September 18, 2013 Repository 92: Ovation | Boob Tube | America’s Only Art Network Posted In: contemporary art, culture, perspective

"James Franco Presents", image courtesy of Ovation TV network

“James Franco Presents”, image courtesy of Ovation TV network

Ovation TV was bought several years ago by an investor group and it’s renovations are slowly and surely hatching. The “new” arts network is touting all kinds of original programming and partnerships that they hope inspire the artist and art appreciator in all of us. From their web site, the proverbial mission statement:

“Ovation is America’s only arts network, whose mission is to connect the world to all forms of art and artistic expression. A cause-based media company, Ovation’s brand serves as a platform for creative expression for cross-disciplinary artists and viewers alike.”

What is “cause-based” you ask? It’s essentially a for profit company marketing itself as a do-good organization, like a non-profit, or insisting it’s benefiting non-profits. Something to be wary of always, though I love the thought of a company giving “$15 million to arts causes”. Since the company is not public, we are not privy to it’s financial statements, so there is no way of proving this number. An example of Ovation’s most recent current philanthropic project of is as follows:

This year they are accepting applications from schools with STEAM programs (essentially schools committed to incorporating arts into curriculum). Ovation is giving $10,000 to 8 schools. This breaks out to $1,250 per school. This is approximately $2.65 per student for an average size k-5 elementary school. How should these schools stretch that kind of money? Don’t blow it all on the tempera paint!!!

So to repeat from their web site, they are highly committed to arts advocacy:

“Ovation remains highly committed to national arts advocacy and supports access to the arts for all. The network has given back to the artistic community approximately $15MM in direct and in-kind support.”

In-kind means free – so that simply means if they value a mention or advertisement on their web site for a month to cost $1 million then they could have given in-kind advertising to 15 art institutions. So you see it’s a little curious. Though I did read that they gave artists $7,000-10,000 for original programming ideas and footage to be aired on their network back in 2007. I wonder how much they are paying James Franco for his “original content”.

Moving on to management, the decision makers. Run by a trio of men, the programming is suspiciously white-male inspired. The “Chief Creative Officer” of America’s only arts network (big job to fill – aesthetic and creative leadership to an arts network!!) boasts a “super-sized TV Guide collection”, and a stellar career in advertising and media (VH1, FX). The other two fellows are highly qualified in the business of media and investments.

Some samples of Ovation new original programming:

James Franco Presents – Bill Graham presents only instead of uniquely curated musical acts this show is James’ world, James’ connections and affinities to the artworld and James’ artistic projects.

A Young Doctors Notebook – Starring John Hamm, a fictional series on a doctor in a remote village during the Russia Revolution. Clearly banking on Hamm’s success in the “Mad Men” TV series.

Both Franco and Hamm are quintessential white man’s crush – what’s not to admire in the swarthy and talented duo? Artful? Totally unclear yet, they air in November. Marketful, absolutely.

I quite like the repeated “art” mentions in the description of the Franco art world exploration:

“This is a show where content dictates form and form dictates content. It is an art show that is an art piece, meaning the show has synched with the rhythms of my life and work,” says James Franco.
Thousands of hours from James’ personal video library will be showcased on James Franco Presents, including video diaries, footage from his most ambitious art films, and interactions with his heroes from every artistic genre. With an intellectual curiosity as vast as his network of iconic artist friends, the series will expose renowned and respected icons to an entirely new generation.”

More male inspired art programming is the Art of a series where they will explore the art of the everyday. First feature? The art of sneakers. An inquiry and review of the decorated comfortable shoe.

Song by Song program features musicians, last week I checked and it was Dolly Parton (boobs), and this week Johnny Cash (man’s man if there ever was one).

They will hit the ladies with the Fashion Fund show, and this will be their cash cow. Conde Nast (hence Vogue) is collaborating with the network, and together they are awarding $300,000 to one designer in this 6-part competition series. Project Runway meets their match. Will designers be donating any of their winnings to the arts advocacy causes? To do the math again the elementary schools get $2.50 per kid illustrating Ovation’s arts advocacy commitment for the year. Meanwhile if the kids were given this fashion prize prize package each school would have $37,500 to improve arts programming. The “cause-based” lingo is getting a little shaky at this point.

Culture Pop – all things film, theater, music and visual arts. Think entertainment tonight or E! News for all things “cultural”. I think they need a reminder that culture now is all about the individual and the celebrity of the individual, less the tradition of what has been deemed “cultural”.

Broadway Bash – embraces the “dramatically fabulous* by devoting itself to all things theatrical”. Didn’t they know that SNL has already done this with aplomb with Broadway Sizzle?

* Not all drama and theater is fabulous, the Greeks made tragedy for a reason – it was not fabulous and was made to eek out all things awful in order to be purged of those emotions, so let’s celebrate and embrace simply the stage. Sometimes watching something terribly homely is the most exciting and humane experience ever. Maybe watching the programming on Ovation will give way to a more nuanced view of the arts by the general public by virtue of it’s narrow focus.

Some suggestions Ovation might make for future programming:

Consider hiring, and paying well, truly creative people. A lot of these people are hidden in advertising agencies or crap jobs so they can make a living – find them, they are gold, pay them well, and they will help you.

Have a show a la James Kalm (Youtube) and the old Gallery Beat (public access) – roving, gonzo journalism of art exhibits. This is revealing in many ways, and helps a lot of us who don’t live in the typical metro areas, or don’t feel like fighting crowds and fluff at gallery openings.

Commission great artists to make original programing. For example Hiroshi Sugimoto making a film a la Warhol’s “Sleep” (think Bill Viola meets fossil landscape).

Friends of Pussy Riot Show – or insert another equally contentious artists (Ai Weiwei) or art collaborative groups (eg. Gorilla Girls, Group Material), current or historical, and feature updates on them. Who cares about the millions of dollars Damien Hirst or Cindy Sherman work just sold for at auction, most creative thinkers want to know who is saying things differently, more loudly, and with urgency.

Art School ROI – debunking the value of art school, a presentation of several compelling case studies to dissuade the vulnerable artist to such expenses.

Dance. It’s missing on the current roster and something one must do everyday.

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  1. Tony • September 18, 2013

    I'm not sure what exactly an arts network should be like... but I'm pretty sure it's not what Ovation is doing. Reply

    • mindmarrow • September 18, 2013

      Right? It's a curious thing to think about - what would an arts network really feel/look like now? Seems the bar is pretty now and we have lots of room to grow;-) Thanks for reading! Reply

  2. featsandfamines • October 7, 2013

    Reblogged this on Feats and Famines. Reply

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