tour is called Bite the Big Apple and not to play too much with the metaphor I feel really hungry.

BtBA is a 5 day program imagined and developed by a good friend Fotis Kapetopoulos and made possible through the collaboration with Donna Walker-Kuhne, marketing and communications guru for the New Jersey Performing Arts Centre.

I used the term guru purposefully as I am seeing this tour as both an experience and a learning.

I have long been intrigued by the role of arts and cultural consumption in Australia’s multicultural reality. I had the privilege of exploring my views and developing my own thesis about the role of art in ethnic communities and the related implications for arts and cultural organisations, especially those supported by government money. This was a research and framing project for the Australia Council for the Arts resulting in the publication “The World Is Your Audience”, Sydney, Australia Council 1999, ISSN/ISBN:064247208.

Key within this work was the complexity and conceptual conundrum of considering equity issues around arts access and consumption in what is essentially a discretionary activity. I am keen to further explore the central thesis in the work which was the impact of migration turning immigrants from cultural consumers in their home countries to ‘ethnic’ cultural maintainers in their country of migration, and its consequential impact on arts and cultural institutions.

What is the New York experience? Is the art that is practiced more inclusive? Has participation and the content of the art in the cultural capital of this most worldly of cities reflected a broader cultural diversity? Are we ahead or behind or maybe just different?

Australia has long been a place in which social issues are processed and regulated through government responsibility and intervention. In the arts, the central role of government in the promotion of multiculturalism manifested itself in the development the ‘Arts for a Multicultural Australia’ policy. Many question the results of this policy and the extent to which it drove change. Given the continuing debates around diversity casting, the faces that we perpetuate as Australian and the stories that continually narrow in their diversity focus, has top down policy been successful in any way?

My impression is that the USA on the other hand has arguably taken the opposite tact, shying away from intervention and championing laissez faire approaches to social and cultural policy. So I will be looking at the extent to which the smaller cultural institutions champion diversity, if and how they advocate and attract funding and the extent to which a lack of government political orthodoxy may have counter intuitively delivered more real, diverse and reflective on-ground practice.

The five day program will involve contact and engagement with 18 arts and cultural institutions across the discrete arts precincts of Queens, Harlem, Brooklyn, Lower Manhattan, and more. A possible renaming of the program could be 11 art administrations and a cultural consultant on the New York Subway looking for an arts management plan (apologies to Pirandello). I doubt the subsequent acronym would work.

The names are themselves iconic The Apollo Theatre, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, others less so but potentially more interesting in their local reference and relevance; Queens Museum of Art, Dwyer Cultural Centre, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.

My fellow potential ‘speed freaks’ come from a range of major Australian cultural institutions, government arts bodies and small and medium arts organisations across the range of arts practice. We will start strangers but come out of the week connected from what will be frenetic, and engaging cultural speed dating experience.

I am looking forward to using this blog to provide some discipline and a framework to process my experience of BtBA.

I will post each day’s program, my perspectives on it and probably most importantly any stories that I hear that touch me, enrage me, enthral me, and as well entertain me.

I invite you to share BtBA with me and we can savour the forbidden fruit together.

Pino Migliorino