NEA Arts Journalism Institutes: Improving Arts Coverage in America

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Photo of the Fellows of the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University, posed on the steps in front of one of the campus buildings

Above: Fellows of the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University. Photo: Matt Peiken

It felt like three weeks of academic and practical work crammed into twelve days.” That was how one journalist felt after completing the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at the University of Southern California, which focused on theater criticism. Another reporter admitted that he "went from abject fear of writing reviews to a palpable easiness" after finishing the grueling lecture and seminar schedule. The experience for many was summed up in the words of this journalist: "Perfect, perfect, perfect."

Inspiring reporters such as these to cover the arts is just what the three NEA Arts Journalism Institutes were designed to do. In June 2004, the NEA announced the establishment of three Institutes to focus on improving arts criticism in America. Journalists who cover the arts for media outlets located outside the country's largest media markets were invited. Institutes for dance critics were hosted by the American Dance Festival at Duke University; for classical music and opera critics at Columbia University; and theater critics at the University of Southern California.

"The vitality of the arts depends more than most people think on lively and informed criticism, especially local reviews and coverage from their own communities. Outside our major cities, journalists who cover the arts often are overextended with multiple beats and assignments that allow few opportunities to concentrate on various artistic disciplines," said NEA Chairman Dana Gioia.

The NEA is providing $1 million toward funding the first two years of the program. Each site will host a two or three-week institute each year for up to 30 attendees. All of the participants' expenses are covered including travel, room, board, materials, instruction, and admittance to performances.

The NEA Arts Journalism Institutes establish the importance of arts journalism through lectures and seminars with leaders in higher education, the arts, and journalism. The attendees work with senior journalists and faculty members to improve their viewing, analytical, and writing skills. In addition, participants attend performances that cover a wide variety of genres and styles, as well as rehearsals and behind-the- scenes meetings with artists and administrators.

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