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The Buzz, 8-7: California Dreaming
Giving Back to the Arts; Back to the Future for "Dance Magazine"?

"I'm deeply concerned about what this is going to do to the arts ecology of the state. The attitude that the arts are a frill, a disposable part of society, is so very, very wrong. The economic impact alone is enormous."

--Lisa James, San Francisco Opera, commenting to the San Francisco Chronicle on California's plans to reduce arts spending to 3 cents per person

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider

SACRAMENTO, Oct. 8 -- In his first move as governor-elect of California, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger today called on state legislators to enact a 5 percent arts tax on all gross earnings from films made in the state, with half of the proceeds mandated for arts in the schools.

"California has given the Hollywood film colony a home for a hundred years," the actor best known for his role as "The Terminator" noted. "It's time for the industry to give something back."

Well -- it could happen, dance insider. Before his entry yesterday into the race to succeed Gov. Gray Davis if the latter is recalled October 7, Schwarzenegger's most notable political achievement was last year's successful initiative to mandate state funding for after-school programs.

It's clear that such a bold step is needed; last week, the state's Democrat-controlled legislature sent Davis a $100 billion budget that increases police spending while slashing state arts funding, $18 million last year and $32 million three years ago, to just $1 million. The new budget, a California Arts Council official told the San Francisco Chronicle, means the state will spend less than 3 cents per person on the arts -- "dead last," as the Chronicle's Steven Winn put it, in a nation that spends an average $1.10 per person. It's an embarassment for the state, and should be an embarrassment for the state's premium arts industry, the Hollywood film community. If Schwarzenegger wants to advance a positive plan for the state's recovery, rather than just dissin' Davis, he might call on his colleagues to follow the example of the Silicon Valley's Apple Computer, which has long donated computers to cash-strapped schools, and start giving back.

Speaking of California dreamers, taken alone, the 'news' that "Dance Magazine" is moving back to New York signifies little. What shocked the dance world when the magazine left New York for Oakland about four years ago was not just the move itself, but the jettisoning of most of the staff to whom DM owed its credibility in the field that came with it. Even then, the magazine might have regained some ground had its publisher not driven out its new editor, Janice Berman, a former Newsday dance critic who also had credibility among dance journalists.

A publication is more than a name, and the journalists and other staff who made the name Dance Magazine mean something have long since departed and left its staff barren -- with three exceptional exceptions. Senior editor Clive Barnes, New York editor Wendy Perron, and news editor (last time I checked) Alan Ulrich are all held in deserved high regard by the dance world.

I was tempted to ignore this non-story, but the fact is, dance could use a third (after Ballet Review and the Dance Insider) high-brow national publication. A multiplicity of media voices means a healthier industry overall. So, in its typically humble fashion, the Buzz would like to say what it would do were it in the shoes of Jeff Schaeffer, president and CEO of MacFadden, the current owner of "Dance Magazine."

First, I would bring in one of the field's gray eminences as the publication's new executive editor -- someone widely and internationally respected among both dancers and dance journalists. Richard Philp, who over a nearly 30-year period made DM what it was before its current editor and publisher proceeded to demolish it, would be one ideal candidate. Elizabeth Zimmer, longtime dance editor of the Village Voice, would be another. The executive editor would not be merely titular, but would have a real responsibility for rebuilding the magazine's reputation and setting the overall direction and vision of the book, which are currently wandering.

Next, I would elevate Perron to editor-in-chief. With all due respect to the DI's own staff, Perron is probably the most gifted dancer-dance journalist working in the field today. Placing her in charge of the book's content, in tandem with a Philp or a Zimmer, would instantly re-establish credibility among dance artists and, particularly, the New York dance community.

I would then try to convince Harris Green, a features editor under Philp jettisoned with the move West, to come back as managing editor, responsible for establishing a consistent style-book and raising the current uneven editorial standard. (The most recent bad example: An article by a former dancer advocating dumpster-diving and complimentary class hopping as respectable survival tools for dancers. Please. Do we really need to push dancer esteem any further into the gutter?) I'd also try to lure back Doris Perlman, a former editorial assistant at DM, as copy chief.

The magazine would then need to bring on a reviews editor with the stature of the late Gary Parks, who held that position under Philp. Tobi Tobias, a DI contributor and a former longtime contributor to DM, is probably too busy, but it would need to be someone in her league. Nancy Dalva, another DI contributor, also comes to mind.

Ulrich could and should be retained as news editor. It's probably good for at least one editor to view the scene from outside New York, and Ulrich, a San Francisco institution, has always maintained a global perspective.

Just as critical as new editorial leadership is bringing in a publisher who, er, has some actual knowledge of publishing, and of the dance advertising landscape. Here the choice is obvious: Eileen Darby, DM's former advertising director. (First, MacFadden would have to settle Darby's claims with the former owner.) (Lest Eileen's current employer gets the wrong idea, she didn't put this idea in my head; in fact, Eileen, a colleague, is probably losing her breakfast over my having put it forth.)

Have a great week-end, Dance Insider, however you express it.


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