Shaping SF Talks: “$56 million and where’s the Art?” Dancing in the dust !

“One of my very, very first memories is of my parents’ house in Los Angeles. In the late afternoon, the light would come through windows at one end of the house. There were venetian blinds and the blinds would be open so the light would come into the room in bands of light, because there was a lot of dust in the air in the San Fernando Valley in the summertime especially, and in these bands of light there were motes of dust, dancing in the light; and my first musical memory, I think, is watching those particles of dust moving, and reaching way up over my head to the keyboard of this big old upright rosewood Steinway grand that my parents had, and trying to play notes that would accompany this dance of the dust.”

– From Michael Tilson Thomas’ Viva Voce, Conversations with Edward Seckerson (Faber & Faber, 1994)

That quote from the conductor of the San Francisco Symphony may adequately capture the kernel of where public and private funding goes for the arts: Picture a new Lars Van Trier movie called, “Dancing in the Dust”. Last year the city’s Grants for the Arts program piled on its second largest check of $889,000 to an organization that already has enough assets to operate for another decade without any additional funding ( See Jeff Jones’ article). And this sort of quaint nostalgic drivel above is the same fucking tune you’re going to hear year after year from city bank-rolled art. Nothing against symphonies in general, but if MTT ever utters anything relevant regarding the challenges our society faces today, you can be sure it won’t be at the Davies Symphony Hall, where the specialty is picking the purse strings and pickeling the brains of primarily wealthy and sheltered white morons who apparently like very mediocre classical music to accompany their somnambulism.

This week Shaping San Francisco’s Fall/Winter Talks (in collaboration with City Lights, Indpendent Arts and Media , Counterpulse, and Nature in The City) opened their new season with a revealing panel of art funding veterans and a potent theme of “$56 Million And Where’s The Art?”, and if one kept awake through the sausage-making and number-crunching tales of arts administration and fiscal water-bailing in the 21st century City of Riches (Misappropriated!), one could draw plenty of bleak conclusions and faintly hear the violins from the deck of the Titanic.

Certainly this well-chosen panel of sincere and distinguished and dedicated civil Art Org servants had valuable perspective to grasp the matter of where our arts funding is going and where it should go, but we are inclined to suggest that the one overarching theme of connecting artists to money, economics, and business, is the crux of the dilemma rather than the solution. And these organizations are dangerously off course if they are solely focused on grooming the artist to thrive in the marketplace/butchershop culture. One because there is not exactly a lack of Professional arts in the city; Secondly, because if in today’s political climate your work is on the pet list of the Irvine foundation you are likely en route to an established career in irrelevance ( see MTT above).

From our experience abundant creativity thrives in and flocks to cities where artists can go and disconnect from the financial torrents as much as possible. It has long been known in European and South American circles that where there is a thriving squat culture, and minimal living expense, there are people taking extraordinary and pioneering journeys into community and self-expression. And much of that feeds down the line into the commercial arts. For better or worse, that genius who locks herself away in the attic of other worlds to tap a fountain of muses will in a year or two find her ideas exploited by the artworld. From one perspective that’s good because the general public will be enriched by it. Still for those who catch those Promethean fires in the wild of real lives, before its essence has been flayed on a gallery wall, it’s the real shit! And for San Francisco this reality has been hemorrhaging in direct proportion to the inflation of housing and basic living.

So here’s a thought for those people who have access to the mega-funders and to those who are working on those pioneering ideas of micro-patronage from the neighborhoods: Land and properties need to be purchased in the Bay Area and turned into sanctuary spaces in the same way one reconstructs and then protects a marshland like Crissy Field ( well, not exactly like Crissy Field, but we don’t have time to deconstruct That one), so that life returns to it. And not merely as temporary art residencies, but where long-standing artist communities will re-inhabit the culture and replenish it with non-market Art. Until that happens you’re going to very likely bear witness to a symphony of million dollar dust bowls and an exodus of talent to those places which understand the value of the wild habitats. Sadly such human environments are more endangered than the (non-professional) artists themselves, but they Do exist and can be cultivated everywhere, anytime, here and now.

( Additional material from panel and Q+A will be added , time-allowing… and at some pt. in the distant future Shaping SF /Arts + Media will post the audio online )

D-Q University

Here’s an URGENT footnote, or shall we say, a TRUE SCREAMING SYMPHONY on this theme: Want to know WHERE such a place could exist in the Bay Area???? We will be having an upcoming story about the DQ University, California’s only Tribal College, just outside of Davis. It has recently lost its accreditation (issues of a corrupt board of directors, more research required ) and some former students are currently occupying it and attempting to run their own independent programs, which will legally prevent them from being removed. This situation is urgent and needs your support before real-estate predators force them off this huge piece of land.

For NOW read more at DQ’s Myspace… And get involved while the chance is still ripe to create a free zone of creativity and education and art outside the factory culture.

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