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Opinion/Editorial

Prelude to a Kiss-Off

By Published: June 16, 2005
It's important to understand that none of this would have been possible without the commitment, good will and trust of the artists we represented. They never burdened us with unreasonable expectations, not even of the "we get more than this when we play in Europe" mode. They knew we were trying to create something new in an environment that had previously been barren. We didn't work with those who didn't understand. It was simple math and pragmatic reasoning.

A little more empirical evidence here. Through these well-conceived and well-executed marketing and development concepts, in conjunction with similarly committed efforts by ECM and Nonesuch Records (both under the direction, non-coincidentally, of Bob Hurwitz), The Art Ensemble's Full Force album (ECM) sold 40,000 copies in its first year; the World Saxophone Quartet's first Nonesuch album sold 45,000 (and continues to sell regularly).

A 1982 4-day "avant Festival that Outward Visions produced for George Wein's Kool Jazz Festival in Los Angeles (a city that we were never able to include in our various individual tours) was attended by 8,000 people out of a gross potential of 9,500. It also generated more press and visibility than any of the other 15 or so festivals Wein produced that year. (Interestingly, I ran into Wein's L.A. line producer a few years ago. She remarked to me that it was too bad that "nobody showed up for those concerts. But that's a story for another time).

Taking another cue from the Public Theater experience, our philosophy was to promote this music to a fine arts audience from that perspective. Commissioned compositions, educational imperatives, performance context, multi-disciplinary collaborations and so forth all established a viability for the music with the higher profile arts presenters, as well as the arts foundations, the NEA and regional arts sponsors.

Through the efforts of some young committed individuals who came to work with us, Outward Visions was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit in 1980 to establish an ongoing series of residencies and concerts in juvenile detention centers and prisons all over New York City.

Learning the ropes of the non-profit world while working for, and later directing the Nikolais/Louis Foundation for Dance, we began setting up non-profit organizations for Jazz artists through the involvement of a top non-profit lawyer and professor named Leonard Easter. Together we pioneered the use of the 501(c)(3) artist-driven organization for Jazz artists in the same manner they were being utilized for choreographers, composers, theatrical producers, etc.

It was only a matter of time before the fine arts world of serious funding would begin to embrace Jazz. Our strategy was to be in the prime position to facilitate it. We had the infrastructure, the experience, the reputation, the skill and the properly benevolent mindset and spirit to be heavily involved in whatever developments would be put into motion for the benefit of "America's Greatest Indigenous Artform. And, we also had the trust of both artists and presenters.

So what the hell went wrong?

There are plenty of one word answers that would each offer a reasonable portion of the explanation - Greed, Fear, Ignorance, Indifference, Contempt—or the onset of the corruption of the three word phrase The American Dream into its present mutation as The World's Nightmare. But it can best be summarized by the numerical metaphor that has made the adjective Orwellian into a household term—1984.

(BWAP! BWAP! BWAP! Right-wing alert. Danger! Danger! Liberal viewpoint ahead! On the count of three—heads in the sand! ONE! TWO! THREE! Cool. Thought they'd never leave.)

1984—the year in which Democrats morphed into Republicans, allowing Republicans to mutate into something far more frightening. Ronald Reagan, the grinning bobble-headed marionette labeled by his puppeteers as "The Great Communicator led us down a garden path of greed and consumerism, and we merrily followed, licking our lips and waiting for our bounty with sweaty palms. Call it Reaganomics, call it stimulating the economy through tax cuts for the rich, call it being Bushwhacked. It all adds up to enriching the few at the expense of the many.



Somehow, the previously benevolent, dedicated and high-principle world of Arts and Culture got sucked into the trend—and quite comfortably at that. Little by little, its staunch adherents to the traditional commitments were either set out to pasture, derisively marginalized, convinced of the value of the New Order, co-opted, or left behind screaming into the wind.

Like the neutron bomb—hat would destroy its target's inhabitants, but leave the buildings standing—The New Order of the fine arts world would dedicate its efforts to monolith facilities and the development of new fiefdoms whose landlords would soon decide how the plantation would be run, and who would toil in the field, the yard, or the house.



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