The debate in the comments below let me to revisit the work we did at the Collective Arts Think Tank a couple years ago.
It's largely centered on the dread cultural hub of New York, but it's relevant, I think, beyond our borders. And I think Scott Walters and I have lots of crossover - we just approach the situation differently.
In reading this article, and the responses in the comments section, and on other sites, most of which seem to engage in the, “Jane you ignorant slut” style of debate, I started to feel a little crazy.
One of the things I want most for people in the arts to do is stop complaining about what their colleagues have, that they don’t. As if there is a direct correlation between the grant I got and the one you didn’t, the gig you got and then one I was rejected from. If they hadn’t picked you or your kind, they’d have picked me or mine. I don't think that kind of hating helps. We all work hard. We all deserve it.
I think it’s important to recognize systemic problems (whether related to the arts or not) that need improving, and to call out specific examples of where those problems manifest. But I think, ultimately, to blame each other is not helpful, and in fact becomes its own kind of opportunism.
It would be great if rural art was more robustly supported. But then, it would also be great if artists in urban cultural centers were more robustly supported, too. (Very often "support" in an urban center means "an opportunity to work for free" - the euphemism is often something like 'increased visibility' - in the service of a venue whose staff is working for almost-free. If we expect that it has to be kind of work or one locale over the other, I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere.
In so many online conversations, it quickly becomes a version of one side saying “just do it (like I did)!” or “in my day/neighborhood/city (circle one) we just made it happen,” or “be the change you want to see in the world, douchebag!” Meanwhile the other side says, “you have no idea what it’s like today/where I live/in my brain (circle one),” or “you didn’t even hear what I was saying!,” or “punk is/is not (circle one) dead.”
Here are some questions. I hope people will respond in the comments.
1. Whether you’re in the position of maker, interpreter, scholar, producer or critic, what are you and your peers telling each other about the state of the field that might actually not be true, but that by saying it over and over you're reinforcing?
2. Why does theater seem so irrelevant to so many? Would we be better off if it mattered to more people?
3. What would happen if the NEA’s annual budget was $1,000,000,000 (a little less than 10 times what it is now, but still only about $3 per American man, woman and child per year). How do we get there?
4. What are the best kinds of exchanges among artists in urban, rural, and suburban environments, and how could those happen more readily?
Beautiful interview between Creative Time's Nato Thompson and filmmaker (and target of harassment and surveillance by US intelligence agencies) Laura Poitras:
What is amazing here is how deeply and fluently the conversation moves among history, craft, aesthetic, politics and meaning.