24 May

Text from the Smackdown

Here is what I said in my ‘prepared’ statement at The Field’s Smackdown event last week, as a couple people have asked to see it.


“It used to be that the arts were, or seemed to be, an exceptional and broken economy. So many people were making so much money out there while we were taking a loss. It must have just been our fault. But now a lot of systems are in disrepair – education, banking, and health care for instance. So what has changed, and what do we do?

Here are two small things: 1. we address the scarcity model; and we submit the work’s real cost and value.

A few months ago I was at an ART-NY fundraising roundtable. When the subject of funding cuts came up, people started saying, “we gotta learn how to do more with less.” I think that every year since 1993, whether the economy was booming, busting or staying just the same, I have heard someone – an artist, development person, funder, presenter – say that. I can almost hear a kind of relief in it, like crisis mode can keep us from having to risk real failure or real transcendance. So I want to advocate doing less with more. Make fewer, more brilliant shows, don’t put them up until they’re ready, and ask for enough to get them done right.

For presenters and funders, this can be tough. You’ve got all these fabulous artists who want your help. You’ve got a staff who needs a salary. You’ve got grantors or legislators or boards asking you to justify everything in terms of artistic excellence, community engagement, access, education, and diversity, all for $3,200 a year. And no one raises an eyebrow when you say you’re “commissionng” a piece for $5,000 that really costs 70 grand. But until we address this then maybe the system’s functioning just as it should: people are making a lot of art, labor costs are incredibly low– this is what the market has borne.

So, do we want to try and change the game? And if so, how?

For starters we could make budgets that reflect real cost of the work, including the amount we are all subsidizing the field via dayjobs, credit cards trust funds or partners.

I think that freeing up the truth by doing the numbers right ultimately allows us to advocate in a new way. We can stop relying too heavily on a skewed notion of economic impact that arises out of how much we agree to do for how little.

And then we can start being citizens with allies in other fields that are also asked to do more with less, who are also driven by a mission. Teachers, death row lawyers, journalists, rural doctors, etc.

And then we can start addressing creativity as a core human trait, and the articulated imagination as one of the few things that separates us from other species. “

14 May

New Economy “Smackdown” is Smackdone

I was on a panel that was part of The Field’s New Economy Smackdown last night. It was fun and smart and too long, but there’s a lot to say. An encouraging thing I’m seeing in discussions like this is that they are including many stakeholders at once – from artists to presenters to funders to journalists, and this is really important, so that none of us is working in a vacuum.

Read about it here.

I think one could go to a panel like this (“what is the new economy? what is the new model? what is broken? what can we do?”) in the arts about every day this month. I think it’s a good thing. The system for funding and presenting the arts has been busted for a long time so it’s great we’re all getting out and trying to frame it, deal with it, take responsibility for it and so on.

I will say that I kind of lost my shit with a guy in the audience and I wish I hadn’t. Having worked in the arts a long time, I have increasingly lost patience with people who wait until the end of what in this case was a fairly constructive event, and then shoot it down for not being what that person thought the event should be (which in this case was not entirely clear).

At the same time, I let it get under my skin more than I should have, and sort of played into a dynamic that was also counter productive. I think we argued about whether we panelists were spiritually or politically engaged enough with the larger economic crisis, but I can’t be entirely sure based on what was said.

I know also that as a radical artist I totally aspire to be middle class, because I think earning the bourgeois trappings by doing wacky unsettling cultural work is highly political, especially if you’re from a more marginalized demographic.

Thought for the day: how helpful is it for any one person to tell a group of other people what we “should” or “must” do? Yes it’s a rhetorical question. Kind of. I ask because I think I respond more to statements about what IS happening, and what are the consequences. “When we do this, this is the result. What does that mean going forward.”

11 May

Mother’s Day Politiku

My friend Susanna Speier asked me to write some political haikus for mother’s day, which have been posted on her Huffington Post blog.

Please enjoy, Mom.