- We're missing the forest for the trees
The daily grind and excessive demands of our professional work lead us to focus on a fairly small circle -- our organization, our community, and sometimes our discipline. This makes a larger conversation about a vast and complex ''performing arts community'' difficult to frame and advance.
- We're unaware of the resources around us
I heard often during convention conversations that ''there ought to be an organization or resource that...'', describing an entity or resource that had actually been around for decades (arts education on-line repository: ArtsEdge, national advocate for the arts in the public sphere: Americans for the Arts, detailed information on community demographics and trends: American FactFinder from the U.S. Census). It's clear performing arts professionals don't currently have the time or incentive to explore these larger resources, or to understand and inform their value or potential.
- Our art forms tell compelling stories, but our industry does not
So much of the conversation in Denver was driven by frustration with the lack of perceived resonance, value, and importance of what the performing arts do for society. Government doesn't support us enough. Schools don't work hard enough to sustain and integrate arts education. Audiences don't spend enough on our tickets. We tended to blame the outsiders for this problem -- if they only understood us, they would value us -- but every now and then someone would ask the deeper question: Are we telling our story well? Are we building our story on the values and interests of our community? Are we being as compelling and clear in our organizational narratives as we are on our stages?
When you are struggling for your life, your vision narrows to a pinpoint in order to block out everything except what will save you. In the case of theatre (and of the arts in general), that narrow focus blocks out a great deal that could be used to help you thrive. The tunnel vision appears most dramatically in the pages of Variet, and Show Business, and Backstage, publications that almost obsessively direct focus to the mechanics of the theatre "industry" instead of to the art itself. It isn't that such publications aren't necessary, but when they become an artist's primary source of information you lose a sense of why you decided to do theatre in the first place.
There is another conference in a few days at Americans for the Arts, another organization that can open your mind. But like NPAC last week, the conference at Americans for the Arts will most likely have few artists in attendance. Conferences are expensive, and if you are an artist you may not have the wherewithal to attend one. But I would also venture that, for many artists, there is a lack of interest, a sense that such concerns are "academic" (by which is meant, in our anti-intellectual society, "irrelevant"), and that thinking about the larger issues surrounding the arts is unproductive.
I would argue the opposite. I would argue that action without thought is chaos, and production without purpose is empty. I would argue that the present without a sense of the past is shallow, and intuition without reason is random.
If, as so many people say, theatre has become irrelevant (and I don't think it has; I think it's relevance has gone underground during the tornado of triviality that has swept through the last 25 years) it may be because theatre artists, in the desperate need to simply survive, have lost an awareness of the larger world and their place in it. And what is best about a conference such as NPAC or Americans for the Arts or AlternateROOTs is that you are reminded of your own potential and your own importance.
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