The End of the Clyde Fitch Report (and a New Beginning)

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Dear Readers:

On Jan. 11, 2011, I received an offer to become Director, Cultural Institutions Unit, at the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. I have accepted the offer. My first day of work is today, Mon., March 28, 2011.

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The Cultural Institutions Unit is what oversees the Cultural Institutions Group. Usually called the CIGs, these are 33 arts groups owned by the City of New York.

As stated on DCA’s website, the Cultural Institutions Unit “provides operational support (in the form of unrestricted operating grants and the payment of all energy bills — heat, light and power) for major cultural institutions occupying City-owned buildings or land.”

Here is a little more information from another section of the agency’s website:

The 33 members of this group are each located on City-owned property, and receive significant capital and operating support from the City to help meet basic security, maintenance, administration and energy costs. In return for this support, these institutions operate as publicly-owned facilities whose mandate is to provide cultural services accessible to all New Yorkers.

The CIG represents a broad spectrum of cultural endeavor, from art and natural history museums to historical societies, theaters, concert halls, performing arts centers, botanical gardens and zoos.

It is an extraordinary opportunity, in other words, to begin a new phase of my professional career.

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It will also mean significant changes to my life and to the Clyde Fitch Report.

First, I will suspend my position as editor and publisher of this blog, effective today. Under the terms of New York City’s ethics and conflicts-of-interest guidelines, it would neither be possible nor desirable for me to oversee this site while performing my duties within the Cultural Institutions Unit. I wish to add that the question was vetted from a legal viewpoint and I willingly accepted the terms of my hire. Even if such terms had not been presented, I would not feel I could accept the position and be fair — fair, that is, to DCA (and especially to Tim Thayer, the Assistant Commissioner to whom I’ll report), to myself personally and professionally, to the readers of the CFR, or to the wider field as a whole.

Second, the CFR will not be going offline, at least not initially. A new position, tentatively dubbed the Curator, is being created to manage the site’s content and to continue developing the CFR thematically and technologically. This may include the adoption of an open-access contributor model to accommodate the increasing requests by readers, writers and activists to participate on the CFR themselves. A redesign and a relaunch may additionally be in the offing. Yet, at its core, the mission of the blog will remain unchanged: to serve as the nexus of arts and politics. Given my four-and-a-half-years of sweat equity in the CFR, my interests will be managed by a board of directors (the Clyde Fitch Report is a privately-held corporation). The board will act as guarantor of the site and approve the selection of the Curator.

Third, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share some thoughts and some numbers. Some of you may remember that the CFR launched in October 2006. I wrote, back then, maybe six, seven posts, then pursued other projects for roughly half a year. In the spring of 2007, I began to post again in earnest, and by 2008, the site was attracting attention and causing consternation and raising Cain; by April 2009, the blog was relaunched basically in its present form. During those 24 months, the CFR registered more than 340,000 pageviews, 210,000 visits and 150,000 unique visitors — not exactly Huffington Post traffic even for a day, I realize, but surely not bad for a little blog begun on a lark. This is post number 2,476; CFR comments now total more than 3,300. I created a community. You are the community. I am honored and deeply humbled by your support, arguments, friendship and favor. Even when we’ve violently disagreed.

To my enemies — you know who you are — good luck.

To the CFR’s contributors: Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

To the CFR’s readers: I am forever in your debt.

As the reality of this possible job opportunity became evident in recent months, I’ve consciously blogged less. In many ways, I feel the blogosphere is noisy now to a point of distraction, often even incoherent. I feel written out. It’s too easy to say things that shouldn’t be said in an age of extreme political correctness — a case in point being my Daniel Radcliffe post of yesterday, which I wrote partly to prove to myself once again that militant conformity corrodes our culture.

Yet I also know how extensively and how passionately I’ve questioned and criticized public arts funding, so let me also write a word or two about that. During the interview process for this position, I was very open about my ambivalence — you can call it my agnosticism — with regard to it. I did not, therefore, accept this position, with all of its implications for conformity, lightly. What I cannot accept is not to try. Here is a chance for me to learn from the inside, to sharpen and develop my skills, to put my money where my mouth is (or isn’t), to rise or fall on my own rhetorical sword, to join a team stewarding some of finest arts organizations in the greatest city in the world. I’m full of wonder, full of prayer.

Last week, a dear friend advised me to write a sterling farewell essay, to make a grand flourish, to sing a elegiac song. I felt that urge, too, for how does one kiss a baby goodbye? Then I imagined what a gloomy and unfortunate tone such a post would set. Wasn’t it Richard Nixon who said, in his farewell to the White House staff,

we don’t have a good word for it in English — the best is au revoir. We’ll see you again.

Such a succinct, decent phrase. May I try it? Au revoir. I’ll see you again. I know I will.

For today — and tomorrow and forever — I wish you art. And I wish you love.