Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sense of Place II - "Local" Grown Arts

I promise I'll get to a recap of the conversation I had by the weekend. I still want more time to chew that over.

In the meantime, I want to return to a concept that I found rather stimulating from the Thriving Arts Report: that a Sense of Place is core to the foundation of a thriving arts community. Take it as read everything I said before about a lack of sense of place in my own personal experience blah blah blah recap recap.

So, to move forward.

I saw a sign today in Solana Beach California that said "Shop Solana First!" which is a local version of the whole "Buy American" protectionism that we have in this country. Now, when it comes to international trade, I'm not necessarily a huge advocate of this, but on the other hand, when it comes to the arts and agriculture, I am.

To explain:

A while back I listened to Malcolm X's speech "The Ballot or the Bullet." I'm not a huge advocate of Malcolm X's philosophy in general, but there was a large segment of the speech that was very interesting. Here's the core quotation:

The economic philosophy of black nationalism is pure and simple. It only means that we should control the economy of our community. Why should white people be running all the stores in our community? Why should white people be running the banks of our community? Why should the economy of our community be in the hands of the white man? Why? If a black man can't move his store into a white community, you tell me why a white man should move his store into a black community. The philosophy of black nationalism involves a re-education program in the black community in regards to economics. Our people have to be made to see that any time you take your dollar out of your community and spend it in a community where you don't live, the community where you live will get poorer and poorer, and the community where you spend your money will get richer and richer.

Now, there's clearly a black versus white definition of community that has absolutely no pertinence to the discussion. But if you substitute "local" for "black" and "NY" for "white" then what you get is a prescription for a theory of local arts.

This thinking has already become somewhat fashionable in one area: agriculture. There's a lot of talk already about "locally grown foods." "Buy local." A Farmer's Market is structured as a way to bring local-grown foods to the public eye.

In a way, a local arts fair is like a farmer's market: it's to bring to people's attention that there is something local. To towns whose only art is big plays brought from NY and actors brought from Los Angeles (like my town), people should be asking: why are we spending our dollars in ways that leave the community?

Build an ad campaign around these slogans:

Spend your entertainment dollars in your community: support local arts.

Spend your entertainment dollars on your own children: support youth arts.

Spend your entertainment dollars on your neighbors: support community arts.

Keep playing up that aspect. These are locals, community members. They're not faceless strangers. Inasmuch as road producers are the Wal-mart of the arts (see <100k on the subject of the Walmarting of our arts).

When we're talking about a sense of place and community, the question we're asking is: Would you be willing to spend slightly more to sponsor your community? (that's the economic way of asking "do you value your community over other communities").

That's the economic aspect of making local arts, and that's probably why the National Endowment of the Arts gave <100k Project their grant!

1 comment:

Ian David Moss said...

You need to be at this conference with me, dude. In all seriousness, try to join us next year in Baltimore. They have a student price now that's not so terrible. But this kind of stuff is all over the place here. I would also consider joining Americans for the Arts if I were you so that you can get on some of the listservs for small and rural community arts policy. The student price is $25 I believe. (Man, they should pay me for this...)