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More on AKAG price hike

In blogging on the Albright-Knox Art Gallery's recent decision to up its adult admission price by $20 (or 20 percent), I crunched some numbers using the gallery's 990 tax form as the basis. It turns out, however, that the number listed on that form specifically for admission revenues ($819,768) is inaccurately labeled, according to gallery marketing director Maria Morreale. That figure, she clarifies, includes revenue from the gallery's annual "Rockin' at the Knox" fundraiser, the gift shop and parking charges. (AKAG auditors might want to look into fixing that rather significant error when they file next year's forms.)

The actual amount the gallery took in for that year (2006-07) from admissions, Morreale estimates, is closer to $120,000 to $130,000.

That means that the gallery would receive only about a $25,000 annual bump from the increased ticket price, assuming paid attendance has remained relatively stable from 2006 until now. (Total visitors have increased from 137,203 in 2006-07 to 143,653 in 2007-08, according to the gallery's annual reports.)

"When you look at our admissions revenue and spread it across all the visitors we have, we actually earn less than two dollars per visitor," Morreale said. That's because of the scads of people who visit the museum for free on Friday nights during its weekly Gusto at the Gallery programs (48,073 people in 2006-07 alone) and because thousands of schoolchildren also visit the museum free of charge. The number of people who visit the museum for free far outweighs those who pay.

This raises another question: for such a relatively small percentage of the gallery's annual revenue intake (about .2 percent of their annual revenue in 2006-07, excluding its $73 million take from its major sale of artworks that year), is this increase worth the trouble of saddling the small segment of people who pay to enter the gallery with an extra couple bucks? For an extra 25 grand in a time of sinking support, the answer is probably yes.

--Colin Dabkowski

Paterson webart

Paterson

This clever little Web site takes to ribbing Gov. Paterson for his proposed tax hikes. It's worth a few seconds to check out [via Buffalo Pundit]:

http://patersonisyournewtax.com/

--Colin Dabkowski

Alexie novel banned by Oregon school district

James Joyce, William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, George Orwell,  D.H. Lawrence, John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, J.D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut, and Alice Walker.

A pretty impressive list, isn't it?

These are but a select few of the authors who've had one or more of their books removed from an American public school reading list or public school library over the past half century.

Now we can add another name to list.  The Portland Oregonian and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer both reported last week that Sherman Alexie's "semi-autobiographical" coming-of-age novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, winner of the 2007 National Book Award for Young People's literature, was removed from classroom reading lists in the Crook County School District in central Oregon after one parent documented his objections to the book at a district school board meeting.

The parent, Hank Moss of Prineville, Oregon, objected specifically to a passage that made reference to teen-age masturbation in the novel, but when approached by reporters after the meeting he issued a broader condemnation.  "I don't think it should be for anybody," he told the Portland Oregonian  "I think it's trash. I don't think a 50-year-old ought to read it."

Moss appears to have found an ally in Jeff Landaker, chairman of the Crook County school board. After examining photocopies of passages Moss found objectionable, Landaker said the book concerned him as well  "My objection was the graphic language and the graphic pictures," he told the Oregonian.  [The book contains some expressive, hand drawn images.]

Led by Landaker's concerns, the school board issued a directive to remove the book from Crook County schools indefinitely and ordered the district superintendent to conduct an investigation of how it came to be included in the curriculum.  Among school officials contacted by the media, only James Golden, the principal of Crook County High School, said he was disappointed by the district’s decision to remove the book from classrooms.

When contacted for his reaction to the banning, Alexie, a Seattle native who is of Spokane/Coeur d'Alene heritage, expressed surprise that the story of a boy who leaves the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all-white school "where the only other Indian is the school mascot" would provoke such controversy.  He told one small town Oregon newspaper that the novel "is actually a celebration of the compassion a small town of white conservatives showed ... an Indian boy, they ended up loving..."

"It's a book about following your dreams," he told the Bend Bulletin.   "It's the story of an Indian kid dreaming of a bigger life. It's very American."

You can read the Seattle Intelligencer's account of the story at
Alexie book called "pretty trashy," banned from Oregon school or the Portland Oregonian account at  event at Crook County removes book from schools after parent complains - Breaking News From Oregon & Portland - OregonLive.com

--R.D. Pohl

UPDATE: The AKAG admission hike

Culture just got a little more expensive.

The Albright Knox Art Gallery, in a move it attriubtes to rising operational costs, has increased its regular admission price by $2 per ticket, or 20 percent. This hike, according to a statement from gallery director Louis Grachos, is meant to offset costs in all areas of operation. In an article by Tom Buckham in today's News, Grachos elaborates to say that transportation and insurance costs are cutting into the museum's financial health. It's also noted that, among top U.S. art museums -- of which the Albright-Knox is indisputably one -- a $12 ticket is still below the national average.

Let's take a look at the admission prices of just a few museums around our region:

Cleveland Museum of Art: Free

Burchfield Penney Art Center: $7

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City: Suggested donation of $20

Museum of Modern Art, New York City: $20

Guggenheim Museum, New York City: $15

Carnegie museums (art, science and natural history on one ticket), Pittsburgh: $15

Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester: $10

This short list by itself indicates that the "national average" figure has had significant upward influence from the museum mecca of New York City, where the cost of living is  unfathomably higher than in Buffalo. (Admission to Los Angeles' Getty Museum, it should be noted, is free.) It turns out the Albright-Knox price increase isn't exactly "modest."

UPDATE: The Albright-Knox informs us that the figure labeled "ADMISSIONS" on the museum's tax forms is, in fact, not the amount the museum took in from admissions. It is, rather misleadingly, a number that represents admission revenue plus income from the gift shop, parking and the gallery's annual "Rockin' at the Knox" fundraiser. AKAG Director of Marketing Maria Morreale said that “our auditors made a classification sort of error" on the museum's tax forms and that the number for admissions alone is actually lower. When I find out how much lower, I'll re-run the numbers to get a glimpse at how the increase will affect the museum's bottom line.

In any case, the numbers and the dismal economy seem to bear out what the AKAG sees as a prudent move.

But it will be interesting to see what effect this move will have on museum attendance. And any cost increase for cultural activities, in this cruddy economic atmosphere, is going to be tough for the public -- which already funds the museum with tax dollars -- to swallow. It's worth noting that the museum is continuing its free Gusto at the Gallery Friday nights, which have been a proven draw over the last several years. Please share your thoughts on the Albright-Knox's move.

--Colin Dabkowski

Getting a handle on Handel

HandelWe're not talking about George Frederick, the composer of "Messiah." Today's story is about David Handel, the conductor from Western New York who was elected last year to the Williamsville South High School Wall of Fame. The Washington Post is running a big feature on him today.

You can read the story here.

Handel, 44, is in the throes of an unusual and dramatic career. After apprenticing with Kurt Masur and the legendary orchestra of the Leipzig Gewandhaus, he found his way to La Paz, the capital of Bolivia. He was hired to remake Bolivia's National Symphony Orchestra -- a mission in which the Post says he has admirably succeeded, against extremely challenging odds.

From what Handel tells the Washington Post, it has been quite an adventure. The conductor talks about how the first concert was held in an old basketball court. The first stop on their first tour was El Alto, "an extensive warren of adobe and cinder-block homes with a population of 800,000."

The Post has fun describing Handel's shaved head and "piercing blue eyes."

The story sums up his odyssey eloquently at the end:

"Perhaps most importantly, he has become something of an expert in Bolivian music, easily pointing out the finer points of Bolivian composer Alberto Villalpando, the love songs of Enriqueta Ulloa or the protest songs of Luis Rico. But the onetime budding violinist from Buffalo, where he grew up regularly attending the highly regarded Philharmonic Orchestra, is obsessed with the majesty of classical music.

"And he wants to share it."

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

Blagojevich takes a jog

I'm not sure if this is journalism or art, but I am sure it should be seen by everyone in the world:

A joyful noise

Clarinet_2Here's an alternative to hearing "Winter Wonderland" for the 50th time. The religious-themed CD "Niagara Carols 2004-2008," whose sales benefit the Community Missions of Niagara Falls, is an interesting showcase of local pop and folk talent, with some gospel and traditional singing thrown in.

The Naylor Family Ensemble turns out a gracefully harmonized version of "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming," one of the most beautiful melodies to come down to us from the Renaissance. The Niagara Clarinet Ensemble, above, plays a ragtime "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

There must not have been a piano in the recording studio because whenever a piano is featured, it's an electric piano. But the pop and folk artists do an admirable job with their limited resources. The Eagle Psalms, pictured above, do a cute version of "O Come All Ye Faithful" to guitar accompaniment that includes a verse in Latin. The song ends with a creative intertwining of "O come let us adore him" and "Venite, adoremus." Paul Weisenburger's "Silent Night," also sung with guitar, is sweet and straightforward.

Other musicians who pitch in include the Janelle Auker and Nancy Carmichael of the Eastern Hills Wesleyan Church; Belle Musique; and the CrossPoint Jazz Connection, from the Chapel at Cross Point. The Dominion Community Choir gives us some gospel with "Walk in the Light" and "Go, Tell it On the Mountain."

The CDs are $10 each and are on sale at local Wilson Farms stores. They can also be purchased at the Christmas in Clarence barn bakery and gift store and at the Summit mall in Wheatfield. The album or individual songs can also be purchased online at www.communitymissions.org.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

Packer on Penn

Toronto_film_sean_penn

Woah! George Packer, one of the better journalists on the planet, excoriates actor-turned-psuedojournalist Sean Penn for his sprawling and less than enthralling interviews with Huge Chavez and Raul Castro in the latest edition of The Nation. A sampling of the Packer's penned poison:

Why does someone like Penn think he can do this job, which isn’t his job? Perhaps because he can write down and relay the words of famous people to whom his own fame gives him access, and because certain thoughts pass through his mind while he’s writing them down. Penn’s moonlighting shows a kind of contempt for journalism, which turns out to be rather difficult to do well. It also shows that he’s missed one of the main points of Obama’s election, which has Penn shedding tears at the end of his dispatch. Obama is the splendid fruit of a meritocracy. In a meritocracy, actors who act well get good roles. They don’t get to be journalists, too—a job that, in a meritocracy, should go to those who do journalism well. Nor should any journalist, however accomplished, expect to land a leading part in Penn’s next movie.

Yowza. Having recently been the victim -- ahem, I mean willing participant -- of a story that required me to perform what I normally critcize (read more about that, if you dare, on Sunday), I speak from personal experience when I say that Packer knows of what he writes. Read on.

-Colin Dabkowski

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Bring a gripe, Jeannette, Isabella

GrandmaOver the weekend, the Wall Street Journal ran a big Saturday cover story called "Do You Hear What I Hear?" It was all about how every December we're buried in holiday music, piped into shopping malls, department stores, restaurants, wherever. The story, by Daniel J. Levitin, concludes that the music might rankle you, but that it's a good thing, because it promotes social bonding and emphasizes to our subconscious that this time of year is different from any other. "Because we tend to hear these songs only during this season, they serve as a unique memory cue, unlocking a neural flood of memories related to the holidays." I am quoting the second-last paragraph.

I like how the writer brings up, in passing, the German word "Ohrwurm." Literally "ear worm," it's a great term for a tune that gets into your head and will not get out. An annoying song that sticks in your brain is kind of like a worm. That is a very good term and one that should be more widely known.

What I don't like is that the story seems to be looking kindly on all holiday music across the board. Every Christmas song is not created equal. And beyond that, all performances are not created equal. The story is illustrated with a photo of costumed Dickensian Christmas carolers strolling a mall in Denver. That is not your usual Christmas music experience, I can tell you that.

I think the reason many people are driven crazy by holiday music is so much of it is so darn bad. I could not believe the story did not address this concern.

Kiri Te Kanawa singing "O Holy Night" is one thing. "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer" is another. And because of the obligation bars and restaurants and stores have to keep things non-religious, even good songs can go bad, because there just aren't that many songs you can play. When you hear "Winter Wonderland" five times in one evening, it gets boring and annoying! If people resent holiday music I think this is why. I don't think it means we are Scrooges. 

Thoughts on annoying holiday music, anyone? Come on, vent.

Then listen to this as therapy. This appears to be a 1941 ancient radio broadcast by the soprano Lotte Lehmann. You Tube suggested it to me after I watched Kiri Te Kanawa.

The curiosities you find on You Tube! Maybe we should all be running around with earpods.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

Revered Norton editor was a Buffalo native

News still travels slowly from some recesses of the literary world, so it was just last Friday we learned of the passing of the longtime W.W. Norton editor Carol Houck Smith over Thanksgiving weekend.  She was 85.

Ms. Smith, who was born in Buffalo in 1923 and attended Bennett High School, was one of the first generation of women to make their mark on the New York City based publishing industry in the post World War Two era.  After graduating from Vassar in 1944, she joined the staff of W.W. Norton in 1948, as a secretary to the editor of their trade books division.  From that entry level position in what was still a male-dominated business during most of her career, she rose to the position of vice president of Norton in 1980.

Upon her retirement from executive responsibilities in 1996, she was appointed Norton's editor-at-large so as to focus on editing and working with the stable of writers she had brought to the publisher over her six decade long career.  The roster of poets and writers she edited personally at Norton reads like an entire wing of the American Academy of Arts and Letters: Stanley Kunitz, Rita Dove, Charles Baxter, Gerald Stern, Maxine Kumin, Ron Carlson, Andrea Barrett, Rick Bass, Steven Dunn and Pam Houston, to name just ten.

The last two decades of her career produced her greatest successes.  During that time she edited three eventual U.S. Poet Laureates (Rita Dove, Stanley Kunitz, and Maxine Kumin), three National Book Award winners (Kunitz, Barrett and Stern) as well as many finalists, and one Pulitzer prize winning collection of poems, Different Hours by Steven Dunn, as well as three other Pulitzer nominated books. 

A frequent and much admired panelist and guest at writer's conferences around the country in recent years, her down-to-earth advice to beginning writers and editors is worth noting here.  In a 2004 Washington Post interview, she advised young writers to become voracious and critical readers first, "And to learn to read with your ears as well as your eyes. To read your own work aloud. And even to type out a passage from a writer you love, to really get the rhythm."

The editor's job, according to Smith, "is to discover what the intention of the writer is, and then to try and stand in for the general reader and assess whether the writer has fulfilled that intention. I think it's a chemical relationship between author and editor, in the same way that you're attracted to friends when you meet them, and so the editor has really joined the book."

You can read the Washington Post's obituary of her at
Carol Houck Smith; Book Editor Worked With Award Winners - washingtonpost.com

--R.D. Pohl

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