Japan is on my mind, with great sorrow. It is hard to carry on knowing the devastation being endured, and the possibility of even greater catastrophe. Of course, the specter of disaster follows us all around, especially those of us who live in areas prone to earthquake, hurricane or terrorist attack. It will be interesting to watch how the arts world engages with Japan. Ironically, or perhaps not, it was Lady Gaga who first broke through the malaise with her offer to raise money for Japan. Gaga’s monsters have a worthy idol. For years now, pop stars have associated themselves with humanitarian causes, raising awareness and funds. As the world begins to take stock of Japan’s tragedy, I am left to wonder what role our venerable arts institutions can or should play in civic or humanitarian causes of such magnitude. Do we have the adaptive capacity to help our communities fathom world events like this- when they need us? Or, are our pre-planned seasons so fixed, our finances and labor agreements so brittle, and our artistic visions so unilateral that we cannot be responsive in times of great need? Must we wait for another 9/11 or Katrina before artists and arts institutions gather around a vast public need to process issues and emotions as they arise? Of course there is a downside risk to acting too quickly and being seen as opportunistic or even exploitive. Perhaps we need to develop a new creative muscle – one that affords a higher level of spontaneity and responsiveness in times like this. Doing so would entirely recast the public value of art. We may not be able to move the masses like pop stars, but perhaps we stand to learn something from Lady Gaga.
P.S. Many thanks to all of you who contributed examples of arts programs that occur in unusual settings, in response to my last posting here. Your references will make the dialogue about “setting” much richer.