What outsiders think

April 29, 2008
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Conner Prairie landed its own four-page section in the current issue of Smithsonian magazine and, of course, the powers that be at the rustic landmark are thrilled.

In a press release, Brenda Myers, executive director of the Hamilton County Convention and Visitors Bureau, is quoted as saying, “Recognition like a Smithsonian article not only helps Conner Prairie, it enhances the positive reputation of the entire central Indiana region.”

Hard to disagree. But I’d like to look a little wider. My question: How important is it for our arts and cultural products to be recognized outside of our borders?

What does it say if an Indianapolis Opera performance earns mention in a national art publication (three IO productions were reviewed in Opera News in 2007), or if a play at the Indiana Repertory Theatre is reviewed in Variety (which a quick search says hasn’t happened since “Les Trois Dumas” in 1998)?

Would the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra sound even better to you if you knew the New York Times critic loved it?

What does outside endorsement — or even notice — do for both the marketing and the art itself?

Your thoughts?
  • Outside notice is lovely. Congratulations to Conner Prairie! And to the Indianapolis Opera.

    Outside endorsement sometimes makes people take a closer look at what they have been ignoring, or at least taking for granted, in their own backyard.

    Some investors probably feel more confident investing in a local arts organization that has been nationally recognized.

    However, lack of outside endorsement doesn't necessarily mean that anything is wrong.

    Thousands of good books go unmentioned every year by the New York Times, for example.

    And at the unveiling of the IRT's 2008-2009 season in March, managing director Steven Stolen said that individual ticket sales were up and that the IRT's development department has already received $2 million from corporate sponsorships, individual donations, and assorted grants - more than ever before.

    He also said that through its education department, the IRT serves 60 of the Indiana's 92 counties. In my mind, that is much better than a Variety review.

    In any case, I would rather my local arts organizations continue to concentrate on making the best art they can, rather than losing sleep over whether or not they have been noticed by outsiders.

    _I_ am here. _I_ am paying attention. Make art for me.

    Hope Baugh
  • I was thrilled to see Conner Prairie in Smithsonian Magazine. Outside endorsements do matter. They put our local offerings into a larger context, letting us know that what we have here is good not only by our own standards, but by the standards of those who get around much more than do many Hoosiers. I can easily imagine someone who hasn't visited Conner Prairie hearing that it merited a Smithsonian Magazine article and thinking, Wow! I may be missing something. Let's go visit next weekend.

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