Saturday, May 05, 2007

Cross-fertlization and the Meeting of Peoples

Arlene Goldbard, author of New Creative Community: The Art of Cultural Development, delivered a beautiful keynote speech at the annual conference of the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts (Nov 3, 2006). She posted it to her blog as "Higher Ground: Community Arts as Spiritual Practice." While there is a great deal in this speech that I would like to comment upon in the future, for the moment I will content myself with a quotation:

Aniruddha Das (known as Dr. Das), who plays both bass and tabla in Asian Dub Foundation, described his philosophy of music as a meeting-place for difference:

…I had been brought up with Indian folk music and classical music and also being exposed to everything else that everybody hears. It’s kind of normal to incorporate those elements… It really isn’t fusion; it’s more like allowing different voices….I think we have to … realize that all music and all culture and language is a consequence of cross-fertilization and a meeting of peoples.

In my new book, New Creative Community: The Art of Cultural Development, I argue that our very ideas of excellence must change to acknowledge the primacy of this truth.

I find myself thinking about these words in terms of the Mike Daisey controversy, and how it seems to apply to so many aspects of the conversation, including mine. On the one hand, the spectators who left the performance might have benefitted from viewing Daisey's performance in these terms; on the other hand, those who have condemned the spectator's "Christian fundamentalism" might also have benefitted from considering the "meeting of peoples" that requires the respect of alternate viewpoints and voices.

It is something I must consider in my own attitudes.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Class Aspects of the Mike Daisey Affair

Over at Rat Sass, Nick raises an interesting aspect of the ongoing Mike Daisey controversy called "Us vs. Them." Late in the article, he raises an issue with class implications that shouldn't be ignored:

Collateral damage in the war with the Boogieman gang that attacked Mike that night goes beyond just the branding of the Norco kids as the Christian Crazies. We are also instructing other teenagers, including the 22 kids who remained in the audience that night (referred by ART as the other high school group), that theatre is a battle between Us and Them. “Us” signified as elite high school kids from a private school “studying” theatre as part of their senior seminar. “Them” are public school kids on a bus tour from Anytown, USA looking for a night of suitable entertainment.


Once again, the intelligentsia ends up bashing the religious and the lower class. For instance, over at Histriomastix, David Cote refers, in a post tagged "Goddites," to those who walked out as "a bunch of church-infantilized fools who can’t deal with Daisey’s salty language and lefty attitudes." This kind of classist, intolerant language reflects the us vs them, private vs public, educated vs less educated attitudes that permeate the American arts scene. When I look at European theatre, where many, many artists identify with and support the working class audience, and create art for that class, I despair about the American artists who mainly want to play to the upper 15% of the economic continuum -- although they will tolerate others as long as they share the college-educated secularism of that class of people. Until American artists make an effort to reach out to this audience, instead of expecting them to reach out to you (the Rilkean cry "You must change your life" is a motto, and one that is unidirectional), there will be less and less state funding, less and less public support, and smaller and smaller audiences.