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A Primer in Contemporary Indian Music

March 3, 2009

A.R. Rahman’s Slumdog Oscars are sparking interest in contemporary music from India.

Hopefully, the resulting trend is flowing in this direction and not this one.


Cheap Culture, cont’d

March 2, 2009

With less and less TV worth watching, and more and more of what is good available via the Internet, why keep an expensive cable subscription?  Good question.

Cultural Economy: Arts Organizations, Museums, and Cultural Institutions are Reeling

March 2, 2009

No surprise here, but the arts and culture sector has been particularly decimated in recent months.

The downturn walloping the entire economy has hit non-profit arts organizations especially hard. With millions of people scrambling to pay for food and other basics, a night at the opera can seem frivolous. So museums, symphonies, theaters, ballet companies and opera companies have cut staff, canceled performances, shortened seasons and, in some cases, shut down.

The worst may be yet to come.

Disturbing details continue here.  Whether these institutions belong among the beneficiaries of federal stimulus largesse is an open question (though the $50 million set aside for the National Endowment for the Arts seems sub-trivial in these “trillion here, trillion there” times).

Regardless of one’s position on the stimulus spending, everyone could agree that we should at least encourage private donations to museums, dance companies, historic sites, etc. in these dark times. But the Obama administration’s new budget calls for scaling back tax deductions for charitable giving. Billions in annual donations may be at risk.

In addition to our commercial entertainment industry, cultural expression in America has thrived because of our decentralized system based on the voluntary support of foundations and individuals.  Philanthropic donations to non-profit arts and education programs have been the lifeblood of our vibrant cultural scene, especially for those art forms that don’t enjoy mass appeal.

A measure that would have a negligible effect on the federal budget might have a catastrophic effect on the non-profit world.

Books and Film: What would Fitzgerald have made of “Benjamin Button”?

March 1, 2009

What would F. Scott Fitzgerald have thought of Hollywood’s expansive take on his story, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button?

Some well-grounded speculation at The Smart Set:

the Fitzgerald who worked his ass off in Hollywood, who failed over and over again, who was humiliated many more times than that, would tell you that Benjamin Button the film is pure treacle. He’d probably then go off on a bender, but not before first giving you the pages of  “Crazy Sunday” — a Fitzgerald story that hardly anyone reads, and the ballsiest piece of Hollywood fiction ever written.

Read on… [here]

Style: Before Hippies but after Beatniks, there was… Mod!

February 25, 2009

modcultureSome very interesting styles, clothes, art, and music from a totally unique era of studied disaffection and universal nonchalance.

Design: The Glorious P-51 Mustang

February 23, 2009
Cadillac of the Skies

Cadillac of the Skies

Somewhere, there must be poetry about this beautiful and lethal machine.  The ever-engrossing blog A Continuous Lean has a nice feature [here] on the plane made famous by men like Chuck Yeager and the Tuskegee Airmen.

And here’s a goosebump-inducing multimedia presentation from a 2007 gathering of pilots and still-flying Mustangs… [listen to that engine rip the sky!]  And more… [here]

Laptop Arts and Culture: Exploring Big Ideas and Great Art during a Great Recession

February 22, 2009

Looking for things to do when you are unemployed, underemployed, or just plain scared of spending money?

If you can afford to stay connected to the Internet, you now have access to a vast repository of enjoyable, intriguing, and edifying cultural content.  And a lot of it is free, cheap, and/or legal.

As mentioned here recently, science fiction author John Scalzi recently put together his own comprehensive family entertainment package for less than $100 per month with things like Netflix, Rhapsody, and a public library.  Scalzi’s list is a good starting point, but there are many cultural resources available for less than, say, the $20 it costs for the privilege of entering the Museum of Modern Art.

Cultural enrichment can be free or low-cost, especially if you look beyond “blockbusters.”  Today, there is more enlightening material available more widely than ever in human history.  From highbrow to lowbrow, and everything in between, there is an explosion of expression… more than any one person could digest in a lifetime.

Now is the time to explore that long tail of cultural production other than the biggest and latest thing.

From Project Gutenberg’s electronic editions of classic literature to historic music performances on YouTube, the most enduring works of our culture are suddenly the most accessible.  The Library of Congress has been steadily digitizing its treasures of American history, music, and culture…  it’s all free at the American Memory website.

For more contemporary fare, there is a flowering of creativity and energy to be found in podcasts, online video, ebooks, blogs, etc.  The only problem is how to start drinking-in this ocean of expression.

A great place to look for digital gems is the outstanding website, Open Culture, which is indexing these free cultural riches.

Which brings us to another advantage of the digital age… the ease with which people can share discoveries and insights with others.  Blogs, aggregators, and magazines can help us search out the best and most interesting content on the Internet.  Online social media provide unprecedented opportunities to converse with others who share idiosyncratic enthusiasms.  It is a wide open frontier for growing knowledge and experiencing art, and it is almost always free for the taking.

Where does this advice leave booksellers, public media, performing arts companies, arthouse movie theaters, and museums?  Anyone who can afford it should patronize and support these institutions as much as possible.  They are far more valuable than the nominal fees they charge.  Still, many of these institutions are adapting to the current environment.

Many museums have dropped admission charges entirely.  One way of engaging in cultural activities that would be otherwise out of reach is to volunteer on their behalf.  Who knows, maybe helping out for free could lead to a new career?

The arts and the humanities have always been sources of consolation, rejuvenation, information, or distraction in tough times.  Reading in history, matching music to mood, satisfying long-deferred curiosity… these are all important activities for mental and spiritual health and for a practical understanding of the world we inhabit.

As our Great Recession continues, these seemingly ephemeral things will only seem more important.  Thank goodness they are more available now than ever before.