So recently I posted a status update about how annoyed I was that *every* freaking artist statement I read started with “Artist X, who the New York Times called XXXX” and I was like, fuckin’ A! Enough already! I get it, but enough. Which sparked a whole bunch of cranky rebuttals so I responded with the FB post shared below. Then I thought I’d re-post the original FB status update that caused the huge discussion that led to this project. Because this project is about:
- Moving from FB to THE REAL WORLD
- Creating a place for people to STOP complaining and move into ACTION.
- Understanding how the system actually operates so we can change it
- Making better lives for performing artists by sharing knowledge to increase empowerment
- Making better lives for performing artists by renegotiating the relationships of artists, funders and institutions
- Collaboratively developing a new vision for the arts ecology
- Collaboratively imagining new models of making and sharing performing arts
- Modeling the behavior we want to see: collaboration, cooperation and transparency
and ultimately SHARING THAT VISION WITH THE REST OF THE WORLD.
Because in a lot of ways the performing arts in America is like a big dysfunctional family where no-one dares to talk publicly about what is really wrong, about how dad’s a lush and mismanages the money, our sister’s a slutty cokehead but she’s daddy’s favorite so he just keeps giving her money while ignoring her patently irresponsible behavior and mom cowers in the corner, afraid of Dad’s wrath and we’re trying to just keep peace in the family but every time we bring it up, the conversation turns into an argument filled with accusations, recriminations and hostility, a sense of crisis and fear and desperation and doom. And we can’t imagine that the world could be any different because we’ve never known anything different. And nobody wants change because change is hard and it means giving up your assumptions about who you are and how you are in the world. And that is really fucking scary. But we need to have an intervention. We need to sober up. We have to learn how to talk to each other openly, in public, while sober, about what is really going on. And we have to prioritize it because, yes, eventually the house will fall apart, and eventually we’ll grow up and dad will die. But dysfunction is passed on through generations, a child of domestic violence is much more likely to become an abuser. So we either address it now or continue to teach our children to live the same way we did.
The douchebag who wrote “The Shit Show Circus On Ice” manifesto (everyone knows who he is but I’m not going to give him the acknowledgement) was not entirely wrong in what he said. He was wrong in how he did it – anonymously, full of accusations and with vitriol, jealousy & spite. If he had actually had the guts to say it publicly under his own name and create a forum for discourse, it might have made a difference. But he was a pathetic coward hiding behind anonymity. And a bunch of people got upset and castigated him and then nothing changed. We still can’t even talk to each other openly, directly and critically about our work. How the hell are we going to talk to each other – much less come together – to change things? How can we learn to actually be in community, to actually talk to each other, in real life, honestly, directly and openly?
So we’re building Brooklyn Commune FOR EVERYBODY. We have the opportunity to imagine new definitions, new ways, new systems, new worlds. We have the ability to use the world as our art project and apply our creativity to the actual stuff of living. If you are an artist, administrator, producer, curator, funder, or just anyone who cares about the performing arts I invite you to turn your imagination outward, come together in this platform we’re creating and dare to dream as big as the world itself.
Here’s my FB rant from May 24, 2013:
1. Just because things are one way now doesn’t mean that is how it ever was. NYLA (formerly DTW), PS122, On The Boards, The Kitchen even The Public Theater and countless other arts organizations started as small artist-driven projects made by people who chose to work outside a system that didn’t invite them in and build another system, another way. They changed the landscape and are now institutions. We are in a moment of cultural transition and we have a responsibility to do things differently & better.
2. The funding landscape is radically different. Just check out Travis Chamberlain‘s project on the NEA Four at New Museum. The shifts at NEA, the professionalization of arts administration & the corporatization of the philanthropic sector have created a level of complexity that is orders of magnitude higher than in the 70’s and 80’s that gave rise to our current landscape or arts institutions. If you want to get funded, if you want to play this game, you have to learn how it works. Right now, as an artist, the game is rigged against you. So you can play by the existing rules and take your chances or you can learn how it works, get involved and try and change it.
3. Traditional print journalism is a dying industry and arts journalism is it has previously been known is pretty much dead. The NY TIMES arts coverage is mostly a pale, sad shadow of its former self and it cannot be the only paper of record adjudicating value for art. If artists continue to play into this mindset, they are only screwing themselves in the long term.
4. Marketing is dead and all these workshops out there teaching you a bunch of crap about marketing & pr are, largely, a waste of time. Presenters look for artists with existing audiences. Nobody has ever gone to see a show for any reason other than word of mouth. Most successful artists start by energizing their base and expanding out in concentric circles. Just look at Justin Vivian Bond and Kenny Mellman who started out (as I recall) playing Josie’s Juice Joint in SF, moved to NYC, played a longstanding gig at the Flamingo East, played radical DIY queer spaces like DUMBA (that inspired the “Short Bus” movie) and over YEARS of hard work made it Broadway and Carnegie Hall. Stop wasting your time on marketing and PR, make work you care about that means something to your audience and expand out. Also remember that not everything is meant to have a massive audience. Taylor Swift is massively huge because her music is completely bland, middle of the road and easily palatable. The Boredoms are not. Be realistic about how many people are actually interested in what you do and don’t be upset if your audience is small.
5. Old, romantic myths of what an artist is are just that – old, romantic myths. Most artists throughout history have had other jobs. Most artists throughout history either found a patron or were broke. Most artists did not have the luxury of devoting themselves only to their art or creating art for art’s sake. The ones that did tended to be really wealthy.
and here’s the FB rant from July 8, 2012 that started it all:
I just. Um. Okay. Really. Enough. Don’t blame your bad reviews on The Man. Please stop railing against straight white rich people who run the theater establishment and keep everybody else down. Stop being mad at TCG for being what it is and the convention for being uninspiring, etc. etc. It’s all much more complicated than that.
I know. I get it. Really. Trust me. I really really do. And I know it is hard to be in your 20’s and broke and not connected etc. etc. etc. But if you stop and look back in history it is not the complainers that are remembered, its the people who said, “Screw it” and did what they wanted to do anyway.
Can’t rent a theater? Take it to the street. Can’t get an audience? Go where the people are or stop thinking about the entire idea of “audience” and start thinking about community. Bring people together not just to watch you prance about onstage but to share something meaningful, true and transformative. If you don’t absolutely, positively have to say it – then shut up and go home. Can’t get a grant or get funding? Then figure out how to make it for free or cheap. Do it yourself. Some of the most important and powerful theater I’ve ever seen was literally one person on stage with a chair for a prop and a sense of mission (Hi Kristen Kosmas). Your voice not represented in big theaters? Say it somewhere else, louder and more passionately, be ahead of your time. But for god’s sake – have something to say. We live in a world of injustice, indifference and inequality, that celebrates selfishness, stupidity and shallowness. Surely you, as an artist, can find something more important to talk about than yourself. Remember the words of pioneering queer theater artist Charles Ludlam, “I wanted to commit an outrage. For me, nothing was too far out.” Throw it in their face. I’m pretty sure Amiri Baraka didn’t wait for any damned white man’s grant when he co-founded The Black Arts Repertoire Theatre School. The Living Theater took it to the streets – and still does. PS122 was started by artists who broke into an abandoned school and took it over. Ellen Stewart started LaMama with not much more than a stroke of good fortune (cheap rent) and hard work. Joe Cino helped birth the off-off theater movement by producing plays in his caffe! Hell, even the Public Theater started doing free Shakespeare in the parks out of the back of a freakin’ car.
Nobody influences the Establishment by politely requesting a seat at the table of power and change never comes from asking nicely. You want change? You want to have a voice? You want the world to be something other than it is? Make it happen. It will be hard and it will hurt and you will fail and fall down and pick yourself up and start again. And it’ll mean more to you than all the sitcom deals and fancy high-production value puffball pieces of staged TV that populate mainstream theater because you did what you believed in, you fought for it and you built it with your own two hands and sweat and blood and faith.
Very inspirational. I think emerging artists of all stripes (or even people contemplating the idea of taking that initial first step into art/music/theater/etc) are left turned off and depressed by the shear insanity of the “industry.” Time and energy gets divested into “marketing oneself” and creating an image of importance and competency, with less left over for actual, you know, art. And for today’s 20-somethings in particular, it certainly feels like the level of bureaucracy has swollen to such a degree that pursuing creative professionalism of any sort and getting funding, space, and attention for it may be a mountain best left unclimbed. But where did complaining ever get anyone? Best option it seems is to adapt, be creative, make good work, and build an audience one step at a time in whatever way best suits you.