Recent estimates suggest that as many as half of local arts journalism jobs in America have disappeared over the past decade. In South Florida I’d suggest that proportion is even higher.
Yes, there are a few local bloggers who will tell you about the movies they liked (or hated), but how often do you find an informed blog discussion on a local art exhibit, dance performance or even a theater review? Not often, I’m afraid.
I hadn’t thought much about this recently until the unexpected death of local arts writer Skip Sheffield. You may not recognize his name, but if you’ve read a theater, music or film review in a local publication these past 20 years, I suspect at least some of them were written by Skip.
He believed so firmly in the importance of local arts criticism that he often worked for free — something I believe no publication should ask its contributors to do.
Skip cared so much about South Florida that he did it anyway. He knew that information about the arts is important to the cultural vitality of an area. And Skip loved this area. He will be dearly missed. (See Thom Smith’s Around Town column, Page AT4.)
In today’s media rush to count retweets and page views and Instagram followers, arts writers have been reduced to the status of promoters. There is no shortage of arts promotion in our area. The number of social media “arts influencers,” who usually work for tickets and access, has grown as the number of journalists has withered.
There’s no fault in pushing the word about an exhibit, performance or show, but all of this social media rush and push creates a mind-spinning sense of everything, everywhere, all of the time. It takes arts journalism to help the reader understand the context of a work of art.
This newspaper is proud to support art criticism with the insightful work of some of the area’s best arts writers. We do this under the editorial leadership of Greg Stepanich in The ArtsPaper; published online (www.pbartspaper.com) and in the pages of The Coastal Star each month.
Without an informed guide to help understand what may have influenced an artist’s creation, or presentation, we miss a chance to discover new perspectives, sample new forms of expression and connect with creativity. We miss a chance to discuss these things with our friends after the show and roll them around in our brains as we take our morning walks or just sit and watch the ocean.
We are better people for exploring art. Our cities and towns are more vital and vibrant — and economically resilient — when filled with art. And we need arts journalism to help us to better understand ourselves and our communities.
The Coastal Star is a for-profit publication, so I am not asking for donations. But I am asking you to support the venues and art organizations that advertise in this newspaper, and to let the ones who don’t know how important art journalism is to you. Ask them to support our monthly arts section with their advertising dollars. It is critical to keeping local arts journalism alive.
— Mary Kate Leming, Editor