I read the definition of "radical welcome" right after I read a post at Butts In Seats entitled "
I hope you will all be patient while I think through some new ideas aloud...
First is the issue of "conservative" versus "innovative" approaches. "You have a choice between different formats and genres to focus on or ignore," Butts in Seats writes. "It would be disappointing to have groups nudged toward some form of what their advisers know or think would be appropriate. It is still their word that releases the money." Indeed, this is true. As with all grants, in order to receive money an organization or individual must be doing something that falls within the values espoused and promoted by the granting organization. Believe me, as someone who is in the midst of writing a grant for the NEA and is looking around for other granting organizations, I am very aware of what must be done to have even a hope of receiving support! Unless you are independently wealthy yourself, that is the nature of grantsmanship, and you simply don't apply for support from organizations whose values you reject.
In the case of the organization I am conceptualizing -- let's call it the ">100K Project," since it's focus will be on small and rural communities and regions with populations under 100,000 -- the focus of the organization will be less on the choice of programming (i.e., what plays are being done) than on the theatre's relationship to the community, a relationship that is suggested by the idea of radical welcome. A church following these principles has a relationship with its congregation that is active, engaged, open to conversation, welcoming, and intentional; likewise, a >100K Project theatre would be expected to foster such a relationship as well.
To that end, it is better to think not in terms of a traditional 5-play season-type theatre, but rather a community arts center where there are a variety of arts activities occurring. Some of these would, of course, be full-scale productions involving only the paid artistic staff, others might be productions that combine community members with the paid artistic staff, and others might involve the paid artistic staff facilitating the creativity of unpaid artistic community members. Similarly, events might run the gamut from full productions to low-tech events such as poetry slams, short story readings, storytelling and story circles, and other such events. The goal would be to make the theatre a place of continual activity and creative exploration. Theatre artists applying for a 3-year salary grant would have to demonstrate an interest in founding such a place, and develop a preliminary plan tied to the community where they propose to create the theatre.
In addition to salary support, the >100K Project would supply resources and instruction to help develop such a place -- the founders would not simply be thrown in the deep end with the expectation that they learn to swim quickly. There would be some on-line courses available to introduce the basic ideas and techniques, and then at least one live consultant assigned to their theatre to serve as a mentor and advisor.
Every six months or so, the paid artistic staff would provide a report to the >100K Project administration that would outline what had been done and assess its impact on the theatre and the community. The artistic staff would receive feedback, and dialogue and creative brainstorming would follow. Failure would be expected, but through a process of assessment something must be learned from the failure. The primary commitment of the >100K Project's administrative staff would be to the success of the theatre.
Butts in Seats 15-20 year timeline for self-support would be unacceptable (the salary subsidy runs out after 3 years), but perhaps the issue is in the definition of self-support. Like any theatre, it is likely that this type of theatre would require additional income beyond earned revenue. This might come in the form of grants, local or regional governmental support, individual contributions or other sources (and the central organization would help with this). Because the theatre would have a 3-year track record of activity, it would be more attractive to outside funders. While the central organization would no longer be paying salaries, this transition would have been planned for, and the central organization would still be available for other resources and consultation. However, after three years, the theatre would be expected to include in its budget a small percentage for the >100K Project central organization. I guess this would be the equivalent of tithing, and would symbolize a commitment to supporting others who wish to set up theatres like this.
There are many theatre people who will read this description and think, "this is not for me." That's fine. I don't expect it will, and like any granting organization, there is no requirement that anyone apply for support, and there's not unlimited money anyway (hell, at the moment there isn't a dime). It does require an artist who defines their contribution more inclusively than our Romantic-era artist-centered definition, and that might involve a different approach to educating artists. But I do believe that, in order to attract funding, the >100K Project needs to have a clear purpose and set of values. It can't simply be an institutional version of Daddy and Mommy providing a three-year allowance to anyone who happens to want one. The goal is to make the map below a darker shade of yellow by the creation of theatres that thrive and that, through their presence, strengthen their communities through dialogue, creativity, leadership, and active citizenship.