Artists in the Dream House

I am a member of The Field, an organization  primarily for those in the performing arts, with a focus on the dance world.  It is an amazing organization which helps artists, both emerging and experienced, create their own works through residency grants, teaches artists how to survive through grant writing, marketing and online strategies courses, among many other things.  They also have started initiatives such as ERPA, Economical Revitalisation for Performing Artists, to address the ineffective traditional grant making path for those in the performing arts.   About a month or so ago they hosted a forum regarding the state of the New York arts economy.  I attended not knowing what this event would be like and wound up leaving inspired by both the artists and the producers/”gatekeepers” of the arts.  There were a couple of really good points made and the one or two that have been rattling about my mind this summer have kept me from being dismayed when I see theaters losing their spaces, massive layoffs at arts organizations and less grants (less money) to go around. 

The first point, or suggestion, was to focus on one project and work on it slowly, perfecting it before showing it to the public.  This is something I need to constantly remind myself, since I’m prone to want to have my work shown in public before it should be presented.   There is definitely a market driven economy in the arts in NYC that makes artists often feel they need to be showing their work constantly or they will fall by the wayside.  Such commercialist sentiments often ruin the creative process.  Breaks are very, very important.  That doesn’t mean walking away from your life, but it means taking a break so that you can let ideas simmer, brainstorm and court your muse (he or she does not usually show up until you’ve learned to sufficiently de-stress).  When focusing on one project you can also have little spinoffs (ideas, projects, etc) that happen randomly.  You can also plan to show an entire evening worth of work instead of constantly showing only 10 minutes of work at this showcase or that workshop.  That was also another point made during the forum.  Show a full evening’s worth of work.   Don’t continue down the path of endless showcases.  I’ve used showcases to this point in my career to get my work out into the public, but I don’t want to continue to use them as a crutch.  They are very helpful for the emerging artist, but there does come a time when a full evening’s work must be shown.   

The other point that I found of great interest was the idea that maybe the artists in the city should be working closer together and less at odds with each other, especially as we enter an era of scarcity.  With even less now to go around, the current pathways to carving out a career in NYC as an artist seem poised to become dire.  As for what is going to happen to the arts in NYC, or for that matter anywhere in the USA, I don’t really know.   New York City was on route to pushing out most of its artists to the absolute borders of the city (well maybe not the absolute, but definitely further out).  Unless you’re working a posh job or claiming you’re an artist while working in advertising, or your parents were supporting you by paying for rent, you are/were barely scraping by.  Yet it seems that some people in the arts did have access to large amounts of capital during the past decade and so they will probably feel this slowdown at a much steeper incline.  But most people in the arts did not and have never lived flush with cash and so overall maybe life will just go on as it has been for most artists.  Or maybe not.  Maybe this era will push artists towards more innovative collectivity and further away from the individualistic market-driven economy.

Here we go again…



So, tomorrow morning I’m off to I’m in NYC, the capital of theater, dance, performance art, finance, fashion, greed and self-absorbed jerks (well, second to LA in this last category).   Still, I do love this city very much but I’ve been really on a complete break from it mentally.  Yet whenever I think of leaving it, I ask how I could ever think of such a thing?  Then I remind myself how important it is for me to venture beyond what it is I am currently doing and seeing.  It’s also important to relax, unwind and take breaks sometimes.  But that’s not easy to do without money.  Which is why I have to work full time.   Sometimes I find the dualistic life between working in a cubicle/office and trying to create new types of theater and performance to be really difficult.  Then I remember that I knew this life I had chosen was not an easy one.  I obviously will not give up what I’m passionate about but sometimes it wears me out.  That is the problem for anyone working in the arts  living in a society that thinks the arts are a luxury. 

About a week ago, I read an article in the St. Pete Times about how the funding for public arts is being cut in half in Hillsborough County and completely eliminated in Pinellas County.  On top of this, one of the Senators (Rhonda Storms) from this area of Florida is attempting to eliminate funding for the arts throughout the entire state.   In bad times, the arts are one of the first to suffer because people who have the power to call the shots claim that the arts are a luxury, they’re fun and spending money on them is just a waste.  This is one of the most ignorant ideas but it is so deeply embedded in our culture that it’s hard to make someone realize that the arts are incredibly important to a society.  They offer communities a sense of just that…connection within the community.  They inspire people and offer something higher than the mundane quotidian.  Actually, I might do an entire post on what performance does for a community, because that is even more so an important topic for me. 

Speaking of which, I was thinking recently about funding for theater/performance while watching two different shows this past week:  Gilgamesh at USF’s School of Theater and Dance and The Lieutanent of Inishmore at Jobsite Theater (at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center).  I actually am planning to write a bit more about each separately, but in light of funding issues I wondering, after having the privilege of seeing both, what small theater and performance companies will do if they can no longer afford to actually run their companies or produce their projects?

In NYC, this issue of funding is incredibly important and something that is on most peoples’ minds.  Last night I was at Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s “The Downtown Dinner” spring gala and while the event was entirely booked and an incredible success thanks to the lovely LMCC staff, the catering crew and the performers and artists, I think that the economy was that specter lurking…haunting the building, the people, and the artists.    The question is, what alternatives do we have in order to continue to make innovative, amazing performance and art, if we can no longer rely on the sources that we’ve had to rely on in the past?  And what about the communities where there was already scarce funding available?