Patronage in the digital age + fox sounds, tasty cheese

Updated 9.9.13, 10:54 a.m.

I'm a little short on links this time, but because of a couple recent crises at two important arts-and-culture publications, I wanted to write you all nonetheless.

It was probably during my time in New York that I first heard people talking about the ordinary individual's role as a patron of the arts. At the time, I was so broke my church had to help bale me out at one point and even after I stabilized slightly, I could hardly afford to buy meat or alcohol. One week when I had less than $20 for groceries, I even supplemented my diet with better-quality non-perishables someone left out on their Brooklyn stoop.

Patronizing the arts in those days mostly consisted of taking in the free concerts offered on muggy summer nights and hoping for "patrons" willing to buy the book whose writing consumed most of my free time.

But now, after a long period of professional and financial stability on the West Coast — and the explosion of digital media — I see patronage differently. Many of the art forms and outlets I enjoy will never achieve mass appeal, and if they did, I would probably suspect they'd somehow sold out or lost their way.

Part of that may be the kind of avant garde elitism early Apple customers enjoyed, but I think there's something deeper. Despite their diversity, the art forms and institutions I most enjoy and appreciate share a commitment to doing things for their own sake more than for external (and especially financial) rewards. Certainly they don't spurn money — any artist would be a fool to do that — but money does not provide their ultimate motivation; love does.

Yet, precisely because love can bring out the best in us, it can also cost us immensely. Thus, many cultural institutions survive on a combination of ticket sales or subscriptions, supplemented by patrons who help fund the organization itself, rather than any particular article, season or performance.

I know we're all in various places, financially and otherwise, but I would encourage you to start thinking of yourself as a patron and not just a customer of at least one or two of the arts institutions you enjoy most. If you want them to be around and flourishing five, ten or twenty years from now, why not help ensure that continued existence? You might be surprised how many projects owe their existence or survival to small donations rather than large ones. By the same token, your or my unwillingness to support the arts in even a small way — when multiplied by dozens or hundreds — could be the difference between an artist or institution's continued ability to produce work that nourishes and inspires.
  • If you ever enjoy the jazz programming on our local, commercial-free station, KCSM, you can make a donation during their current pledge drive.
  • On the reading — and writing — front, a fine intellectual journal defined by strong writing, a broad topical scope and, yes, an evangelical commitment could be shuttered at the end of this year without new patrons. Books and Culture, which gave me one of my first significant publication credits and has published a host of wonderful writers and essays, came very close to ceasing publication after the November/December issue. They were able to raise the necessary pledges by their Sept. 9 deadline, but they could still use your help. Donate now.

    I confess I'm still ambivalent about reading periodicals in paper vs. online, but I'm very grateful for both the opportunities Books and Culture has given me, and the many great essays it's commissioned, including a wonderful Andy Crouch piece on shaving and fatherhood I always come back to. Whatever the format, I want this publication to continue introducing new essays and writers into the larger conversation. If you haven't previously discovered the magazine for yourself, why not try a subscription? They offer both print or online versions for as little as $30/year.
  • Though Image journal met its recent fundraising goal, they're still recovering from a vendor's shorting them $65,000. Support them by either making a one-time donation or subscribing to the publication.
  • Wherever else you encounter artists or institutions doing important work, think about how you can support them. Maybe you refer someone for a project you know about or commission them to produce a work for you or a fortunate Christmas-gift recipient. Or maybe you make your next book or music purchase from a store that doesn't have the cheapest prices, but curates a selection unlike any chain store's. But if they produce work you value, why not show that value in something more tangible than an emotion or verbal praise?
:: tunes ::
  • On a much lighter note, some are claiming this music video on "What does the fox say?" should be the real "song of the summer." I'm not sure I disagree. Hilarious.
  • I missed this somehow, but the musician J.J. Cale died last month. If you don't know his name, you probably know some of his biggest hits, via Eric Clapton -- "After Midnight" and "Cocaine."
:: your stuff ::
  • Josh has a very nice review of a new Dag Hammersjkold biography in the latest Books and Culture (subscribers only). His introduction — a meditation on the phrase "a man for our time" — showcases exactly the sort of writing that makes the publication such a joy to read.
:: visual art ::
  • I had never heard of this until a friend shared the link, but apparently a small group of passionate Photoshop experts are painstakingly colorizing historical photos — with some fascinating, beautiful results. There's still nothing like the depth of a beautiful silver-gelatin print, but I really enjoyed some of these.
:: food ::
  • I've been enjoying the tastes of summer lately, which — thanks go a Labor Day road trip north — have included Tillamook rocky road ice cream and fresh-picked huckleberries from the bushes on my grandparents' property (I hope to make a micro batch of jam today). If you don't know the Tillamook name, try out one of their cheeses the next time you're at the grocery store or Costco — or, better yet, tour their factory if/when your travels take you along the Oregon coast.

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