Even back in the good old days when newspapers were big and meaty, the arts got the short shrift when it came to coverage—especially small local arts venues. Because they couldn’t afford to advertise. Now, with dwindling readerships and competition from the Internet, papers are getting smaller, writers are getting laid off, and coverage of local art is vanishing.
In the good old days, a very short time ago, Rosemary Ponnekanti did an outstanding job of covering the local art scene for The News Tribune, as did Jen Graves before her, and Dave Davison incisively reviewed art and theater for the Tacoma Weekly. Now they are all gone. Even Michael Dresdner, who posted theater reviews on his blog, recently announced that his review of Hay Fever at Tacoma Little Theatre was his swan song. I have not followed closely enough to know if these publications have replaced these writers, and I suspect most readers don’t think about it much. They miss them but don’t even know they miss them. They might at some point muse, “I used to enjoy Dave Davison’s reviews. It seems like I haven’t seen anything from him lately,” and then go blithely about their lives not really missing what they’re really missing.
There was a time when my reviews of South Sound theaters were published every Friday in The News Tribune and all my reviews of shows in Olympia were reprinted in the daily Olympian. And then—I can’t even remember how long ago it was—the Trib cut me back to one review a week and no longer reprinted them in the daily O.
I’ve been writing art and theater reviews for the Weekly Volcano since the 1990s. I still write theater reviews for the Volcano every other week, alternating with Adam McKinney, but my art review column was recently cut from once a week to once a month. I can live with the severe cut in pay, but I hurt for the art galleries and community theaters whose shows are no longer reviewed and for the art lovers who no longer get the news that there’s a great art exhibit at 950 Gallery or the gallery at Tacoma Community College or a stupendous play at Harlequin Productions. Maybe they hear about these things from a friend or see something on a Facebook post, but it is equally likely they hear about these shows only after they’ve already closed, so they miss out on great shows and Lakewood Playhouse or Dukesbay Theater sells a few less tickets.
“Hey, did you see Bye Bye Birdie at Centerstage? It was great!”
“Really? I’ll have to see it. What’s Centerstage?”
“Oh, it’s this terrific theater in Federal Way. But I’m afraid you’re too late. They already closed.”
Thankfully, OLY ARTS has picked up a lot of the slack. Their coverage of South Sound arts is stupendous, and they either publish exclusively or re-print almost all my reviews of Olympia art and theater. But OLY ARTS does not cover Tacoma. Many art galleries and community theaters in Tacoma now get little or no press. I try and will continue to try covering them with posts on this blog, but I’m limited in how much I can do.
It has been proven over and over again that the arts are great economic drivers. Our communities need to support the arts.