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December 13, 2005

New York's creative environment

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How are we judging the creative impact of New York's dance world? For most of us, it's obvious that we don't want to only be perceived as vibrant by rolling out large-scale, spectacular, marketable work to the theaters of the world. Nor do we expect that we are only vibrant if we can identify ourselves as part of the next big "movement" in dance-- time will tell, and we can get back to that question a few years from now. I think it's too easy to look only for the breakthrough moments and use them to define an artistic landscape. The current dance world in New York is not dead by any means, and interesting things are happening here all the time.

There's no question that the environment for making art in New York City is under-resourced. I assume artists here would make stronger work if they could do it full-time, work with consistency, be able to research and develop ideas with reliable financial support for those activities. But, there is dance happening here that can be seen in any important art-making context, whether a European capital, elsewhere in the U.S. or elsewhere in the world. There are a lot of bold and interesting artists making good, exciting, relevant dance in the city.

What it does it mean to make work here now? Some of the hallmarks of the creative environment that is New York City include living in a city that engages a lot of rough edges: having to work all the time in order to pay rent, huge gaps between the rich and the poor, little access to consistent or sophisticated work spaces for artists, the fragmented experience of 9/11, a national attempt to marginalize this city on many levels (too liberal, too multi-ethnic, too dangerous, too experimental, too hedonistic, too out-of-touch, too full of artists, too messy). And, of course, there is the good stuff that keeps many of us here, including a certainty that in this city we are surrounded by a brave and adventurous group of fellow citizens (both artists and non-artists); that we are at one of the global crossroads of information and influence; and that we are fed by a charged, heady sense that we can find, do, or be, anything here. Plus, there is the positive side of being many of those things we are marginalized for!

I want to weigh in, as others have, on the conceit of “being the center of the dance world”. I felt that the New York Times article in question was naïve in that regard, positing that NYC was finally being revealed as an emperor with no clothes. But in fact, no one that I know walks around thinking that we are the center, or deserve to be the center, or should be mourning our demise as the center. As the world changes politically and culturally the idea of “center” is less relevant and not a primary benchmark of success. Tere O’Connor acknowledges this perfectly in his posting.

Nonethless, of course it is important to be part of a network, to be creatively relevant, to be part of the call and response of making new dance, to continue to provide and make opportunities in the field of dance that are both fruitful and risk-taking. I believe that New York City is still, at this time, all of those things. But I work at it all the time, and so do many of my colleagues. As we do our work (as artists, as presenters both in and out of New York, as journalists, as funders) in the field of dance it is our responsibility to work harder than ever, because adventurous voices in dance exist within a fragile art-making context and are not to be taken for granted, even in a city as robust as this one. Perhaps future postings to this blog can begin to articulate some of our strategies to accomplish those goals.

Posted by at December 13, 2005 12:36 PM

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