Arts Coverage: Lead or Follow?

Are you as frustrated with the lack of quality arts coverage as I am? Over the 20 years I’ve been reading the Sunday New York Times, coverage of classical and jazz music has slowly been replaced with stories of pop/entertainment. The quality remains high of what they do cover, but the space is reduced, as are the number of columnists: most recently the layoff of the wonderful Allan Kozinn.
I’m mindful that the NYT is a business, but I remain convinced that they are tastemakers and that the editors should serve as curators, selecting what they deem important, not what they deem popular. They should lead, not follow.
I’ve heard the same thing happen on NPR: my local NPR station plays a half-hour business news report every evening but also skips the last ten minutes of each hour of All Things Considered for more business coverage. That’s the part of the hour most often devoted to arts coverage. Polls probably say that the business segments are valued by their audience more than the arts, but again I say Michigan Radio should be curators, not followers of polls.
An example of excellent curation:
When I lived near Detroit, I loved listening to Tom Allen’s CBC Radio 2 morning show from across the border. One of my favourite parts was the last five minutes of each hour, when Joe Cummings would join Tom to share some arts stories he had researched from across Canada. The Arts Report was a casual conversation about whatever the day’s arts news was across Canada. I loved hearing Tom & Joe, even though the arts news was never applied directly to me. Joe’s curation of the news and their joint enthusiasm for arts news made the segment compelling, affecting, and inspiring.
Of course, a year before I left Grosse Pointe, CBC canceled the Arts Report segment. A year later, literally as I packed boxes, Tom Allen transitioned to Shift, an afternoon radio program balancing classical and eclectic pop/rock programming. Because Allen is so good at what he does, it’s still an incredibly well-curated program; in lesser hands it would resemble so much of the rest of arts news.
There are so few places left that really accept the curatorial role, facing down a lowest-common-denominator world to bring us what they believe to be important. I seek those places out, and you should, too. I say it’s far better to let Alex Ross decide what’s important than the Billboard Magazine Hot 100 Chart.

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