Nearly all arts institutions faced budget strains in 2009 that are not likely to let up much in 2010. The current issue of NEA Arts, the quarterly published by the National Endowment for the Arts, addresses the economic pressures facing performing arts presenters in particular; in “Focusing on the Work: Arts Presenting in Hard Times,” writer Paulette Beete sought perspective from Philip Bither, the Walker’s McGuire senior curator of performing arts, as well as Michael Kaiser, President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
Both offered a number of often overlapping insights; for Bither, persevering in hard times means three basic things:
- Take risks: “I would encourage my presenting colleagues in general that sometimes the smartest thing to do is to take the biggest risk. Surprisingly we have found that sometimes the scariest projects, the most ambitious and audacious undertakings, have delivered the greatest rewards” –not just in terms of acclaim, he noted, but in future support from funders.
- Collaborate both locally and nationally: “Very infrequently [is the Walker] the sole commissioner of a new work. I think collaboration and cooperation between arts entities that’s on a national scale and on a local level are really part of what we define as requirements that allow us to be fiscally responsible and still support new work.”
- Focus on the artists: “ … it’s a very vulnerable and lonely place, especially for emerging and mid-career artists, to not know who’s out there that might believe in them enough to not just put on their last hit but to actually support their next idea. I think in many instances the Walker saying to an artist, ‘We believe in you, and we want to help make this great idea you have come to life,’ is equally important, if not more so, than the cash we can put on the table or the range of resources we can provide.”
Radiohole’s production of Whatever, Heaven Allows, which played as part of the Out There series last month, was a case in point of point 3. The Walker’s commission – a partnership with New York’s PS122, Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum, and UCLA Live (see point 2) – allowed members of this company to work on a scale they haven’t before.
Other upcoming commissions for the current 2009-2010 season include new music from Bill Frisell, Rahim AlHaj, and Eyvind Kang, created during a residency in the McGuire Theater (February 6); Morgan Thorson and Low’s Heaven (March 4-6), also supported by a residency; and the John Jasperse Company’s Truth, Revised Histories, Wishful Thinking, and Flat Out Lies (May 20-22). Midwest debuts include Bruno Beltrao/Grupo de Rua with H3 (February 11-13), the Akram Khan Company with bahok (March 3), and Saburo Teshigawara/KARAS with Miroku.