Yesterday, Squishtalks guest hosted a conversation for (downtown) omaha lit fest to consider the role of coverage, criticism and celebration in the cultural advancement of the city. Twenty six artists, performers, authors, journalists, curators, marketers and artistic directors gathered into groups to discuss issues such as:

  • Whether an art scene thrive in a city without vibrant arts coverage?
  • Must criticism of cultural events take a back seat to celebration, in order for arts organizations to succeed?
  • Do visual artists lament the kind of arts coverage they receive?
  • Is arts coverage integral to creating a “scene” of interest to media outside the city, and also integral in inspiring artists to remain part of the scene?
  • Is it even possible for a city like Omaha to make contributions to the larger national arts culture?

There is far too little space to talk about the full range and drift of the conversations, nor address what each attendee took away, but I recall insightful references to the tyranny of funders that are enabled by arts organizations to be default arts commentators and critics within the city. The need for a credible, informed and articulate critical reporting was also observed, to ensure that artists elevate their quality and that the community at large is introduced to the broader aesthetic, historical and intellectual (but not elitist) context of the art.

Attendees were at pains to draw a distinction between pure negativity without intelligence and articulate, insightful critical commentary. Encouragingly, it was also asserted that what happens in Omaha does have a cultural reach outside our borders, and that to focus solely on cultural commentary within the city is to ignore that broader influence.

Do you have a reaction to these questions? Comment/reply!