Monday, April 12, 2010

Ted Levin: Ethnopreneur

Last Tuesday, I found myself fortunate enough to attend Ted Levin's talk at Lawrence. In his Dartmouth faculty profile, he is listed as "the first executive director of the Silk Road Project, [...the] Senior Project Consultant to the Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia, and [...] a chair of the Arts and Culture sub-board of the Soros Foundations' Open Society Institute." While that certainly may sound impressive, it is not nearly as impressive as the steps he took to attain such positions. His talk on Tuesday focused on the entrepreneurial aspect of being a successful ethnomusicologist.

In order to try to do his talk justice, I'm going to format my blog entry like the articles that Professor Skran gave us, as I believe his mission falls into a similar category. Also, just as a note, Ted Levin has been a part of MANY, MANY 'ethnopreneurial' projects; but in the interest of being concise, I have decided to only outline his recent work with the Aga Khan's Music Initiative.

The Problem and The New Idea
During Levin's Watson Fellowship in Afghanistan, he realized that traditional music in rural areas was dying out due to many different factors: 1) that music was passed down through a dying oral tradition 2) that without new music influences, the music was becoming stagnant, and 3) that because these traditions were located in such remote areas and the world had never had access to them, there was no cultural push to keep them alive.

Ted Levin suggested that they approach the problem firstly by promoting awareness of such musical traditions, and secondly, by introducing said musical traditions to other musical traditions from around the globe. "[He] not only wanted to revitalize these traditions, but give these musicians a chance for their traditions to grow [... He] wanted to get these folks out and connected with other people from around the world." He decided to "curate" collaborative concerts between musicians of the world and market them to an international audience.

The Strategy
Ted Levin understood the magnitude of such an undertaking, and came up with the following plan (as presented in his lecture):

1) Translating the language of art into the language of donor support (ie:: writing a proposal and a development strategy, the how and why someone should support his idea - "when someone gives you money, you can't just fumble around [...] you have to make a business plan, invest the money in some creative process.")

2)Translating the language of donor support into the language of art (ie:: why the musicians should/would want to be a part of his project)

3)Translating the language of art into the language of the audience (ie:: to give the viewers something desirable, to "make the audience come away with an understanding of something new.")

4)Translating the language of art into the language of media (ie:: writing press releases, producing cds, dissemination of both advertising and material. "If you want to be an entrepreneur," Ted Levin says, "you must be able to get the word out.")

5)Translating the language of art into the language of art (ie:: considering the feelings of those you are working with, as well as finding a lingua franca and common ground to enable the international artists to work together).

By taking all of these factors into consideration, Ted Levin has been incredibly successful in his endeavor; "[he has] created an enthusiasm that wasn't there before."

Notable Quotes with Regard to Our Class

On what it means to be an entrepreneur "1. Not to have a regular job. 2. to take risks and try to get other people to take risks as well - to share and explore music and drive it through other cultures"

That even in doing something like "amplifying voices that are being drowned out and documenting music which is in danger of dying out, there are people [out there] who are willing to pay you for it"

On getting paid for social projects: "You're a salesman. You're providing a service, [and] you gotta get someone to pay for it. It's not exploitation; you're doing something important."

That sometimes, "if you want to go North, go South. I wanted to study throat singing in Tuva, but first I had to produce Billy Joel's rock concert in Russia [...] which allowed me access to the KGB guy who was in charge of allowing [foreigners] into Tuva. Many people had tried to go there and had failed, but [because of the rock concert,] I was allowed in."

Finally, on being an entrepreneur: "You have to do it all, but there's never a dull moment!"

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