Arizona Artbeat: Arts and Culture Community

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Ben Cameron from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation in New York will share his expertise on the role of arts and culture in a 21st century community via a series of events and dialogues being planned by the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust. Cameron will talk about the “essentialness” of a healthy arts and culture community.

Ted Simons: Appreciation of the arts extends beyond personal enjoyment, it impacts education, the economy and a variety of other factors that make up society. Here to talk about the value of a healthy arts community is Ben Cameron, program director for the arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation in New York. Cameron is also the inaugural "thought leader in residence" at the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust in Phoenix. That's quite a title for you.

Ben Cameron: I'm very grateful to be here.

Ted Simons: Thank you so much for joining us, we certainly appreciate it. The status of the arts and arts organizations, the world is going pretty fast right now. How are the arts holding up?

Ben Cameron: They are in a stressful time, contributor revenues are down in many locations, individual contributions are down. Corporate giving is in a freefall and people are stressed for audiences. There are so many stresses around communication in this country, we're seeing bookstores and newspapers close, television coverage is radically changing. The stresses the arts face are very much part of that environment.

Ted Simons: How do arts better adapt, how do you reinvent?

Ben Cameron: You've just nailed it right on the head right now, it's the biggest question. The institutions we have been building for the last 40 or 50 years assumed our job was to do performances for people to come and watch. While arts attendance is eroding at alarming rate-- What we called arts participation, people singing in choirs, making their own movies -- do you know a 14-year-old girl not making her own movies right now? I doubt you do -- that's exploding at an exponential rate. Arts organizations are asking, how can we expand our vision and embrace that participation and expand our production.

Ted Simons: By including that participation, how do you make a business model out of that? That's personal fulfillment, personal enjoyment, how do you get Xs and Os out of that?

Ben Cameron: There's a program in Baltimore, Maryland called the Rusty Musicians. The Baltimore Symphony is one of the great symphonies in the country. They held auditions grew up playing the violin, playing the clarinet, but who are now doctors and lawyers and accountants and more instruments, and are avocation musicians now. And I said would you like to play with a full with a full symphony. They auditioned, they choose the equivalent of another symphony. The Rusty Musicians played alongside the major musicians. What they found, not only were the musicians inspired by the dedication and passion that the Rusty Musicians brought, but whole new audiences showed up to see their friends or their boss play. A lot of people who never went to the symphony thought, my Lord, I never saw this, I'd like to come back. Classes began to expand. New revenues, new contributions, new audiences began to follow in its wake. This reinvention may be opening new doors.

Ted Simons: It's a new way of recruiting a new audience?

Ben Cameron: Well a new way of acknowledging that arts experiences are meaningful. We can find delight from participation. If you look at it as a spectrum, we focus only on one end of what the arts can be. Now it's the opportunity to say, can we broaden our minds? Instead of thinking of ourselves as arts organizations, what if we think of ourselves as platforms aggregating creativity.

Ted Simons: Will that platform allow for the best to become the best? We've got Rusty Musicians and 14-year-olds making videos. But where is the next James Cameron or Cleveland symphony? How does the best become the best in that kind of environment?

Ben Cameron: We think of the arts as a kind of ecological system. At one end there will always be those organizations solely dedicated to the highest performances at the highest caliber. The Metropolitan Opera will never have the equivalent of the Rusty Musician Program. The great schools like Juilliard will continue to feed into that system. Many of us who are the best started in the most unconventional places. I grew up in rural North Carolina. Where I grew up they closed Main Street every Wednesday and we danced in the streets. There was this thing called Columbia concerts. I remember seeing Isaac Stern and -- in my high school auditorium before I was eight. These things we've thought about as being mutually exclusive aren't. The level will be higher and higher and higher. It's not like athletics. 50 years ago, they were not in the public school, not everybody did it. But now it's part of our fabric and look at the achievement level of athletes that keeps skyrocketing with every success of every generation. Same is going to happen in New York.

Ted Simons: Talk about making a place, a place, making a there, a there.

Ben Cameron: This means three things to us. You put an artist in a neighborhood and it brings the neighborhood to life. As a New Yorker we see this all the time. They move in where there are abandon warehouses and storefronts, next thing you know, it's the most expensive real estate in town, the artists can't afford to stay there and they have brought new life to the community. Beyond that I think the arts have a huge economic impact. Reports coming out here in Arizona any minute that say the arts accounted for more than $500 million in economic activity in Arizona last year, a really phenomenal amount. In Arizona. And in Philadelphia last year it was $3.3 billion. The arts teach us to listen to each other, to aspire to be each other. They have formed social bonds together. For me, as someone who travels around 20 days out of a month many times, I hardly know what city I'm in if I don't look at my plane ticket. I see the same fast foods, the same hotels, the same big box retailers. It's the arts that distinguish one city from another and give it personality.

Ted Simons: We have law makers on all the time debating all sorts of issues. The idea of funding the arts would be a hard sell for a number of these folks. I'm a lawmaker. Convince me that state funds, hard to come by these days, need to be somehow appropriated to the arts.

Ben Cameron: Well, I'd say two things to you. Number one, your voters want them. Gallup Poll after Gallup poll after Gallup poll for generations have said I want the arts, I'm willing to pay for them, and I especially want my kids to pay for them. This is a no-brainer. On top of that, I think the trap lawmakers get into is to perceive the arts as only a sort of painting on the wall, when we really know when you support the arts -- I just came back from Saint Louis, where I talked to a man with a Shakespeare company there who mounted a production of Romeo and Juliet in the streets that separated the Latino neighborhood from African American neighborhood. Members from both communities were in the play, came to see the play, the tensions that had separate those communities were now diffusions and are engaged in conversation for the first time. What you have achieved is a urban renewal and community revitalization. That's what you funded when you funded the arts. You didn't fund a painting on the wall.

Ted Simons: "West side story" in Saint Louis.

Ben Cameron: Absolutely.

Ted Simons: Are we on the right track in Phoenix, or do we have a ways to go?

Ben Cameron: You are very much on the right track. We did a community forum here last night that was a full house. A fantastic woman named Kimber.

Ted Simons: Kimber Lanning, we've had her on the show many times.

Ben Cameron: I would love to clone her. The young leadership and young energy, the recognition that young people want to live where there's a creative energy is on the ascendant, and she is leading the charge, you guys are in great shape.

Ted Simons: Good to have you here.

Ben Cameron: My pleasure.

Ted Simons: And that is it for now, I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Ben Cameron:Doris Duke Charitable Foundation;

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