Business gives birth to new arts magazine

Beginning this season, some 65,000 leaders of the American arts scene have a new source of information and commentary - a handsome, carefully produced magazine called Vantage Point: Issues in American Arts.

Published by the American Council for the Arts (ACA), a national organization founded in 1960, the magazine has targeted an audience of artists, corporate managers, political and educational figures, and trustees and directors of arts institutions.

Its initial funding, however, comes from a different kind of source: InterNorth Inc., a diversified energy-based corporation from Omaha, Neb.

Why did a Midwestern company with interests in oil, natural gas, and petrochemicals decide to fund a New York-based publication devoted to arts issues?

''To most everyday people,'' says InterNorth spokesman Randall Blauveldt, ''a corporation is a sort of nameless, faceless monolith. And that's not the way it should be. We have an impact on many people all over the country. We make a profit from the country, after all. So we have a civic responsibility to return some of that benefit to the country. Getting involved with the arts, cultural activities, and education is a way of exercising that cultural responsibility.''

For about five years before Vantage Point made its debut, the ACA published a magazine called American Arts, received by more than 10,000 artists, art supporters, and administrators. But according to Vantage Point editor David Kuhn , the council wanted its magazine to be ''more self-sufficient'' and ''oriented more to issues.'' A decision was made to rethink and rename the publication and to seek money for an effective effort to boost circulation.

The aim, Mr. Kuhn says, was to design a new magazine and support it with ''a fairly elaborate and sophisticated marketing campaign involving direct mail and controlled subscriptions.'' As part of the subscription strategy, state arts agencies (such as the New York State Council on the Arts) were asked to identify art-world leaders. These names were gathered into a list of potential customers for Vantage Point's interdisciplinary offerings.

''The circulation started at - and will be kept at - 65,000,'' according to editor Kuhn. To ensure this, arts leaders (for example, members of Congress with an interest in the arts) will continue to receive the magazine even if they don't subscribe. About 10 to 15 percent of the subscriptions will be free of charge, Kuhn estimates.

Looking for money to seed its new publication, the ACA approached InterNorth about a year before the first issue appeared in September. ''InterNorth was told that the magazine was a major initiative,'' says editor Kuhn, ''with a potentially huge impact on people who make decisions in the arts and influence cultural policies because they sit on boards and run institutions.''

InterNorth also received a detailed breakdown of the plan to make Vantage Point successful. A conviction that the magazine will be self-supporting is central to the relationship between the arts council and its corporate helper. InterNorth's contribution is meant as a temporary support while the rolls of former American Arts subscribers are supplemented by members of the new ''controlled'' subscription list. The company's financial association with the publication is expected to last no more than two years - ending when Vantage Point is standing strongly on its own feet and grant money has been replaced by subscription revenues.

Meanwhile, the corporation owns no part of Vantage Point. ''It just supported the start of the magazine because it believes in the venture,'' says Kuhn.

What makes Vantage Point different from other arts magazines is its breadth of concern. Many disciplines are already served by specialized publications such as American Film and Opera News, which deal with aesthetic and practical trends in various fields. Also on hand are service organizations like the American Museum Association, many of which issue publications offering professional information for their constituents. But Kuhn says that ''there's no magazine that touches on all the arts and the broader issues that affect the arts community.'' Even the former ACA organ, American Arts, ''dealt with service rather than issues,'' he adds. Vantage Point is the other way around.

Asked why business concerns are often willing to aid arts enterprises, Kuhn speculates that ''they like basking in the glow of arts institutions, especially 'sexy' ones like, say, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It's a matter of corporate image. Also, it can give a company a national tie, not just a local one.''

InterNorth seems to fit this pattern, seeing its contribution to Vantage Point not as a philanthropical gesture but a business move that will boost its name recognition and national visibility. ''They would like to be associated with an elegant and sophisticated arts venture,'' Kuhn says.

Bearing this out, spokesman Blauveldt says InterNorth is ''very interested in supporting artistic and cultural activity,'' adding that the corporation had representatives on the ACA board before Vantage Point was conceived. Among other activities, InterNorth also administers the InterNorth Art Foundation, which owns three collections of American Western art and makes them available for public displays and tours.

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