finally being honest

Yesterday, I attended a “Continuing the Conversation: Bay Area Cultural Participation” meeting.

Since May, I have gone to no fewer than three (3) of these meetings of Bay Area artists talking about making art in the Bay Area. Not informal meets at bars. No, these are formal conferences that last many hours, with slideshows in large halls, funded by the major grantors of our fair region.

They all have a few things in common:

  • The conferences, as I said, are funded by the big grantors. You get the sense that said grantors would rather give money to an arts conference (so they can report that they reached 300 artists! who then can reach thousands of people!) than give money to artists.
  • Perhaps this is why, every time, the funders congratulate themselves on bringing us together. And then have the audacity to tell us that the tools we will learn from each other are more important than money, when we all know that at the end of the day, nothing is more helpful or important or necessary than money.
  • You also get the sense that this conference thing is sort of a scam for some of the people involved in throwing it…
  • For instance, the people they hire to “talk trends.” Usually, these people are crap (oy, you should have heard the Faith Popcorn-wanna-be with her theory of everything based around generational differences at TCG). (Although, to be fair, yesterday’s speaker, Holly Sidford actually gave a sensible and illuminating run-down of the specific economic, generational and cultural shifts that are our given circumstances, that I think most artists would prefer to avoid or find too impossible to deal with.)
  • Also, the artists who are “commissioned” to “contribute art” to “the process.” Today was especially rough. (1) Paul Flores, spoken word artist, doing clearly quickly written and woefully under-rehearsed spoken word poetry of the “I’m not even aspiring to be Sarah Jones” school. There was so much to dislike–from the total lack of perspective to the lack of performance ability to the slipshod nature of it to its tired, tired, tired identity . And this was a “commission”! He got paid! (2) A woman got paid, actually “commissioned” to liveblog and set it up so that folks would twitter the conference as it was happening. If that’s not a scam, I don’t know what is, when liveblogger and twittering conferences is, at this point, de rigeur for the Bay Area.

Other things they always have?

  • Free coffee, tea and soft drinks which all the starving artists fall upon as if they haven’t spent $3 on a latte ever.
  • Some kind of facilitated session where we share with other artists.

And? What else, Maya? SAY IT!!

  • I always meet and run into artists and administrators for whom I have actual regard and respect.
  • I’m always reminded of all this shit I have to do.
  • I always have a list of folks who I need to email and call (man, I need to email that guy!), but rarely do.
  • And. Well…this is tough to admit, but I always feel better at the end of it. I feel like I’m not alone, I always sort of get my paradigm shifted or pulled out of my drudgery enough to have ideas and feel inspired and kind of ready to go.

There were many useful insights from the day. From our public discussion

  • “self-curating” as a lovely metaphor for Youtubing, iPod-ding / explosion of social dancing everywhere / the aggressively increasingly multiracial and multilingual California that is already here / getting people invested in what they’re about to see allows them to have a more engaged experience / how do we do that in advance more? / the idea of neighborhood based organizations that still need to be conversing in a regional context / increased access can sometimes lead to less willingness to take chances / collaborating with artists means sharing their audiences / why don’t we do “board exchanges”? why don’t we do artist company exchanges where I agree to go see your shit for a year if you come see mine and then we’ll talk really frankly about it? (back more to this in a second) / return to the art of storytelling / people would rather participate / constant audience renewal / the arts are going to have to look different because things are changing very, very quickly

And in my own head:

  • Bay Area artists, especially in the performing arts or of a certain age talk about “technology” like its a far away foreign planet to which they have no spaceship.
  • The question of HONESTY, and the profound lack of it in the Bay Area. Honesty meaning, open criticality. And here I have an even more honest confession to make: as this is a public forum, I have a difficult time being totally honest on this blog. I’m going to take this to a new entry.

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