Our thinking about money and art is unhealthy, delusional and devisive. New art will not realize it's potential in our society until we can start having some constructive dialog on this subject. The recent exhanges between Mike Daisy (http://www.mikedaisey.com/) and Don Hall (http://donhall.blogspot.com/2008/07/friday-roundup.html) are emblematic of this craziness. We take this shit personally because we look at it in terms of values and commitments, and it's clear we've all got serious baggage about it.
We should not be asking questions like "what are you playing for?" or even "how did theatre fail america" these loaded phrases are very dramatic and can garner an immediate response, a flurry of debate, and that's great, but at some point the shouting needs to die down so we can talk practicality, compare notes, and make each other better at hammering out our own approach.
Before we can start this debate for real we need to accept the following: 1) a new economic model for art is essential. 2) none of us has the perfect solution. 3) couching this debate in terms of values, beleifs and personal commitments is not getting us anywhere. We need to look at the issue pragmatically and ask ourselves better questions. What works? What used to work and isn't anymore? What is most likely to work in the future? and How do we impliment and practice these solutions?
We'll all have different answers, cuz we're all making different art, but our projects can compliment each other, they do not have to be exclusionary. This does not have to be an us or them question.
Let me start by articulating my position. I am an entrepreneurial communist. My central goal is the empowerment of individuals against social structures through self-help. I find patronage self-defeating and self-imposed deprivation disgusting. It is my opinion that artists need to find ways to finance their art which do not compromise the art itself. Art can be compromised in two ways. First, it can sell out. The compromised artist can modify his vision to make it marketable, or appealing to donors. Second, it can sell itself short. The purist, in refusing to even encounter the problem of financing his art allows economic factors to constrain his productions or productivity. Both are compromises and neither ideal.
Mike Daisy seeks to solve this problem through institutional reform. He is trying to change the hearts and minds of arts administrators to make them more compassionate and supportive of artists and the art they're supposed to be administering. I have a problem with this approach because it requires asking administrators to sacrifice their interests for our benefit. Something that might (and has) worked for the occasional individual administrator, but will not work on an institutional level, because those admins who make their jobs harder to make our lives better will eventually tend to fail at their jobs. Admins build new buildings and spend money to make money on fundraising because that's what appeals to the donors. They cut back on paying artists because the donors don't actually give a shit about art. They'll smile and praise and dump money into anything, as long as it's in a fancy building that makes them feel fancy and special. This worked for a bit in the past, because there were enough fancy people that there was something left over to give the artists. No more. Fewer people want fancy-ness today. Now we want SUVs and big screen TVs, and internet pornography.
Don Hall, Silent Nic, and various others propose that we shun this money and these fancy donors. That we go on a campaign of making theatre that new audiences want. Beholden to no one. This is great, and i agree. The problem is, when Don, Nic, etc talk about this they villify anyone who doesn't follow the method and still claims to be an artist. They also engage in all kinds of doublethink and self-delusion. They claim that if you need money to do your work, then you must be doing big hollywood crap and seeking celebrity status or popularity. But, the fact is, they need money to do their work as well, because no one can do theatre without resources. Our money comes from self-sacrifice. We live poorly on slacker day job income, work full-time with little or no pay for theatre, and put our surplus income into our art. We do this for a couple / ten years and then give up cuz we've burned out or run into debt. To attack anyone who doesn't want to burn out with us is ridiculous. But that's what Don and many others seem to do. They paint everything in bullshit absolutist terms. Claiming that you either play for the money or you play for love of the game, but NO ONE plays theatre for the money. They divide artists into two classes in order to have an enemy close at hand to attack. We can't stop the hollywood shit machine, or Shakespeare-Ad-Nauseum, but we can cut down that sell-out Mike Daisy, right? I mean, he actually reads what we're saying, so he's vulnerable, right?
If we're going to bring new audiences and artists in, we need to bring them in to something lively and sustainable, something thriving and growing, not something that is living off our bitter sacrifices, or using us up while we've got the energy or naivite for it and then spitting us out as soon as we want or need to do anything but this one thing with our lives.
What if instead we recognize that all artists are in this together, all artists have to encounter the money problem and solve it in some way, and that the difference between Don and Mike is shades of grey, not black and white. What if we all set out to empower artists through greater cooperation, specialization, and sharing of resources?
1 hour ago