Here's a question that I have for you, because several people have raised it in conversations with me about CRADLE and theatreideas and I wanted to get your thoughts on it.My initial response to the anonymous questioners was bafflement: really? You recognized that people in rural areas are getting systemically shafted by the arts funding models and priorities, but you're going to continue to support this injustice because your side is benefiting? When wealthy people do this, it is called cronyism, and it is something we liberals get all fluffed about. So the comment seemed sort of selfish and unethical, frankly.
One thing that happens in urban environments (beyond their sucking up all the arts subsidy money) is that minorities and underprivileged people of various kinds tend to cluster in them, whether they be gay, people of color or poor. I honestly believe this is one of the reasons (not the only, i agree that urbanist prejudice probably plays a part, along with our willing denial of class dynamics) why funders wanting to encourage diversity in the arts target cities... you can get a lot of bang for your buck in them.
I was talking to someone about CRADLE and they said, "i think it's an interesting idea, but I'm reluctant to support it because if Scott is successful, money that could be going to racially diverse communities will be rerouted to largely white areas". I've heard similar arguments ("you know, I left SMALL TOWN X because I was gay, I'm not interested in bringing the arts back to that home" etc.) I'm interested in what you say to people who raise these objections.
Obviously, one thing to talk about is that it's not like cities are free of discrimination. But I'm more interested in an answer that lays out the positive rather than talks about the negatives of urban environments.
My second response: wasn't one of the oft-recurring themes of the Outrageous Fortune conversation how the audiences in the institutional theatre was mostly white, wealthy senior citizens, followed by a report on the Broadway audience that was even whiter? To what extent is arts funding really benefiting racially diverse communities now?
My third response (I'm getting to feel like Cyrano in his Act I sword fight): the Hispanic population, to take just a single example, is the fastest growing segment of rural and small communities. Immigrants from foreign countries such as Cambodia are also starting to swell the rural population. Poverty is more prominent in rural areas than in cities. As far as bang for your buck, there is just as much needing help in rural and small town America as in urban areas, and the arts might actually play a vital role.
My fourth response: nobody is going to force you at gunpoint to go back home if you don't want to. I'm from Racine WI, and I have no interest in going back. This is about opportunity, not force. However, I find it odd that the commenter is so adamant about not being forced to go back home, while not acknowledging that by centralizing employment opportunities in New York, others are being forced to move there or forgo those opportunities. If all casting was being done out of small towns, how would you feel about it? Yeah, that's how others feel about having to go to MYC or some other metropolitan area.
My fifth response: there was this kid in my junior high school named Lupe Rodriguez -- I suspect you can guess from the name that he was Hispanic -- he beat me up because I said something that bothered him. Your desire to "punish" rural and small communities by withholding support for the arts because you were gay and didn't feel supported would be similar to my not supporting money for Latino/a arts because Lupe punched me. Our individual scars are dwarfed by larger social inequities. As I have said many times in other contexts, it's not about you.
My sixth response: if all you want to do is do plays for your friends and people who are like you, then OK, I guess. I happen to think that participation in the arts increases empathy, creates community, bridges difference, and helps dissolve barriers of all kinds. So preaching to the choir, to my mind, is not as valuable as preaching it where it could have admirable benefits. This is one of the issues I have with Richard Florida's work, which seems to encourage people to segregate themselves into gated intellectual communities where everybody is just like them. I don't find this very healthy in a democracy. In fact, I think it encourages extremism of all stripes. (See Bill Bishop's fascinating and alarming book The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart to learn more about this.)
I doubt that these reasons will be very convincing to those with whom Isaac is conversing, but at root I consider this an issue of socio-economic justice, and I expect anyone with any sense of fairness to recognize this claim, and to not put their own personal preferences and individual privileges ahead of it. Fairness is a universal claim.
Bill Ivey, in his book Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights, has laid out a cultural bill of rights that reads as follows:
- The right to our heritage—to explore music, literature, drama, painting, and dance that define both our nation's collective experience and our individual and community traditions.
- The right to the prominent presence of artists in public life—through their art and the incorporation of their voices and artistic visions into democratic debate.
- The right to an artistic life—to the knowledge and skills needed to play a musical instrument, draw, dance, compose, design, or otherwise live a life of active creativity.
- The right to be represented to the rest of the world by art that fairly and honestly communicates America's democratic values and ideals.
- The right to know about and explore art of the highest quality and to the lasting truths embedded in those forms of expression that have survived, in many lands, through the ages.
- The right to healthy arts enterprises that can take risks and invest in innovation while serving communities and the public interest.
Unfortunately, seeing funding as a zero-sum game is probably correct -- the pool of arts money is not going to suddenly expand to include enough to fund many other groups. However, if money is to be reallocated to support other priorities, it should be taken from the large, wealthy institutions, rather than be turned into a competition for the scraps and crumbs dropped from the table of the wealthy institutions .
Historically, the upper classes have benefited by creating a battle between different groups within the working class. During the Great Migration in the early part of the 20th century, when African-Americans migrated from the rural south to the urban centers of the north, corporate leaders used it as a way to lower wages as African-Americans and recent European immigrants battled for the same jobs. We must not allow ourselves to follow this pattern in the arts, one in which the poor battle each other rather than recognize that we are promoting the same values: to provide arts access to underserved populations. We must join forces to demand a more equitable distribution of the public and foundation monies. The rich cannot continue to get richer.