Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Arts are a Contact Sport

The Arts are a Contact Sport

By Tom Wachunas

The Sports section in a weekday edition of The Repository from a few days ago featured articles by four different Repository writers, one by a Cleveland Plain Dealer sports writer, and one Associated Press sports article. Yes, I read about sports in our daily newspaper. In the same newspaper I also read movie, television, and book reviews by writers from places like Los Angeles or New York. Some of them are even occasionally ‘deep’ in their intellectual content. Additionally, I sometimes come across commentaries and interviews about live theatre or concert productions in Cleveland and Akron, and fewer still about the many stage shows presented here in Stark County, with the notable exception of those at the Players Guild Theatre, always well written by Dan Kane.

In a recent conversation at a Canton Symphony Orchestra concert, the subject of concert reviews in the The Repository – or lack of them, actually- came up. And the tired argument that was cited for such a lack was that the paper has no interest in commentary about one-night-only arts events. It’s a lame defense I’ve encountered countless times through many years of approaching the paper about hiring an arts critic – OK, hiring me.

Like any local sports team, the orchestra performs many times throughout its season. Commentary and analysis of one event can enhance readers’ overall awareness of the talents and skills of the orchestra (and let’s not forget the Canton Ballet, or VOCI)), and inform their decisions as to future support or better yet, attendance at a concert. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read in The Repository two, three, sometimes four articles by as many writers about a single football or basketball game, spread across several days AFTER the game was played.

My queries to the paper about its in-depth local arts coverage (or, again, the lack of it) over the past 18 years have netted me a collection of responses from various editors all citing the same reasons for not having an in-house art or music critic. At the top of the list is “we’re not hiring at this time.” Since my last conversation with the paper about a year ago, I’ve noticed the addition of at least one column writer, though not in the arts. Heck, more than once I even offered my services gratis, but was told that it goes against union policy and practices. My collection also includes two carefully worded responses from different editors saying that they didn’t think our community has enough “interest” in arts critiques to warrant hiring a qualified writer.

The Repository editorial authorities have, then, repeatedly determined that Canton is not interested in the kind of arts journalism I’m talking about and have been practicing for nearly 25 years. So be it. We want culture in our hometown paper? Fine. We can just continue to eat the printed movie and television fluff served up by out-of-towners. Besides, there’s always those pesky bloggers.

Photo: “Dempsey and Firpo,” by George Bellows, oil, 1924

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