Somerville likes to brag it has more artists per capita than any city in the United States other than New York.
It's fitting, then, that Somerville is also home to serious art criticism.
The Arts Fuse
The Arts Fuse, established in 2007 by Ball Square resident Bill Marx, is an online magazine that has published over 1000 articles, by more than 30 writers, about the New England arts scene, covering theatre, film, literature, dance, visual arts, music, television, food and even video games.
Marx is a veteran Boston arts critic, and his work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Ploughshares, the Boston Phoenix, the Los Angeles Times and on National Public Radio, to name a few places. Previously, he created and edited WBUR Online Arts, and he currently teaches at Boston University.
With The Arts Fuse, he and fellow Somerville resident J.R. Carroll, the site's webmaster and an occasional jazz writer, aim to provide a place for "edited, intelligent, serious" discussion about the arts, according to Marx.
Arts criticism: ironically, a dying art in Marx's opinion
Creating an online space for such criticism is even more important now that newspapers and local TV stations have cut back or eliminated their arts coverage, according to Marx. "Essentially it's all gone," he said.
Moreover, he added, being online allows writers to turn arts coverage "into a conversation."
The old model—of an almost omnipotent newspaper arts critic passing judgement in print—no longer exists or matters, in Marx's view. "Online really gives you the opportunity to change that paradigm," he said.
On The Arts Fuse, readers will find lengthy essays about symphonies, operas, ballets and novels. At the same time it covers things like popular film, television and live concerts by the Dropkick Murphys, and it often conducts interviews with artists and roundups of hot topics within the arts world.
The site casts a wide net, but the overarching goal is to "make you think about the art you saw," Marx said.
"You don't want to be puff, you don't want to be marketing," he said of the site's coverage, but you do want to spark conversation. "The critic starts the ball rolling" in that regard, he said.
A non-profit that cares about the arts and wants to grow
The Arts Fuse's writers "believe in the goal of the arts," Marx said. "Criticism tends to be better when it comes from someone who cares."
He thinks art is "as important if not more important than news" because it allows us to learn about ourselves, reflect and stretch our imaginations.
"My dream is I'd literally have hundreds of writers," he said about the site.
What's more, there's never really been a civilization without art, and "that's why we need arts coverage," he said. It's his aim that The Arts Fuse can provide some of that coverage in a media environment that seems to gave abandoned it.