"Bloomberg, the New York-based financial news giant, is shutting down its Muse brand of cultural journalism and has laid off its theater critic. The shake-up was part of a company-wide reorganization that came down on Monday and resulted in layoffs around the newsroom.
Bloomberg plans to continue to cover the arts, but with an emphasis on luxury. In an email sent to employees on Monday, Bloomberg editor-in-chief Matt Winkler said that the company has decided "to scale back arts coverage and no longer use the Muse brand."
He said Bloomberg will align its leisure reporting with its luxury channel on its website, and with Pursuits, its magazine for wealthy readers."
Decreasing arts coverage and dumping the theatre critic has been going on for a decade or more in major magazines (some of which no longer exist) and newspapers. Perhaps not cheerful news (unless your show has been recently panned.) But also not much new in it either.
But here's what caught my eye: "Bloomberg plans to continue to cover the arts, but with an emphasis on luxury... He said Bloomberg will align its leisure reporting with its luxury channel on its website, and with Pursuits, its magazine for wealthy readers."
This is first of all a clear acknowledgement that New York City has become an enclave for the rich, the only ones apart from tourists who can afford theatre tickets. But Bloomberg's reach is far beyond New York City or even Washington,.D.C., another city that is pushing out its middle class. (In New York as in San Francisco, tech money has filled the space vacated by financial sector downsizing after the unpleasantness of 2008, while in Washington it's big money politics.)
Apart then from the national trend of the disappearing middle class, there's the reality living up to the cliche of the arts as only for the wealthy. It is not generally true, especially when your definition moves away from arts events that are more glitz than substance much of the time anyway.
But it's a stubborn cliche, even here on the North Coast. A North Coast Journal music column used the dubious mechanism of noting different kinds of music events by the footwear that characterizes their supposed audiences. For an event sponsored by the HSU Music Department, the footwear described were expensive loafers.
I'm not sure the writer ever attended an HSU Music event, where the audience is usually students, faculty, other musicians and a scattering of others, none of them wearing expensive loafers. This may be the audience that used to go to the Arkley Center (though not often enough apparently), I wouldn't know, I've never been there. But anyone who has been to any theatre event on the North Coast must know that you are far more likely to see some pricey footwear in Wildberries than anywhere plays are produced.
Money and the arts don't go together like a horse and carriage. They are more naturally enemies than allies, as a lot of bad art suggests. While having a rich family helps young people survive long enough to establish a career in the arts, the arts themselves attract audiences and passionate devotees from all income classes. They fascinate and inspire a self-selected audience and set of practitioners.
But it's also a product of our cultural insistence that theatre is nothing but entertainment, and entertainment is a luxury. Theatre can be and should be a lot more central and important in people's lives and to the community.