Thursday, May 14, 2009

SIX WORDS NEVER TO FORGET: prepared for The Field's New Economy Smack Down

So it looks like May is about practical things, rather than aesthetics... but practical things have a huge impact on aesthetics as well so ... that's my excuse. There. Smack it down.

Last night I was honored to share the stage with some brilliant minds and discuss solutions, suggestions and thoughts about how to re-tool our tool sheds and harness the potential of this new economic situation we all find, well, that everyone else has finally joined us in (a.k.a reality.)

Thanks to Jennifer from the Field and Robert from Galapagos Artspace for hosting us all and organizing the evening! (Audio of the entire event should be up on the Field site.)

Here is the statement I gave as my 2 minute soap box.

The Field: What is the largest problem we seem to face as a field?
my answer: Over-extended artists have been encouraged to make high quantities of poor quality art for the “professional” market and continue to operate blind in a large loosely clustered population isolated from each other, resources, and their geographic neighbors.

The Field: What is your solution?

My solution is Six Words Never to Forget:

Slow Down
  • Make less art for the “professional” market, make better quality more rigorous art.
  • Invest more time engaging in the community, seeing art, discussing art, getting to know your aesthetic and geographic neighbors, being mentored by more established artists, advocating for the arts and for your neighbors, learning about aesthetics, technology and other worldly things, and playing, goofing around in studios and with materials, experimenting with no end goal or necessary outcome.

Strategically Plan
  • Create and follow short and long-term (1 and 5 year) plans to achieve your vision.
  • Actively cultivate the opportunities that directly feed your vision.
  • Only make work that is true to your unique vision that only YOU can make.
  • Update your plans each quarter based on a realistic assessment of your progress and changes in the field, but do not let peer or “gatekeeper” pressure ever throw you off course.

Collectively Organize
  • Organize yourselves, your companies, your materials, your financials, your to do lists, your humans, and your ideas. Knowing what you have and being able to easily access it is vital to efficient and productive action.
  • Work collectively along aesthetic and geographic lines to change the way governments, foundations, presenters and other resource managers allocate their goods.
  • Actively help solve issues that plague all of us as citizens, including lack of healthcare, crappy public transportation, over-priced housing, and an under-funded educational system.
  • Reclaim the ability to discuss aesthetics from the ivory tower of academic authority, the ignorance of the art-critic, the cowardice of political correctness, and the fear of elitism. Our work must be both the making of art and the debate of aesthetics, only then will the audiences follow us comfortably wherever we want to go.
  • Social media are powerful tools for developing rich compassionate interpersonal networks, not just for collecting “friends” to whom we broadcast advertisements for our shows.

PS. This all goes for the artists, the presenters, the grant-makers, and all the other cultural stakeholders!

For more - info on some of the Field's prior discussions about Economic Issues - check out their blog:
Info from the rest of the night and the other speakers will be up there as well soon, as well as a podcast of both panels!

You can also read here for some of the ideas that triggered some of these conversations:
Claudia LaRocco's Performance Club Blog


Fat Kid Dancing said...

I received this tweet yesterday and I just can't answer it in 140 characters...and I am hoping that others might have other suggestions...
"@StolenChairTC @lostnotebook: any advice to maintain (media, industry, & audience) visibility as artists nurture their slow, quality work over time? _Jon"

Here's one thought:
Organize low impact social events for your audiences like a performance club of your own where you invite audience members to join you for a show you are excited about seeing and get the venue to give you a discount code for the group and then go out for drinks with your group after and discuss the show. (Audience pays for their own tickets & their own drinks - you just pick the show, contact the venue, and pick the after show place, and show up yourselves.)

I know that there is a ton of pressure to feel like companies have to make a show every year - like the press, presenters and your audience might forget you if you aren't constantly producing work. But this suggestion to do less, to slow down, to do one thing only and do it well that came from Aaron, myself and Brian comes from places of observation and experience - watching the groups that have lasted and grown over the last 10 - 15 years. (A & B correct me if I am wrong on that).

Something does need to change in regards to the way the grantors fund us all to accommodate this model a little, but as we all agreed the other night - grants are clearly not the only funding source, cannot be the only funding source.

The thing of it is - a really good show, with high production values, fully rehearsed and developed content is going to go a hell of a lot further towards building buzz about any company than the constant barrage of half-baked work.

And taking the time to really build thick ties to audiences, press, presenters etc, by engaging in what interests them, and not always demanding they engage in what interests the company, will have positive long-term benefits.

- M

Aaron Landsman said...

I agree, Morgan. I think that if you make a really great show, a show that people fondly remember the way it will work is this: they'll forget about it in two weeks and then remember it in two years when you do your next piece.

One suggestion about maintaining visibility is to show work along the way to your "inner circle". And this might be distasteful to some, but let that inner circle become your taste-makers, the folks who will just by virtue of being your fans, talk up the work to their friends and build a free buzz for it as you work.

I also have found that, when I've gone through long periods of 'woodshedding' or long dry spells where no one is presenting me here in town, I just keep people in the loop about what I AM up to - a reading in Austin, a showing in Minnesota, whatever. It reminds people you're still making work, even if they aren't seeing it.

I try do do two seasonal updates a year that list what's coming up. Sometimes a little bit more, but I also try not to abuse my mailing list with SPAM.

The last thing I'll say is that there are times when you need to show your face and schmooze, perhaps because you want to make sure people know you're there even when you don't have show up.

If it's not easy for you (it's not for me), you can give yourself assignments: I'm going to these three events/parties/benefits/openings, whatever, and I'm going to make sure I talk to persons x, y and z, and then to reward myself I'm hiding under a rock for the next week, reading magazines and eating barbecue.