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Friday, September 4, 2009

Good Thinkin'

About a week ago an old friend pointed me toward a new blog called The Collective Arts Think Tank, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since.  It's written by a diverse group of NYC performing artists, presenters and support organizations, and if the first post is any indication, this will be a great forum for discussing (in their words), "the rapidly changing ecosystem of live art."

Their first post is a letter to the field that diagnoses and then provides recommendations for challenges in the field of contemporary performance.  The challenges and solutions range from micro to macro, artists to funders.  No one is left without responsibility, a comprehensiveness that I appreciate.

Yes, it is New York-focused and some of the information isn't directly applicable to us in Portland, but for companies like Hand2Mouth that are touring and striving to work on a national level, it's incredible how much we have in common with our New York colleagues.

Just to give you a taste, I'll pull one item they identified as something that isn't working.  It's an issue I've been wrestling with since I moved to Portland: the arts and social benefit.
Mythologies around ideas of community
Venues and other presenters are increasingly asked by funders to justify projects based on funders’ notions of ‘sustainability’ or community / social benefit, and conversations about aesthetic quality get left aside in favor of more easily measurable and politically correct outcomes.  While the effort to level the playing field for traditionally disenfranchised communities is laudable and valid, the way this trend has manifest has been to suggest that art itself – as made by artists and seen by audiences - must engage overtly with a social issue, “underserved populations” or youth groups in order to be successfully funded.  We argue that cultural output and creative expression are critical, underlying parts of any healthy society and all communities within that society.  Both arts professionals and others often forget that they are members of several intersecting communities and that their work by its very nature galvanizes and engages those communities.  If we shift the measuring stick away from audience demographics or trite definitions of “innovation” and towards questions of excellence, rigor and relevant engagement with content, form and audiences, it inherently forces artists and arts organizations to unflinchingly examine their own output and sustainability.


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