What ATCA is and should be: ATCA chair summarizes the many advantages of membership

What ATCA is and should be: ATCA chair summarizes the many advantages of membership

We are in the middle of our membership renewal drive, and while this Harold Hill spiel is, indeed, aimed at enticing those who haven’t put renewals high on their “to do” list, this is really a contemplation of what ATCA is and what it should be. Because, really, why should you renew? What do you get out of it? What should you get out of it? What does it offer someone starting out? Should you renew if you no longer have a regular outlet for your work?

Bill Hirschman

Beyond the professional development and networking, ATCA’s key worth is that it can provide you with a way to have some say, some influence, some power in how the profession and the organization evolve. 

Over the past few years, ATCA has been reinventing itself to determine how to address the all too obvious challenges. Those range from the loss of publishing venues, to the eroding commitment of the venues that remain, to the changing character of what constitutes a critic, to the lack of diversity among our ranks and that of the profession, and especially how to locate, empower and develop a new generation of responsible critics and arts journalists. How is ATCA facing these challenges?

  • We have widened our doors to welcome critics working online and to theater arts journalists in general.
  • We are designing campaigns for next year to recruit younger and more diverse practitioners and to encourage young people interested in joining the profession.
  • The content of our conferences has deepened and become more reflective of the current real world of the profession.
  • We are creating events across the country such as the one in Seattle last February, one in Cincinnati coming this winter, and perhaps more activity in the San Francisco Bay Area later this year. We do this so that ATCA events are coming to the members instead of members having to fly halfway across the country for professional development and networking. Additionally, a move is underway to evaluate whether to create local chapters to provide services closer to your home.
  • On the international front, membership in ATCA provides automatic membership in the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC). There are opportunities to participate in international events, make contact with critics from other countries, and if you travel, you will find many theaters, museums, and cultural activities accept the IATC membership card for complimentary press admission.
  • Our communications efforts have ratcheted up significantly. The website is frequently updated with news about the organization, milestones about our members’ accomplishments, and stories about issues affecting theatre journalism across the country. In addition, an increasingly robust Facebook and Twitter presence includes links to members’ articles, and this weekly ATCA UPDATE newsletter delivers a wide range of information such as how our members in Texas and Florida fared during the recent hurricanes.
  • We have increased our profile as a voice in the theater community and beyond, weighing in for our membership with public statements about controversies such as our widely-disseminated statement about the rights of critics in their relationship with theaters, sparked by the Hedy Weiss controversy in Chicago. Our members and officers are proactively joining n online dialogues about such topics as the cultural competency of critics and alternative paradigms for getting our work to the public. We are participating in other groups’ panels and committees ensuring there is a critic’s voice present, such as serving on a Dramatists Guild’s committee.
  • We are also actively expanding our committees structure to address diversity, recruiting, program development and much more.

I think it is important to acknowledge that some people are not renewing because they currently don’t have a regular writing outlet. They feel adrift and frightened about an uncertain future. However, being an arts journalist is like being a member of the Mafia or the Girl Scouts: Once in, never out. Many of your colleagues here who were in similar straits ﹣ this writer included ﹣ have found ways to reinvent themselves. We want to spread the word of how we did that and help you develop your own opportunities. We also want to solicit your advice and activism on the many subjects outlined above. 

ATCA also offers a way to stay active in the organization and the profession even if your current situation lacks a venue to provide clips. The associate membership is not a second-class membership. It has all the benefits of the traditional model ﹣ voting, attendance at conferences ﹣ with sole the exception that you cannot stand for election to the Executive Committee. We are all trying to find our footing as the model we knew shifts and evolves, but this group is an affirmation of a future that we in ATCA can forge for ourselves. Indeed, as veteran journalists, you have a larger stake than others in shaping the future of the profession you have spent your lives establishing.

Finally, if you’re a younger, emerging arts journalist wondering whether to ally yourself with a group founded before the Internet was science fiction, ATCA is morphing into a mentoring organization that can help you not just navigate these times but mold them.
End of commercial. Thanks for reading.

Bill Hirschman
chair – executive committee

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