Editor’s Note Nov ’20: Important Questions

The dirty not-so-secret secret of the arts world is the forced ranking of artists and organizations: white artists and large, well-funded spaces/organizations are considered “world-class”; well-connected artists of color and organizations that have the resources (money, people) to play the game of grant writing and code-switch marketing are held in a second tier of regional recognition; and then the base of the pyramid, the iceberg under the ocean: the millions of individual artists of every color, orientation, gender, preference, and artistic genre who are creating meaningful art, either by themselves or with similar-minded people, hopefully for a small committed audience. Their numbers are legion; their accolades, few.

Going backwards through the last century, the NEA (as fabulous and necessary as state support of national art should be) fosters such rankings by their onerous grant approval process, made all the worse by political maneuverings in the 1990s over freedom of speech and artistic license. As fantastic as the non-profit idea is, it still is crafted under the oversight of toxic capitalism to mimic the roles, mechanisms, and output of for-profit companies. A brief moment during the Great Depression saw government willing to support a range of artistic voices across America, albeit predominantly anglo-saxon ones.

It boggles my mind that it is 2020, and with our copious resources of money, technology, connection, and education, artists are STILL being forced into rankings based on their level of these things.

Art is art. Human is human.

As our nation deals with a political system that is functioning the way it was intended to–to perpetuate the financial success and ruling power of a select few white people–the same questions of how to dismantle the system must be asked in the arts world. I include myself and the Color Of project in this. How am I contributing to the system? How can I contribute to its dismantling?

How can I contribute to something better? Something equal? Something that truly values all artistic expression?

“Richard Hamming was a mathematician at Bell Labs from the 1940’s through the 1970’s who liked to sit down with strangers in the company cafeteria and ask them about their fields of expertise.

At first, he would ask mainly about their day-to-day work, but eventually, he would turn the conversation toward the big, open questions—what were the most important unsolved problems in their profession? Why did those problems matter? What kinds of things would change when someone in the field finally broke through? What new potential would that unlock?After he’d gotten them excited and talking passionately, he would ask one final question: “So, why aren’t you working on that?””

http://rationalitydojo.com.au/resources/how-to-dojo/hamming-questions/

I think this trio–how am I contributing to the system as it is, how to dismantle, how to create something truly egalitarian–are the most important questions in the arts world currently. Everyone in this community needs to be working on them. If we believe in our own humanity and our shared world, we must find a way to stop restricting help and start living into the abundance that exists for all.

Art can change minds and hearts. If we make sure that all art is included.

Editor’s Note Oct 2020: On Celebrations

New beginnings in every season

Fall is the traditional start of celebration season with so many holidays happening in September, October, November, and December. Many of these celebrations serve to mark cycles: harvests, calendars, return of light, death and rebirth.

So it’s fair to take a moment at this change of seasons and mark what you’ve done artistically throughout the past season or so far this year. Celebratory parties may be smaller this year, but we can still celebrate our small and large accomplishments. Think back over the time since we started staying home. Write a list of what all you have done, that you’re proud of. Could be big things, could be small things.

My list (in addition to many things baby related) includes writing 12 articles for this blog, going for 3 mile-long walks each week, and reading 19 books, including 4 on race/social justice/history of fighting white supremacy.

Once you’ve written your list, feel that pride throughout your body! You did all that! Way to go you!

And remember, there’s still 3 more months left in this Gregorian calendar year! What have you learned from your accomplishments that you can apply to a goal for the remaining quarter that will help you end 2020 strong?

For me, my goals include writing 12 more articles for Color of Fayetteville (that’s 12 more artists or arts events or arts organizations to celebrate!), read another 8-12 books (including 3 more on fighting white supremacy), and finding small ways to reconnect with artists in person. And voting.

I’d love to hear one each of your accomplishments and Q4 goals! Share below so we can cheer you on.

Editor’s Note Sept ’20: On Being More Radical

Green sprouts coming up from soil with visible roots

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the word “radical.” We are six months into safer-at-home mandates and miniscule groups of people (can you really call 3 people “a group”?). The performing arts world is shu/attered; other kinds of arts are reeling, too, because of lack of money/time/resources/audiences.

The term “radical”, it turns out, has many definitions, but two distinct connotations. The first is Root or Foundation. The second is Extreme or Revolutionary.

In this time and space of Not Like It Was, how can we as artists or arts supporters be more radical?

Perhaps you want to approach radical from the first meaning. That could be deepening the basic skills of your art practice: starting a morning pages routine, sketching faces over and over, or reading a lot of plays by playwrights you don’t normally experience.

You could also learn some of the fundamentals of the business side of arts. Reading a marketing book, getting a separate bookkeeping organization set up for your art, or networking online with other artists in your field would all yield positive returns After.

Or there’s the simple-not-easy idea of just making A LOT of your art. We all know the story of pottery students who made a ton of pots wound up making better art than the students who instead tries to make One Best Pot. Maybe you commit to making a new “thing” (poem, song, jewelry, papercraft, monologue) every day.* What might you discover about your art with that kind of bulk? You might become more efficient. Or wind up with a new style, or incorporating new materials.

The more common connotation of radical these days is Revolutionary. Maybe that resonates more for you. How could you reform your own practice?

You could use this time to learn a new art. Or find a new audience for your work. Maybe you think about what radical transparency looks like: in how you work, in how you price your work for sale, in how you ask for donations/patronage. Maybe it’s working with people practicing a different art, or in a different field altogether, to produce something completely new.

While I like all of the questions in our Q&A series, my favorite is current experiments. I love learning about how these artists are expanding their own knowledge and practice.

How are you being radical these days? Share your ideas below and inspire someone else!

*Let me know if you need an accountability partner for this! If there are enough of us, we’ll start a small group!

Editor’s Note: July ’20

Or: Returning to Oz

You ever go back to a place you used to visit a lot — a school, or theater, or music club — but then didn’t for, like, a year?

Yeah, that’s kinda what I feel like right now.

Last July I contracted with a local arts org for a paid full-time temp job, which was great for paying off my undergrad student loan (yay!), not so great for focused editorial content.

Then, in January, this Jellybean joined our family, so the first half of 2020 has been busy with her. And staying healthy from the global pandemic. And sorting out how we can be anti-racist. And watching entirely too much Food Network.

So, here we are, July. Let’s pick up where we left off, huh?

There are still amazing local artists of all genres doing really interesting, indeed inventive artwork during quarantine.

Let’s go find them.

Editor’s Note: June

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

An editor’s note is typically where they talk about what the reader will see in the upcoming pages, what they are particularly excited about, or how the issue came together. It’s a sneak peek into the editor’s world and usually the last thing to be written before the issue goes to press, so it feels very of-the-moment.

And my future editor’s notes may have more of that feel, as I get into a consistent groove with content coming in a predictable pattern. But I thought this first one might be a look into why this publication is so necessary here-and-now.

I moved here in January (six months ago as of this writing), knowing all of a handful of people and a smattering about the “top shelf” arts organizations in town.

Professional arts administration and arts advocacy tends to be a small world/network. There are lots of reasons for that: not every organization has the financial coffers to have paid staff, not every artist wants to engage in visible advocacy, not all studios or theaters have administration but function as co-ops, etc. I mention this only to highlight that the number of people I knew here really was small: I knew a couple of folks at the Arts Council, I was familiar with Cape Fear Regional Theatre’s work, and had heard of the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra.

BUT. Oh, the but. Or rather — sticking with my improv training — a gigantic YES AND. Yes, there are CFRT and FSO. AND. There is Gilbert Theater and Sweet Tea Shakespeare. There is the All American Jazz Collective and the Fayetteville Jazz Orchestra. There are the Open Mic nights at the Coffee Scene. There is a phenomenal spoken word/poetry scene. There are more bands than you can shake a stick at: seriously, you could see a different band every week for a year and still probably not see them all. There are hundreds of visual artists showcasing in galleries and studios and coffeeshops and tea houses. There are makers popping up as vendors at monthly events and weekly farmers’ markets: glass and paper and jewelry and usable and wearable and simply beautiful. There are writers! Oh the writers! The library has a whole display of local authors and can’t fit them all on the shelf! There are artists working with fabric, collage, leather, graphite, keyboard (both kinds), and beads. Comic book people. Dancers. Photographers. Every time I think I’ve finished this paragraph, I keep thinking of someone else I’ve met who does something completely different.

And more. So many more. People who are giants in their respective artistic medium. People who are making art and teaching it. People who are making art while doing other work completely unrelated. People who are just starting out. People who have moved here because the Army brought them to Fayetteville. People who were born here and decided to come back after the Army or marriage or college or life took them away.

I would say it’s impossible to talk about just how much art there is in Fayetteville. But that’s exactly what I’m going to do here.

I’d love to hear from you: who is an artist you know? Maybe it’s you or your cousin or your uncle or your friend from church or the guy you knew before you retired from service. Leave a comment below or shoot me an email at coloroffayetteville@gmail.com. There are so many stories to share. Color of Fayetteville celebrates all the creative artists and makers that call Cumberland County home.