James Chute Is Bullish On San Diego Arts Scene
This is KPBS Midday Edition I am Maureen Cavanaugh, when you are covering the arts in San Diego, you witness great potential, and a lot of turnover and a few near-death experiences, in 25 years of art critic James Chute has seen all that and more, he has been doing a bit of reflecting in San Diego, he sees a bright future. Joining me is James Chute Welcome to the show. Thank you it's been a pleasure to be here. You have been an art credit for more than that -- critic for more than that? In Midshipman 60s -- I also taught music I found it hard to find a job as the next Dimmitt, I went to an employment agency in Cincinnati, I thought I'd ask them what they think I should be doing they looked at my eight years of college and they said restaurant management. I realized I was going to have to you know, look outside the box. I called virtually everyone I knew, who had anything to do with Cincinnati physical thing, a dear friend Florence Coffman, told me the choir has an opening for a music freelancer, maybe that is something you would like to try? My sister was a journalism student, she just retired from the pit sport -- Pittsburgh Gazette. I asked her what form an article should be and if I submit it, I submitted articles they gave me an assignment, it got in the paper, I was so thrilled to see my byline, I was a music critic. That was back in 77. When you got to say get to San Diego in the 90s, what did impress you? I came down from Orange County, where they just built a performing arts center, where they wanted to be, I came down to San Diego in 1990, and had been a music critic, and I decided I wanted to do editing, I was assistant art editor and did some writing as well. We do not want to be Los Angeles, of course the city is facing, who are we as a city? Are we a military town or whatever? In 1990 in any case it was refreshing that this place had its own distinct identity. The Symphony was in and out of bankruptcy, that was the refrain that would happen every 2 to 3 years. The opera was going great guns, it would come out on stage in the early 90s and announced they ballot -- balance their budget. But of course in subsequent years just last year, San Diego Opera had its own near-death experience? I'm wondering in comparing or looking at the idea of the problems that the San Diego Symphony went through, and then the San Diego Opera went through many years later, did you think at that time, San Diego would go and lose any of those organizations? The Symphony was a close call, there was never a thought that we might you -- might lose, the Symphony could not get it together, bad management or the board trying to do whatever it was, all sorts of things. Fortunately the Symphony seems to be in this amazing position, where Earl Jacobs, 12 years ago gave that hundred million dollar endowment for the orchestra, which put them on a firm footing. Through the foundation the management had, the Symphony of these young players, now they have forward-looking manager Martha Gilmer, a very committed board. They have all the pieces in place really. To do something remarkable. What you think quality is, what do they have to have now that is vibrant and solvent, to not face the rink off the cliff moments that some of our institutions have in the past? I think they have to have a commitment to the community. Partly is what happened to the Symphony, they forgot who they were serving, they got disconnected from the community. The reason they survived, they reconnected themselves. I think that is every arts organization, they cannot be in an ivory tower situation they have to be connected to these people. Their constituents and audience. The representatives of those the board of directors, they have to be passionate ergo they have to care. They have to give money. -- In terms of the resurrection of the opera, the board of course laid the foundation for saying we wanted a community-based organization to have alternative programming. Then you need a leader and a professional that can say what does that mean in terms of what we will put it on stage, how many tickets, all of this, you need all of these things, the connection to the community, great board of directors, and leadership. I will ask you, because you have been in the community, and you seem so much of the arts organizations have Tark -- to offer. What has been reviewed here? The Symphony with -- I will not pronounce her last name, she is the assistant associate conductor for the harmonic, she was just on national TV, she is this really vibrant intelligent young conductor, a woman conductor who is coincidently -- this just showed it was so remarkable and how different the same group of people can sound under different leadership. That is a concert relatively recent that will stick out in my mind. For a long time. The other what I remember is from when I was in orange County, I heard the Berlin harmonica, -- they had a cancellation, James came in in the last minute to conduct, it was the most remarkable concert. They were so into the flow of the music they were swaying in their chairs, my God this was the Berlin Philharmonic, this is the diggers orchestra in the -- the biggest orchestra in the world, they were show -- they were so into the moment. Really that is the performance that you are looking for. That life force. Sometimes there are wrong notes, sometimes technically they are better but really you are looking for the life force in the music. Someone is home. That is the same with visual art, is somebody there? You talk to a visual artist are they just doing something? How have you seen your role as a art critic? Some people have the impression that arc -- art critics want to put little jabs into people, or performances, perhaps even sometimes talk over the heads of people that they are writing to? How did you see your role as communicating your impression of the import -- important performance? I think that role has changed, when I started in the Cincinnati inquirer, Cincinnati Post literally the day I started they were pulling the machines out of the basement, the industry has just changed so much. In those early days you did think of yourself as someone on the pedestal, throughout bolts of lightning, it is just not like that anymore. You have to look and work more in collaboration, it is not a prayer -- partnership, we are still journalists and do what we do, we will still have to report on it, but a sickly I was -- but basically I was re-tweeting my stories. Sending them out in the email, mentioning them in the newsletter to get them online to show the management the paper. People are reading this art stuff. I see myself as much more of a clapboard or, if you go to -- collaborator. If you go to a concert you will have to write what you think. If I write a bad review I miscalculated. In one -- what way? I am not looking for bad art, I am not looking for people to slap, I'm looking for transfer Maine -- transferring experiences. Why do go to a concert? To be for sale to transformed, transported to learn something. That is what I am always look and hoping for, concerts there are ones you have to go to, basically you are hoping for a wonderful experience. If you go somewhere and you do not get that you sort of miscalculated. You thought that was your preconception, something wonderful. It is not a thrill to say this is a terrible performance. You take it personally? I didn't go to the right concert or see the right things when I was there? There is no real to that it is amazing how easy it is to write, sit there and spit your guts. Or whatever. [Laughter] What will you be doing now? I will be going a little bit deeper as a journalist we are writing in this present time, you are at this concert, you don't really have time to do a lot of deep thinking, you are always on to the next thing on deadline always. Everyday all-day. Now I will do a little more reading, a little bit more research where art and music intersect. And have a good time. I certainly hope you do. Thank you for all your work through the years. It is been a pleasure. I've been speaking with James Chute, who has worked for the San Diego Tribune as arts critic thank you James.
James Chute says he will miss it — the night-after-night of concert-going, the arts openings, the dance watching, the comparing, evaluating, praising and, occasionally, ho-humming.
And it is fairly certain that San Diego's arts institutions will miss him and his irreplaceable years of experience, too.
After 25 years of writing about music and art in San Diego, James Chute has left The San Diego Union-Tribune.
In that time, Chute saw both the San Diego Symphony and the San Diego Opera teeter on the brink of failure. He watched and wrote while the promising Orchestra Nova actually did fall over the cliff.
But as he sees it, San Diego's arts are at a different kind of brink today. The symphony is stable, he said, with an "excellent" management team and board of directors. The opera's new director seems to be doing the right things to gain new audiences and new momentum, he said. And the La Jolla Music Society is in the midst of building a permanent home.
Chute is just as optimistic about the visual arts, including the new director of the San Diego Museum of Art, the expansion of the Museum of Contemporary Art and the stability of both the Mingei and Museum of Photographic Arts.
Another thing has changed during Chute's 25-year career: the job itself.
"Literally the day I started they were pulling the linotype machines out of the basement. The industry was changing," Chute said on KPBS Midday Edition Thursday. "In the early days, you did see yourself on a pedestal (as a critic). But now its more a collaboration. We are still journalists, and if there's a mess we have to report on it. But I was reliant on retweets from the symphony, from UCSD to show my editors that people were reading.
"But it still means you have to write what you think, and I always think if I write a bad review I've miscalculated," Chute continued. "I'm not looking for bad art. I'm looking for transforming experiences."
Chute said he plans to "go a little bit deeper" now that he doesn't have daily deadlines. He said he'll read more, write scholarly articles and research the arts.