Build Your Community

My entry yesterday has received a comment from a somewhat appropriate source. Kevin Smokler has written a book, Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times, which essentially asks, is it worth writing a book if no one is reading them.

He also offers a consulting service to newly published and aspiring authors to help them operate in the current reality of literature. I don’t know much about consulting and coaching in this area, but what you get for his rates seems pretty reasonable to me.

But anyway, at first blush his suggestions seemed pretty naive to me. As a society, we are looking for easier ways to do things and aren’t about to inconvenience ourselves for the sake of nostalgia. You’d just as soon wish that the Donny and Marie Show were still on so your family would have something wholesome to watch on Friday nights. I am sure there will come a day when we look back nostalgically to the days Home Depot was bustling with excitement and talk about how much we miss the unspoken camaraderie and respect when do-it-yourselfers stood side by side with building contractors.

As I thought about it though, I came to realize I had witnessed some community building activities like those he suggested. As a society, we may be moving in a certain direction, but individually, our actions and gestures still have power. Home Depot and Walmart may never notice if you don’t shop in their stores, but the places you do shop instead might recognize your gesture.

Also, it may be easier than you think to build a community and establish the types of traditions and values I mentioned yesterday. My sister moved into one of those houses in the suburbs Kevin mentioned (though to be fair, the mortgage payments on her large house were less than the rent on her two bedroom apartment in Hoboken, NJ). Shortly after they did, they invited their neighbors to a “meet the new folks” bar-b-que.

Come to find out, most of the neighbors had never met each other either. They enjoyed each other’s company and decided they should have more parties. The started a themed round the world party at Christmas time. It is now in the 5th year. Right now, the biggest problem is whether to let others in the neighborhood into their circle because they are getting so bloated and drunk from all the food and alcohol available at the half hour stops at participating houses now.

Since then the people in #15 have established that they will have an annual picnic on July 4th and my sister has drawn her neighbors into the annual August summer party tradition she had going when she was living in Hoboken. When I was there in June, another of the neighbors had decided to establish the first annual ice cream social. (Alas, I missed it!)

In a sense, Kevin is correct. If we, as a society are engaging in conspicious consumption far beyond our means, it might be nice to turn it to the benefit of our community and create our own niche traditions and culture. Sure you have a 60′ television with an awesome sound system. Pick a night and roll it out on the patio and turn your yard into a drive-in for the neighborhood kids (minus the cars, of course.) The kids are probably amusing themselves with the fact they can watch television through your windows from all the way across the street anyway.

NYFA–It’s Ain’t Just for NY

“NYFA’s online database, NYFA Source, is the largest searchable resource of grants, services, and publications for artists in all disciplines nationwide. If you’re seeking funding, residencies, or specialized information, it’s the definitive place to search – and it’s free. Yet many artists don’t utilize the breadth of information it offers, or are unaware of it altogether.”

Since many artists don’t know about it, I figured I would help NYFA out and let people know. NYFA, by the way, is the NY Foundation for the Arts. While many of their activities are understandably focussed on NY, their grant database is rather extensive and instructions for its use are good.

For those that are interested, there is a page where a NYFA staff member responds to comments about NYFA Source.

This month’s issue of NYFA Current also discusses health care for artists. This article is New York City specific, but does discuss what one city hospital is doing to make care affordable for artists. A similar program might be worth advocating for in other cities.

New Delivery System?

I came across this article on the Chronicle of Higher Education website discussing how students at the University of Texas-Austin have created “Swarmcasting” software that allows people to essentially run their own Internet television station. Seems to me it might present a possibility for organizations to broadcast their performances some day.

How to make money off it, I am not quite certain at this point. I imagine though that as since your digital cable line is the same one that delivers your highspeed cable modem, being able to watch broadcast over the internet on your 60 inch television isn’t that far off. Perhaps one day you will be able to choose between watching A Raisin in the Sun performed at Arena Stage for $60 or performed by the high school down the street for $5.

For those who are worried about piracy and reproduction of performances diluting their ability to get people to pay to view their work, the way the software delivers its product is unwieldly for use in filesharing networks. The software authors believe movies and audio distribution may take a form similar to the one they are creating in the future because of this hindering aspect.

It is hard to tell how exactly our dreams of the future will be executed. I came across this blog entry which recounts a speech made by President Lyndon Johnson when he signed the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967. The president seems rather prescient outlining his vision for the future since he describes what we know today as the Internet.

It bears mentioning that two years later on October 29, 1969, the first electronic message was sent over ARPANET, the precursor of the Internet. According to some accounts I read, Johnson set aside money in the 1968-69 Federal Budget to fund a project that emerged as ARPANET.

Alas, as visionary as he was, Johnson didn’t live long enough to see his dream really come into its own as it did when it surged into public life in the 1990s. If I am visionary about this application of technology for the dissemination of the arts, I hope I am around to see some of it. Though on the other hand, I am sure Johnson is happier not knowing that his vision is also the medium by which vast amounts of pornography is also available. I may be happier not seeing it, too.

Competing For Funding

One of the plusses about working for a university is that your position is more generally secure than comparable ones in other arts organizations. On the other hand, I have quite a few people working for me on a regular basis who aren’t in a funded position looking to their job for some degree of support.

In some cases, it is worse being part of a state funded institution because no one thinks you need donations. Because you are competing for government funding, it is rather difficult to cultivate one person from whom you can make an ask since there are legislators, governors and levels of college administrators who all get a say in how much you end up getting.

In my case, it is even worse. Today I had to make a pitch before faculty and staff as to why the priorities in my strategic plan action items deserve funding. They in turn get to vote on whether my suggestions get to be college priorities.

My problems are twofold:

1- There were only two people I counted at the assembly who weren’t pitching their own action plans. Thus I was talking to people who were going to vote for their own priorities. There wasn’t anyone in the room that there was any chance of convincing.

2- There were people there pitching to fund life altering programs like getting enough staffing to enable the rural poor to attend college. Even though I was looking to do rather worthy things, the least of which was to get the office clerk reclassified so that she is paid properly for the responsibilities she has been handling for 15 years, I couldn’t help but think my requests were frivolous.

Recalling that I had read something similar in’s “Is There a Better Case for the Arts” discussion, I hopped over there. It was pretty much the exact same story, an arts person went before a city council to ask for funding immediately after a group trying to reduce infant mortality rates.

Theatre Communication Group’s Executive Director, Ben Cameron, address this:

…pitting the arts against other causes IS a trap. For a healthy society, it should be a both/and and not an either/or. Many of the past questionnaires ask us to prioritize how we spend money–e.g. which is more important between infant mortality and the arts–rather than asking us to describe those characteristics that comprise a healthy society. If we could look at the latter, there would be room and a necessity of a creative approach to policy–one that seeks to promote a more holistic sense of national health in which the arts MUST be counted–rather than the traps of competing causes.

Going back and reading that won’t make me any more likely to be funded, but for me it provides a view of the world to advocate and work toward shaping.