Among the lessons I learned during my Nieman Fellowship year: Follow your heart. Or in my case: Follow the arts. At the end of my Nieman experience, I launched a freelance career after 20 years as an arts reporter at the Bangor Daily News
in Maine. My decision was informed by a diminution of arts coverage at the paper and my own belief in striving for the next great moment in one’s life. And while the lessons at Nieman were formative to my professional sensibility, the lessons of passionate artists have shaped my professional quest.
“We conduct so much experimentation in our everyday lives to be artists,” the vocalist Meklit Hadero told me recently. “Right now, we’re in a place where we don’t know what’s going to happen in the arts. The thing that’s going to get us through and help us adapt the most will be our creativity and our ability to take risks – which artists are doing all the time. In order to survive, you have to constantly be experimenting and embrace the not-knowing. Artists are great at that.”
I’m no artist, but Hadero’s words have special meaning for those of us who face the double challenge of being reporters in the arts. And her message surely has resonance for non-arts journalists as well: Adaptation is key.
Alicia Anstead (bottom row, left) with students from the Harvard Arts Beat (photo credit: Office for the Arts at Harvard)
For the last two years, I’ve worked closely with the Office for the Arts at Harvard to ensure high journalistic standards for the Harvard Arts Beat
, a student-driven blog that covers the arts at and around Harvard. Five students from the college contribute cross-platform stories about the experience of the arts in their community. Additionally, I teach courses in writing about the arts for the journalism department at Harvard Extension School
. And I am the voice of Harvard Arts on Twitter (@HarvardArts) and on Facebook.
As a Nieman Fellow and longtime arts journalist who has also covered wars, social issues and government, I value my role as editor and mentor to these young thinkers. Some of them will go on to be the new voices of arts writing. Some will go on to be lawyers. Perhaps one will aspire to be the president of the United States. But they are all learning the value of timely reporting, narrative writing and professional standards— in the context of the arts.
In addition to my work with Harvard, I am a regular contributor and guest host for my fellow Nieman Callie Crossley (class of 1983) on The Callie Crossley Show
on WGBH radio, and I continue work as editor-in-chief for the performing arts magazine Inside Arts
, as well as writer for several arts blogs, Art New England
and NPR’s Morning Edition
. I also spend a considerable amount of time talking to students about the arts and leading town hall-style discussions with large groups of arts thinkers, most recently at the Boston Book Festival. In summer, my work switches again: I work as critic-in-residence at a professional Shakespeare festival at the Stonington Opera House on an island in Maine, where I oversee a blog, run library reads with citizen actors and facilitate discussions about Shakespeare and community life in post-show conversations with scholars, audience members and the show’s creative team.
Adaptation? Yes. A creative life? Yes. Journalism? Also yes. The next great moment? Talk to you next year.
Alicia Anstead lives in Cambridge, Mass., and Castine, Maine. She can be reached at email@example.com.