Something I’ve touched upon occasionally here on Wofflings is how artists often work on projects without remuneration or much respect, and also how flimsy an American conception of patronage is. I’m not whining about this at all: there are some pretty obvious reasons things are this way, and some pretty simple things you can do to ameliorate this a bit. As 2008 comes at us, here are a couple of things you could consider doing in your new year’s resolutions to have a healthier, more personalized relationship to culture and creativity:
So let’s focus on patronage. You don’t have to be rich to support the arts. Patronage, at least the way Wofford likes to look at it, can be personalized support in a host of different ways. Plus you get to think of yourself as a patron. And no, I don’t mean a big bottle of your favorite tequila.
Having a generous attitude can serve many purposes: being more inquisitive instead of suspicious of creative ventures will get you right on track to being a better supporter of contemporary arts forms. I do understand why many folks find experimental art/music/theatre off-putting, but I would ask that if you’re one of the people that feels this way, try a different approach, perhaps. Take a little personal responsibility for trusting the sincerity of an artist’s intentions, and putting more curiosity into establishing your understanding of the art piece. You still may not like the work at hand, but at least you’ve approached it with respect, instead of contempt. This process is about curiosity, not necessarily literal clarity. Ask questions. It gets you a lot closer to embracing something inherently ambiguous and experimental, and closer to the rewards that thinking creatively can bring you. Consider Brian Greene’s string theory piece in the New York Times from last year:
“…But that’s both the wonder and the angst of a life in science. Exploring the unknown requires tolerating uncertainty.”
I had this undergrad in my Introduction to Visual Thinking class at Berkeley last year who was an astrophysics major. She was far and away one of the most successful students in the class, because she was so willing to experiment, and accept strange, unfamiliar things as plausible options. She didn’t get hung up on traditional or aesthetic valuations. She stayed open and curious.
Spare Change/Spare Stuff:
If you do have a couple of bucks (and I do mean a couple), support artists and arts organizations in modest ways. And Paypal makes everything so easy, don’t you think? $10. $20. You don’t have to buy a box at the Opera. Small donations are great. For example, Fellow Travelers Performance Group is in need of matching funds for a grant they received, and Christine Wong Yap really could use your support on her Illuminate Project. The Shamans of Siquijor films need finishing funds. Or you might just ask that artist/dancer/film-maker friend of yours if they accept small cash donations for a project they’ve mentioned. Just because. Look around for ways you can help on a modest scale. Physical donations of materials can be really helpful, too: Joe McKay might still need your old, dead cellphone. Or if someone’s having a fundraising event or an opening, maybe you can pass on those extra wine bottles you’ve got kicking around so that the booze can be served or sold for donations. Ask first, though: sometimes donations of physical stuff like art supplies need to be very specific. Don’t foist 2 boxes of yarn off on someone working in new media. The East Bay Depot For Creative Re-use, however, might appreciate it.
Time is always hugely helpful, too. Some wonderful people have volunteered to help me with the installation for my upcoming show, for example, and I know that it will make all the difference in the world in making the show successful. Artists and arts organizations, most to all of whom are operating as non-profits, are always grateful for the offers/donations of volunteers, in a wide variety of capacities. Even if you’re not comfortable being hands-on with an installation, there are almost always other jobs, ranging from administrative support to IT to slinging drinks at their fundraiser, that any organization would love to have a hand with. And just show up at stuff! Art openings are free, and your enthusiasm for attending means alot! If you make a good connection with an arts org like this, and want to make a bigger commitment to them, see if they need board members or other kinds of regularized support, too.
Talk to others about cool exhibitions/performances/street art/whatever that you experience. Share your enthusiasm with others. You don’t have to be a dork about it. Just bring it up, ask others if they’ve seen anything good lately. If you’re a blogger, write about it. I just had a conversation this morning with a friend of mine who’s an amazing artist, but is somewhat frustrated because no one is writing about her work yet, for example. Artists almost always need press. Even blogs! I attended these strategic planning meetings with the Alameda County Alliance for Arts Learning Leadership a few years back, and the three most important words I took away from their sessions were “Creating Public Value”. It’s so simple, and it’s basically just good marketing strategy: think of yourself as an influencer marketer who’s working for the good guys, instead of some crap-ass corporation. You’re reminding folks why the arts matter, and how you participate in the arts yourself.
Okay. That’s it for now. I’ve got to get back to working on my show (speaking of how I participate in the arts myself). More shenanigans and upbeat diatribes later.