Idea Blog

I asked Steven J. Tepper to respond to Kyle Thetford’s “Does Art Help the Economy?”

Posted on: July 17th, 2013 | 0 Comments

Happy mid-July! Here at Curb, we’re constantly hearing and reading ideas and wondering what each other thinks of them. Yesterday as I read “Does Art Help the Economy?” by Kyle Thetford, (Atlantic Monthly — find it here), I wondered if Steven J. Tepper had a moment to let me know what he thought. Turns out, he did! His response follows:

We can celebrate that Britain’s cultural budget this year did not suffer dramatic cuts.   There is a deep longing in the arts community to believe such policy decisions reflect an enlightened understanding of the intrinsic benefits of the arts. Related, there remains a deep antipathy toward the marriage of the arts with the economy – for more than 100 years, arts advocates have held fast to the belief in “art-for-arts” sake. But, the argument hashed out in Kyle Thetford’s column in the Atlantic is as old as tea leaves – framed as an either/or proposition when instead it should be a both/and proposition.  The arts are both an important part of the economy AND they bring intrinsic benefits.   In economic terms, the arts may be better investments than other pure economic drivers, like a waste disposal plant, because they have positive externalities for their communities in addition to their direct economic impact. The arts do spur innovation, entrepreneurialism, intellectual property and economic growth.  But they also create pride, connection, understanding, enjoyment, and wellbeing.  But, we would be naïve to think that policy makers will support the arts for these intrinsic benefits. Policy, for better or worse, is almost exclusively debated in economic terms – optimizing growth, productivity, and jobs.

I wish we lived in a world where other values were prominent in policy decisions. But we don’t, and the arts world can yell until they are blue in the face, but if they want public investment they have to walk in the policy door dressed up as Economic Man.  There are only a handful of policy areas where we can talk about intrinsic value – saving historic and natural landmarks is one such area.  But, in these cases, policy makers and the public at large can visibly see what non-intervention looks like – a forest, canyon, park, lake, monument might disappear, be destroyed, and become unavailable or inaccessible. Under such conditions, intrinsic value arguments can win the day. But, people are surrounded by art in their everyday life – music, film, books, fashion, and theater.   If anything, most people feel overwhelmed by the amount of choice they have when considering their cultural options.   Intrinsic arguments under such conditions simply will not fly.  So, whether we like it or not, we are left with arguments about investments, innovation, entrepreneurship, and jobs.

Thetford is wrong to suggest the U.S. needs to look across the pond to learn the value of economic arguments –we have been using these arguments for years.   Our out-going NEA chair, Rocco Landsman, has spent the past four years describing and defending artists as workers who bolster the economy. Americans for the Arts, our largest advocacy organization that promotes public investments in the arts, has been conducting and using economic impact arguments for close to 20 years.  We get it.   Maybe someday, policy leaders can credibly use “quality of life” arguments to defend and promote public investments; but for now, Economic Man stands tall and speaks with the loudest voice.

Thanks, Steven!

Imagining Transformative Justice from the Inside Out

Posted on: May 30th, 2013 | 0 Comments

Just found out that the Innovation Grant supported “Imagining Transformative Justice” elicited enough powerful writing to warrant an anthology! See prisoners’ visual art here: Just found out that the Innovation Grant supported “Imagining Transformative Justice” elicited enough powerful writing to warrant an anthology! See more prisoners’ visual art with descriptions here:

3 Million Stories Conference Summary

Posted on: May 29th, 2013 | 0 Comments

Missed the “3 Million Stories” conference, or want to revisit the presentations & conversations? Steven Tepper has compiled a 21-page summary of the unique conference dedicated to exploring the creative marketplace and its opportunities for arts graduates.

Gif creator settles the great debate

Posted on: May 23rd, 2013 | 0 Comments

If you were among the group of people who said a GIF, the popular animated images file, is pronounced like the word “Jif,” then give yourself a pat on the back — you were right.

Now we know! Steve Wilhite finally clarifies the pronunciation of his popular images file format, saying: “Choosy programmers choose GIF”



Posted on: May 21st, 2013 | 0 Comments

All the time, things are happening. It is hard to record them in such a way as sitting by the passenger window in our minds and watching them, the things, flit by.

In Puerto Rico we stopped on the top of a hill in Maricao and it was a green, lush place that we could see, it did not end. From the top of the tower we watched homes and palms dig into the cliff side, their teeth strong and hungry. The still frame, this moment of our watching, did not let us see the many lives and feelings that daily bled their way across the landscape. We said, the air up here is cool and fresh. It was.

Six weeks before I flew in a plane out of New Orleans and thought about my mother.  Bayou spread beneath in watery veins. Green earth sang in small islands there and there. Then clouds moved in, and still could I see through their gentle whiteness. I said, this is what it must be to be in the arms of God.

The day before we boiled crayfish live and broke apart their bodies with our hands. They had soft, cartoon eyes that could not see, amassed and dead as they were.

And then some weeks later we bought a terrarium from an old woman. The woman who sold the terrarium had gray hair and thin hands. She told us this, the making of terrariums, was a thing she did often. A god she had become through hewing worlds.  I pictured her home. Glass walls and piles of stones. A kitchen rife with living things. At night, her refrigerator moans—the resting place of so much on the verge of decay.

But there is likely no God and so I must settle for his name and an aircraft. A feeling and a view.

Driving along the coast in Puerto Rico we see the ocean mawing at the land. It is a most beautiful thing to see. I plug the image into the constellation I am living.

We hop from node to node of importance and in-between we see the view below. Oh world, how green or yellow or brown you have made yourself. Oh feeling, that I might place you upon the world and say, you are the skin of my mother and you now, her bones.

I flew in an airplane into the hands of God and asked of God, what things you have made, tell me. He did not reply because he is not real or because there is no God or because a life is a life either way.

The greenness of the world signifies its continual decline and growth. When we, as humans die our skin becomes blue and mottled. Perhaps we are saying, hello sky. Perhaps it is nothing more than blue, we and our blood returning to the air, the water, the place we have always known as home.

Ocean MawGreen Earth


Dr. Dre, Iovine gives 70 million for new academy

Posted on: May 13th, 2013 | 0 Comments

Excited about this new program — has a clear vision for how work will be done in creative spheres in the future. Neat how it draws expertise from across schools in the development of the program.

William Schreiber on Stadium Stock Exchange

Posted on: April 3rd, 2013 | 0 Comments

by Rebecca Bernard

William Schreiber, a senior graduating from the Vanderbilt Curb Scholar’s Program, took a few minutes to answer some questions about his Senior Legacy Project, the Stadium Stock Exchange.

Interviewer: Give us the 20 second elevator pitch for your company, the Stadium Stock Exchange. 

William: We are building a fantasy stock market for sports. The current fantasy game does not translate to college sports well, despite the fact that college football is the second most popular sport in the country. We fix that problem with Stadium Stock Exchange, opening up fantasy games to the world of college sports.

I: Describe the evolution of both the idea and the formation of the company.

W: I have always wanted to build a stock market centered around something other than companies. I have also always been a college sports addict, growing up in Birmingham. One day, it hit me: sports teams are just like companies, and people can trade stocks in sports team as that team either out-performs or under-performs its expectations. 

I:Where in production are you currently?

W: We are currently designing and building the back-end database as well as designing the front-end user experience. We are also building a content network so that we can generate content centered around the platform itself. 

I: What’s the next step for Stadium Stock Exchange?

W: Raise venture capital, finish building the product, and plan a grassroots launch strategy throughout the Southeast. 

I: How did your experience as a Curb scholar and/or a Vanderbilt student, help you in designing and building this company?

W: I have always loved creating things. I think the Curb program encouraged me to take risks and celebrate creativity and creation. Vanderbilt gave me the relationships and skills necessary to launch such a company. 

I: It states on your company info sheet that one of your partners, McArthur Gill, is a champion–of what may I ask?

W: Fantasy sports. Specifically, NBA fantasy sports. McArthur is also an Auburn fan. I’m an Alabama fan. So it’s funny the two of us are building a college-centered fantasy platform together. 

I: What do you imagine the legacy of this project being?

W: I think it could transform how people think about sports. It can allow people with no financial knowledge to begin to understand what a stock is and what it means when that stock goes up or down in value.

Keep an eye out for Stadium Stock Exchange, and more interviews with graduating Curb Scholars.

Drop and give me 15 haikus!

Posted on: April 1st, 2013 | 0 Comments

by Elizabeth Long Lingo

I had the wonderful opportunity to present my ideas at TedX Furman University last week.  At the end of all the presentations, their local student improv troupe offered mini-improv skits based on each of the talks.

Here’s the one spoofing on my idea of the Creative Practice Booocamp. Love it!

Drop and give me 15 haikus



Posted on: March 11th, 2013 | 0 Comments

by Rebecca Bernard

I found myself in Niceville, Florida. It was a place I’d written about a while back. Then I was there. We had the top down and the sun was on us and all the surrounding earth.

In a movie I was watching, the camera would pan to the side sometimes. It would show desert and land and sky and the effect was a calming thing. It said: Here is also what is happening. It said: The world is outside of this particular frame, too. Look, it keeps going.

In Niceville I scanned the strip malls for my character. I knew he was either in a bar or outside of one. I knew he was thinking about the heat in the asphalt under his feet. I didn’t see him. I knew I wasn’t going to.

A sign on an overpass spelled Will You Marry Me Wilma Jane in white solo cups. It seemed like a big deal. We said, Isn’t that something. We agreed it was.

I wanted to ask him if his father’s deserting the family was really so bad, but because he’s a character it would be like asking myself.

I liked how quiet the scenes in the movie were. A desolate place in Spain or the like. I wondered if it was still so dry there. If wind was still blowing open white curtains. The characters stuck in time and space. Not moving for fear of dying off.

Our lives are built of frames for seeing the world. With the right light things are one way. Lose the light and you’re somewhere else. Only it’s the same place.

We watched the sunset on the beach. It was cold but I kept thinking–a photo would make this something else. The world could be warm in a photo. In a photo it could be anything. Perhaps, we too, are in Spain.

On the drive home there was a new sign on the overpass. A birthday message. We realized that what had seemed one way was actually another. Too bad.

For a minute there, it had all felt pretty special.



An Unstaged Reading

Posted on: March 10th, 2013 | 0 Comments

Looks like this.

by Aidan Carr

Looks like this.

There have been a couple historical models for developing new musicals. In the so-called “Golden Age,” shows grew via the out-of-town tryout—a month or so in New Haven or Philadelphia where changes would be made by gauging audience reception. The first number of Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, “Comedy Tonight,” emerged from frantic out-of-town revisions. (This anecdote contains a valuable lesson in musical theatre craft that further entries will investigate.)

The main idea here is to introduce the work-in-progress to the world and see how it does—where do people tune out? Where do they sit on the edge of their seat? Are they laughing and in the right places? Worse, are they laughing and in the wrong places? When musicals made lots of money, an entire production in a separate city was worth the capital to put it up, despite it being an experiment: now, musicals are like films, costing millions of dollars, and producers are much more skeptical to throw millions of dollars at an untested product. Cue the reading.

A reading has the same goals—watch the audience, tweak as needed—as the out-of-town tryout, but none of the window dressing, both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because it is cheap; fantastic sequences of, say, dancing dolls and malfunctioning sewing machines, can be left to the imagination. A curse because the imagination can provide more than just window dressing—it is easy to fool oneself and say “this will work with costumes and lights” when it really won’t. The pros outweigh the cons—out-of-town tryouts still occur, but typically after dozens of readings, each more ‘produced’ than the last.

An unstaged reading is the very bottom of the reading totem pole. Actors sit on stage in a row; when they are in a scene they stand, and sit otherwise. They memorize nothing: the scripts are in front of them on music stands. Someone even reads the stage directions.

Readings can come together very quickly—at NYU, the musical theatre writing program mounts unstaged readings of new work with actors that show up the morning of the performance and piano players who have never seen the score before. (Due to some last-minute drama, these actors read an entire ten minute script of mine, in front of an audience, that I handed to them as the performance began.)

Readings put material into the world, and for this they are invaluable. They are what catches the attention of investors, of producers, of other writers, of the press. More than this, though, they are crucial in finishing what it is you wish to share—they are the taste test before the Michelin chef adds a dish to his menu. And so it must be polished, elegantly and cleanly presented—even though you threw it together in a week. I have many ideas on how to polish my reading—look for them shortly.