Tuesday, April 28, 2009

This economic cloud has a cultural silver lining (at least so far)

I don't mean to minimize the effects of the ongoing economic crisis on the local arts scene. Arts venues are struggling, or closing; the precarious situation of the North Shore Music Theatre means that a whole swath of American theatrical culture may soon have no major local presenter; everywhere, it seems, folks have hat in hand, hoping that donations will help to make ends meet.

But at the same time, strangely enough, the quality of the fine and performing arts in Boston has rarely been higher. The Ballet is enjoying perhaps their best season in memory (with their current Sleeping Beauty following the brilliant Jewels and Black and White); the MFA is showing the greatest collection of Old Masters it has ever assembled, in Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese; Boston Lyric Opera is likewise capping its best season in years with a gorgeously sung Don Giovanni. It's true both our academic theatres, the Huntington and the ART, have taken a tumble since the departures of their respective leaders, Nicholas Martin and Robert Woodruff (and from the looks of their prospective seasons, that's not going to change any time soon). But there have been very good productions on offer from our small and mid-size theatres (and two, Humble Boy and Picasso at the Lapin Agile, are still running). Handel and Haydn has been going strong, and Celebrity Series recently wrapped an exciting round of concerts from most of the world's best pianists.

Why this strange disconnect between money and quality? I'm not sure. Some of these shows, such as the Old Masters exhibit at the MFA, are due to once-in-a-lifetime coincidences (word has it we got many of those canvases thanks to good will resulting from our return of various antiquities to Italy). Others are the result of organizations reaching a new cruising altitude during the boom. And of course the explosion in new performance spaces - you know, the one that was decried by Geoff Edgers at the Globe - continues to pay off even in lean times; physical facilities don't "dry up" the way money does. All this has helped keep our cultural scene afloat - so far. How long that remains viable, of course, remains an open question.

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