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'Holiday Jazz' gives faculty a chance to shine
By Jim Vorel - H&R Staff Writer

Steve Widenhofer, director of Millikin University's School of Music, is a busy man. So are the other five instructor-performers of Millikin's Faculty Jazz Sextet. This is not an easy group to get together for rehearsals, much less socializing.

So the presentation of "Holiday Jazz" at Kirkland Fine Arts Center this Saturday is a welcome opportunity for the faculty members to indulge in a little Christmas cheer.

"We had a great time last year," Widenhofer said. "It was a really relaxed show, even though it's in the big Kirkland theater. Our personalities as a group really seemed to suit that atmosphere. It was just one of those nights."

The show, in its third year, puts a jazzy twist on classic Christmas and holiday-season standards. Creative arrangements of songs such as Elvis Presley's "Blue Christmas" feature the talents of the entire sextet: Widenhofer (piano), Brian Justison (drums), Dave Burdick (guitar), Joel Kelsey (bass), Perry Rask (saxophone) and Randall Reyman (trumpet).

"Randy and Dave have really put together some creative, snazzy adaptations," Widenhofer said. "We did an album a long time ago called ‘Cool Yule,' and we're using some of those tunes as well. Some of the songs are the classic holiday songs everybody knows, and some may not be quite so familiar."

The chemistry of the group makes Widenhofer wish they could perform together more often than four or five times a year.

"We all have great respect for each other as musicians and creative people," he said. "These shows give us a chance to collaborate together outside the classroom. We all really enjoy each other's company and wish it could last even longer."

For Millikin music students, "Holiday Jazz" is one of a number of opportunities throughout the year to see their professors in action, making music with each other. The faculty members find that such performances have the added benefit of increasing music appreciation in the student body.

"They get to see us in a different light than in the classroom setting or as administrators," Widenhofer said. "As music teachers, we can model what we teach by our ability to play ourselves. For students to see their teachers doing that is really excellent. They appreciate it as a teaching methodology."

The returning special guest from last year's "Holiday Jazz" is 2003 Millikin commercial music graduate Angel Spiccia, now a professional vocalist making appearances in a number of Chicago jazz clubs. Most of the faculty members of the Faculty Jazz Sextet are former teachers of Spiccia's.

"It's a thrill to come back and perform with them," she said. "I had so much fun in college. I'm still thankful for all the opportunities I had to perform with them back when they were my teachers."

Spiccia's performance last year included renditions of "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and "Santa Baby." In her eyes, the show seemed to fly by.

"We had so much fun, and it really put me in the spirit," she said. "We all enjoy taking some of the traditional Christmas songs and injecting some Latin or blues or jazz styles into them."

National Arts Index Paints a troubling picture...

Jacqueline Trescott, Washington Post, Thursday, January 21, 2010; C02

 

 

 

While the number of arts organizations increased rapidly over a recent 10-year span, the percentage of people attending arts events declined, a new national survey by the nonprofit group Americans for the Arts reported Wednesday.

This issue of supply and demand in the arts world is a troubling one, said the authors of the National Arts Index, because many groups have financial troubles and people of all ages are discovering new ways to experience the arts, including the Internet.

"Audience demand has failed to keep pace" with this boom in opportunities for arts participation, said Randy Cohen, the vice president for local arts advancement at the Americans for the Arts. "There is a new arts organization created every three hours."

Straitened financial circumstances and audience drift are issues that have been festering for years, and the recent recession didn't help. The analysts behind the index hope their data -- taken between 1998 and 2008 -- will clarify the predicament the arts find themselves in and provide a roadmap for new artistic and business models. "This first-ever annual measure confirms observations we have had for years," said Robert L. Lynch, the group's president and chief executive.  Read more

Artists Hit Hard by Recession
"A Survey Shows Pain of Recession for Artists"
by Randy Kennedy, The New York Times
November 24, 2009
 

A major new survey of American artists and how they are weathering the economic downturn has found that slightly more than half experienced a drop in income from 2008 to 2009, a blow to an already struggling group, two thirds of whose members reported that they earned less than $40,000 last year.

More than 5,300 practitioners in fields like painting, filmmaking and architecture participated in the online survey, a larger response than expected, providing a detailed look at the state of the country’s artists, a group that the Census Bureau numbers at more than two million.

Many of the findings — that working artists tend to work day jobs to support themselves; that more than a third don’t have adequate health insurance; that musicians and architects tend to do better than writers and painters — simply provide statistical support for what artists themselves have long known.

But it also found that the recession has been exceptionally tough for many artists. Eighteen percent of those who responded said their income had dropped 50 percent or more in the last year.

The survey was conducted in July and August and commissioned by a nonprofit artist-support organization called Leveraging Investments in Creativity, which worked with Princeton Survey Research Associates International and the Helicon Collaborative, a consulting firm that advises nonprofits.

The researchers found that in general very few artists’ incomes approach six figures. While the majority of artists have college degrees, only 6 percent said they earned $80,000 or more.

“A lot of the artists who were reporting were telling us, ‘I live in a recession all the time, so this downturn has really not been so different for me,’ ” said Judilee Reed, the executive director of Leveraging Investments in Creativity.

(The groups that conducted the survey, which was paid for in part by the Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, publicized the survey through arts organizations and acknowledged that as a result it might not reflect the “experiences of the entire population of practicing artists in the United States.” But they added that the data were weighted to hew as closely as possible to Census Bureau demographics for artists.)

The artists surveyed tended to earn either very little of their overall income from their artwork or almost all of it. Slightly more than 40 percent said that in 2008 they earned 20 percent or less of their total income from their art.

But at the other end of the spectrum 28 percent said creative work accounted for 80 percent or more of their income, and those artists were often those whose incomes were higher, $80,000 or more. Visual artists (who made up half of the respondents) and writers were more likely to earn 20 percent or less of their income from art.

Even artists whose second jobs have carried them through the downturn relatively unscathed said that the climate for creative work was more difficult. Esther Robinson, a Brooklyn filmmaker whose 2007 documentary, “A Walk Into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory,” was partly paid for with credit cards, money later recouped with an advance from a distributor, said, “This year there are almost no advances available for the same kind of film that is of a certain quality and that is theatrically releasable.”

Ms. Robinson, who also runs a nonprofit arts organization that she founded, said that she was concentrating on short films because “I don’t see a way to finance any of the feature ideas I have for documentaries right now.”

Perhaps because artists tend to have an idealistic bent, the survey found, however, that many also reported upsides to the downturn: that it has given them freedom to experiment and to spend more time on their art when avenues for making money are closed. James Vira, a Manhattan architect who recently lost his job in a round of layoffs at Cooper, Robinson & Partners, is trying to make it on his own by doing consulting work, taking on small projects and designing furniture and other objects.

“It’s allowing me to pursue things that I really want to pursue, and it’s working out so far,” said Mr. Vira, the father of two young children. “I’m very, very hopeful. But I still check the want ads — as a habit, I guess.”

National Endowment for the Arts releases survey
The National Endowment for the Arts released highlights from the 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, which showed persistent patterns of decline in participation in most art forms. Among the findings:

- Attendance at the most popular type of arts events- such as art museums and craft/visual arts festivals- saw notable declines

- Between 1982 and 2008, attendance at performing arts such as classical music, jazz, opera, ballet, musical theatre and dramatic plays has seen double-digit rates of decline

- Fewer adults are creating and performing art

- Forty-five to 54-year-olds- historically dependable arts participants- showed the steepest declines in attendance for most art events, compared with other age groups

- College-educated audiences, including those who advanced degrees and certifications, have curbed their attendance in nearly all art forms

- Less-educated adults have significantly reduced their already low levels of attendance

- Thirty percent of adults who use the Internet, download, watch or listen to music, theatre, or dance performances online at least once a week

- More Americans view or listen to broadcasts and recordings of arts events than attend them live (live theatre being the sole exception)

For more information on the survey, visit www.nea.gov

Kirkland Wakes Up by Ashley Rueff

A lot of you missed out on a really great musical and cultural experience Saturday night at the Kirkland Fine Arts Center.

I’m glad I made time to go, and I’d guess the others in the audience felt the same way.

We saw Baka Beyond, a world music group that performs songs based on the music of the Baka forest people of Camaroon. They mix in some Celtic styling, and what comes out is a unique and uplifting sound.

The seven musicians have diverse backgrounds and come from Great Britain, France, Ghana and Congo. They played music unlike I’d ever heard before, and I bet, unlike much of the audience had heard before.

Vocalist Su Hart sang like the Baka women of Cameroon. I don’t know how to describe it other than to say it was a mixture of yodeling and bird noises.

She encouraged the audience to sing along, but I didn’t have the slightest idea how to imitate the noises she was making.

I did, however, join in by clapping and dancing. It took a while to get everyone on their feet, but by the end of the show, most of the audience joined in as well.

The first half of the show was slow going. The audience seemed to fill only a quarter of the auditorium, and everyone reacted to the performers like you might react to a serious play.

Their quiet observance brought an uncomfortable atmosphere to the auditorium, because the performers were trying their hardest to get the audience to wake up.

Baka Beyond more often performs at outdoor music festivals, and the reserved tone at Kirkland seemed to stifle their show at first.

Nearly halfway into the concert, Hart finally got the audience to interact with them when she came to the edge of the stage and yelled, “stand up!”

Slowly, the audience overcame their fear of being seen, and gave up the comfortable anonymity of their seats.

An African dance lesson from Denise Rowe at the end of the show finally drew most everyone to their feet.

Standing up and interacting with the musicians made it easier to enjoy and understand the music.
The music’s cultural background is grounded in the idea that everyone participates and contributes to the sound.

Once the audience started to help, it brought more life to the theater and to the show.

To everyone who attended and found the nerve to stand up and participate, thank you for a fun Saturday evening.

I only hope there will be more of us next time.

Visit the DecaturAde Blog http://herald-review.com/app/blogs/decaturade/

Illinois Art Council Budget Cut 51%
Arts an easy target as many states cut budgets
By DAVID TWIDDY
The Associated Press
Saturday, August 29, 2009 4:08 PM

 

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Ben Ahlvers is a full-time arts education coordinator, but his passion is with the fanciful creatures, human figures and oversized hammers he fashions from clay.

The nationally recognized ceramic artist was chosen to receive a fellowship from the Kansas Arts Commission to attend an artist residency in Montana. But after Kansas officials cut the commission's budget midyear by $300,000, he didn't receive the $1,000 check.

"They were still going to have a reception and I joked to somebody that I was going to go and eat $1,000 worth of finger food," said Ahlvers, 35, who said he and his wife had to live off their credit cards and sell more of his artwork to fund the trip.

"The $1,000 would have made it a lot easier and I wouldn't have had to fret as much," he said.

States across the country are slashing their arts funding for the second year in a row as they cope with falling tax revenues. Those cuts, which often happen during recessions, are a serious blow to arts agencies and individual dancers, painters and actors at a time when private donations are down and many art organizations are being more selective in what they produce.

Julie Britton, vice president of development or the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center in Florida, said officials may have to skew away from avant-garde art designed to push boundaries in favor of things more certain to sell tickets.

"Part of our mission is to bring people things that are new," said Britton. "That's very difficult to do when you have to be risk-averse in this situation."

The Tampa Bay center's state grant is expected to be $25,000 or less this year, which is down from $200,000 a couple years ago.

The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies estimates states reduced their arts funding an average of 7 percent in the fiscal year that began July 1. That average doubles to 14 percent when Minnesota is not included because the state almost tripled its art budget to $30.2 million thanks to a new sales tax.

In financially strapped states like Arizona, South Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, Louisiana and Florida, the reductions are steeper, falling 30 percent or more, forcing agencies to trim the amount or value of grants, shutter programs that provide arts education and lay off employees. In two states that haven't completed their annual budgets - Pennsylvania and Connecticut - lawmakers are considering eliminating their state arts agencies entirely.

States did get a boost this year in funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and some one-time job preservation grants through the federal stimulus bill. But administrators said the money won't make up for all the funding they've lost.

"It's really going to have a devastating effect," said Terry Scrogum, executive director of the Illinois Arts Council, which saw its budget fall 51 percent this year to $7.8 million. "We're going to try to maintain as many of the operating grants as we can. They're obviously going to be at a reduced level. Others will be whittled down or suspended."

Overall, states contribute just 2 percent of the total annual pool of arts revenue in the U.S., according to Americans for the Arts. While a seemingly small percentage, arts advocates say organizations use those dollars to leverage donations from local governments, match federal funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and attract the private donations that make up the bulk of their annual budgets.

That private giving has also suffered during the recession. According to the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, private donations to the arts decreased 6.4 percent between 2007 and 2008, the latest years available, and has likely fallen farther this year.

The cuts in arts aren't universal. Besides Minnesota, a handful of other states, such as Oregon, New York and Texas, have seen increases, either because their states are in better shape or because of one-time surges of new revenue.

The arts typically take a hit during recessions, as state budget writers are forced to balance theater expenses and sculpture grants against cuts to social service agencies, education or transportation. Arts budgets have fallen 20 percent in the past two years, compared with 38 percent during the 2001-2004 recession and 28 percent during the early 1990s, said Angela Han, spokeswoman for the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies,

But arts agency leaders said legislatures make a mistake when they look at the arts as a luxury as opposed to a key source of jobs and community identity.

"I don't think any government entity in the United States has ever understood the true value of the arts in terms of economic development, arts education or in community revitalization," said Sue Weiner, executive director of the Georgia Council for the Arts.

In a 2007 study, the Americans for the Arts found that the nonprofit arts and culture industry anually generated $166.2 billion in economic activity and 5.7 million jobs.

Han said that while the recession may show signs of abating, she doesn't expect state arts funding to snap back soon.

"Following the 2001 recession, it took budgets three years to recover," she said.

Back in Lawrence, Ahlvers recently found out that the Kansas commission may get funding to give him his $1,000. But with state revenue still hurting, he'll believe it when he sees it.

"As an artist, I think of course they (states) should put money in the arts," he said. "But there's another side of the arts that thrives on an underdog side of life."

Tim Cain Column: The 'whys' are hard to pin down

Tim Cain Column: The 'whys' are hard to pin down

By TIM CAIN - H&R Entertainment Editor

The band had just played to an enthusiastic crowd. Yet the turnout was smaller than the band, the venue and many in the crowd had anticipated.

The band's leader, through a confused and baffled face, quietly muttered, "What else is there to do in this town, anyway?"

It wasn't an indictment of Decatur, or at least it didn't seem that way. Rather, the thought process seemed to be, "We sell out shows in Chicago and New York - why can't we get more than a couple of hundred people through the door in this city?"

Listening to me list a number of the other events in town that evening, his smile went from wry to incredulous and back.

Ultimately, the band had to be satisfied by my conclusion:

"I don't know, guys. All I can say is if I were an event promoter in Decatur, I'd be broke within six months. I have no feel for what works and why."

Ask a dozen people what the primary issue is, and you'll get a dozen different answers.

The economy. Ticket prices. Over-the-hill acts. Performances geared toward THEM, not ME. The .08 percent alcohol driving law.

Each of those arguments has merits and demerits, depending on the point during which they're deployed. In a recent discussion with a friend, we recalled Kirkland Fine Arts Center hosting five times as many empty seats as audience members when Celtic fiddle wizard Eileen Ivers did a rave of a show on St. Patrick's Day a few years back.

A name performer, an affordable ticket - Decatur, my friend reminded me, hasn't always been an entertainment-friendly venue for the not-widely known, even during the best of times.

Too often, which it comes to entertainment or just living in general, Central Illinois consumers want Chicago entertainment at Decatur prices. It just doesn't happen that way.

Those over-the-hill acts might be good for a laugh, but Skid Row crammed 1,000 people into the Lincoln Square Theatre, so somebody's interested. One person's "over-the-hill" is the next person's fun evening of nostalgia.

As for the variety of performances, as was discussed in this space recently, for the size of the city, you can't beat the theater offerings available just within the city limits. From musicals to light comedy to Shakespeare to experimental theater, Decatur does pretty well. The trick is, you actually have to get up and GO TO THE THEATER.

For years, a segment of people have maintained the change in the driving-under-the-influence law, which said a .08 alcohol content was illegal, "killed live music in this town." Another segment insists the free entertainment at Decatur Celebration kills other attempts to bring in national acts, because Celebration has spoiled the taste of the value of entertainment for many in Decatur.

These are repeated as "fact" so much that they've become accepted as true, for no good reason. Is the DUI law different in Springfield, Bloomington or Champaign? Their nightlife spots seem to have the same ebb and flow as Decatur's. Maybe the grass is greener, or the buckets of beer are colder, in someone else's yard?

If anyone has the answers, we're all eager to hear them. Especially the people who are struggling to bring acts to town.

timcain@herald-review.com|421-6908

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