Ideas: July 2007 Archives
I live in a community that is in the process of transforming itself with several visions competing with each other for what the future will look like.
Lansing had always prided its stability on its three-pronged economy. We had the state government, the university, and Oldsmobile. When one suffered, another usually thrived, keeping things in balance until adjustments could be made. Well, Oldsmobile is now gone and there is little of the auto industry left here.
So the question is asked--as it is in many places around the country--what will we look like now?
Some that I've talked to over the past few months want the arts to become a central pillar of the economy. There is a dream that if the many existing organizations were to collaborate and obtain civic support, the arts could start generating the money lost by the auto industry.
It's a tough argument.
On one hand, there is some pretty hard data that the arts do generate money. There is also no lack for artistically talented individuals. On the other hand, there are very few artistic venues that could be called commercially successful. The majority of art organizations survive because they have passionate individuals working for them that are willing to sacrifice to create art. They labor with little expectation of a financial return.
There has also been uneasy partnerships between businesses and arts organizations. I've read John's entries about the Savannah Symphony Orchestra with increasing uneasiness. It feels like I'm looking into a mirror and seeing one of our local organizations. An organization that was once considered a cornerstone of the local arts community has been struggling for years in large part because it has a board with influential members who do not support its artistic vision. It is a board that is filled with people who have been successful in commercial undertakings but who have not been active members of the arts community. Rather than joining in the struggle to find solutions to the challenges the organization faces, they issue threats about closing the organization and demand that people are cut from staff--even those people who are bringing in grant monies that far surpass their salaries.
While I love the vision of a community that considers art one of its prime characteristics, I have to question what a commercialization would do to the life of art in the community. Would it continue to be art? Or would it become just another form of entertainment?
Business must value its bottom line. Art must value struggle.
For myself, I'm going to pursue more reading on the concept of the gift economy versus the market economy and how those economies can happily marry each other.
I'm enjoying the discussion far too much this week to change topics.
I'd like to pick up some threads that Jennifer wove into the discussion on Tuesday.
Early in my journalism career I had an editor who pointed out that it wasn't necessary or right to be objective about everything. He said he wouldn't be objective about rape, about murder, or about war. He held that he would be a poor journalist if he didn't hold an opinion about those things.
My father was a community journalist in the truest sense of the word--he was an editor who believed that he had to be a part of the community that he was covering. How could he do a good job as a journalist if he didn't care about the community he lived in and the people who populated it?
So it has never seemed dissonant to me that one should love--and love deeply--those things that you cover. Why would an editor want someone who lacked passion covering anything? When there is no passion, there can be little commitment. When there is little commitment, the writing will be dull and shallow.
Perhaps one of the reasons the Flyover blog mission resonated with me so much is because theater has become so integrally connected with place in my mind.
Yes, theater is about art. I might argue, though, that it is more essentially about connection. While the primary connection may be between people, a strong tie exists between theater and place.
When people ask me, I say that my home is Lansing. This is despite the fact that I spent half my life in Westland. Westland is where I was born (well, OK, Garden City, but close enough), where I was raised, and where I met my husband. It's also where both my family and my husband's family lives still. Yet, even when I go back it is as a visitor and I no longer even think of it as "coming home."
The reasons for this are very much tied up in theater. Theater is what makes Lansing more than just a geographical place where I reside. It is what makes it home. It is the place where wherever I go, I'm going to run into someone I know despite being in a town of more than 100,000.
I do try to see theater when I travel and one of the things that I've discovered is that theater has a different flavor wherever I go--even when the same shows are being done. Much of that flavor comes from the audience and what the audience is giving back to the show. Anyone who has gone to see the same show multiple times will attest to the fact that every performance is different no matter how much the performers try to make it the same. It's different because each audience is different.
So it isn't surprising when communities become possessive about their theater--referring to it with possessive pronouns even when all the production efforts are done by individuals with little to no outside support. It's because the theater is part of what has turned their community from political boundaries on a map to a home where there is a shared memory of connecting with other individuals about what is important to them on a very local level.