NEA Arts Journalism Institutes: Improving Arts Coverage in America
"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," commented Chairman Dana Gioia in 2004 to announce a new Arts Endowment initiative: the NEA Arts Journalism Institutes. Realizing that critics outside the country's major media markets are often limited in their professional development opportunities, the NEA provided $1 million for two years of Institutes for critics of classical music, opera, theatre, and dance. The intensive sessions provide arts critics with the training necessary to improve the country's arts coverage, helping it to grow both in quality and quantity.
"First-rate arts criticism helps strengthen cultural institutions and the communities they serve."
After a successful first round of Institutes, the NEA has continued its series with new groups of fellows from across the country. The NEA held its second Arts Journalism Institute in Theatre and Musical Theatre at the University of Southern California Annenberg in January 2006. Twenty-five arts critics from 20 different states congregated for ten days of writing workshops; history, acting, and directing classes; observation of rehearsals; and viewing and critique of both classical and contemporary plays and musicals.
The Institutes in dance and classical music and opera follow a similar format to the one in theater. In addition to lectures and seminars with leaders in higher education, the arts, and journalism, a variety of performances are attended, giving the fellows an opportunity to improve their viewing, analytical, and writing skills. The classical music and opera Institute held its second conference in October of 2005 in New York City at Columbia University with 25 fellows and the dance Institute held its first conference during July of 2005 with 16 fellows, overseen by the American Dance Festival at Duke University in Durham, NC. The second dance Institute will be held in the summer of 2006.
An integral component of all three Institutes is physical learning, whether it be performing a monologue or having a lesson on a musical instrument or in physical movement. For instance, at the first Institute for classical music and opera critics, participants received a voice coaching session at the MET Opera. This physical element provides the critics with a deeper understanding of the artists' creation, adding a greater depth to their analyses of the performances they critique.
The benefits gained from these Institutes continue well after the official end - fellows continue to remain in contact, transforming into a network of arts critics, sharing techniques, advice, and ideas.