Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Vision for Media in an Arts-friendly Community

Communication creates community. The exchange of ideas by speakers and listeners, or writers and readers, draws people together around a common task of understanding each other using the shared conventions of language.

For community to grow beyond two or three or ten or twenty, the community needs a medium that communicates across larger spans of time and space. For an arts-friendly community to flourish, it needs an arts-friendly medium. This is one vision for such a medium.
The medium is place-based, because the arts are place-based. Live performances, visual art exhibits, and film screenings exist in a shared physical experience space. 
The medium is physical and direct, because this connects it to specific places where the community gathers. Media such as bulletin boards, posters and handbills are physical and direct because they exist as print.
The medium is free, because communication flows best when it is unimpeded. 
The medium itself exemplifies beauty, freedom of expression, creativity, kindness, technical excellence and diversity because those are the ways in which the arts imitate some of the finest qualities of humanity.
The medium is sustainable, because the arts-friendly community benefits from the free flow of information, and comes to rely on it. It remains sustainable for as long as it carries content of value, and enables exchange of value among the members of the community: its creators, producers and consumers.
This vision describes a beautiful, free, ad-supported print medium, established in a specific place and serving a community which values artistic expression. Yet there are better and worse ways to realize such a vision.
The medium should support a free ideas marketplace. Artists seeking to share their expression with an audience need a platform for introducing their work and announcing their events. In an arts-friendly community, these announcements are considered intrinsically valuable. As long as the ideas marketplace is not primarily revenue-based, this communication should be free. 
The medium should support a small business marketplace. Revenue-based organizations — profit-seeking or otherwise — need an affordable channel for reaching customers, patrons and prospects. These organizations should share the cost of the medium among themselves because they derive the most immediate value from their own commercial messages. 
The medium should support public communication. Any community has a vested interest in a flow of information from their local, publicly-funded government. Public messaging, especially arts-based, should be welcomed in the medium on a cost-sharing basis whenever that messaging is paid for with budgeted public funds.
The medium should offer something to those outside of arts circles. Visibility is essential to all purposes of the medium, and culturally-relevant content of general interest will attract a diverse readership.
While this vision for a free medium serving an arts-friendly community promotes cooperation and participation, the practical reality is that direct ownership and control of the medium is likely to be concentrated in the hands of a few. They will hold a power over the medium that could easily by misused.
The medium should not become a vehicle for its own artistic expression. Once a publisher begins using the medium itself as an art product, it becomes overtly self-serving and may violate the trust placed in it by the community.
The medium should not become a vehicle for its own political expression. By using the medium as a megaphone for any one viewpoint in a controversy weakens the community by alienating part of it, and thus betrays the purpose of the medium.
The medium should not become overly commercialized. The presence of paid advertising which is not locally place-based (e.g. national brand advertising) primarily supports the medium and not the community. Commercial messaging disguised as a free flow of information will pollute the ideas marketplace and steal from the small business marketplace. Noisy, cluttered or overexposed advertisements detract from the beauty of the medium. Any and all forms of "selling out" are potentially harmful.
Arts-friendly print media are found all over the world in all styles and formats. Some attempt to combine arts-specific content with news, opinion, recurring columns, classified ads and personal ads. The vision articulated here does not preclude any of these kinds of content, but many of them add cost to the medium, and don't effectively contribute to the arts-centric community discourse.

Can an arts-friendly community grow and thrive without its own place-based direct physical medium? Perhaps, but the presence of the medium performs a vital function. It serves as primary evidence that an arts movement exists in the community; it documents the community's values; and it invites others into the community through its free and generous transfer of ideas.