In William Deresiewicz's provocatively titled essay in The Atlantic, the author traces the origins of the word "artist" back to etymological roots that are closely tied to the concept of the artisan: a worker in a skilled trade (otherwise known as a craftsman). Oh, how things have changed since then...
Of particular note, as artists have become more and more professionalized and credentialed in our most recent history, a significant disruption to our ecosystem has been the worrisome fate of the (largest) institutions that have long provided a buffer between artists and market forces.
"The institutions that have undergirded the existing system are contracting or disintegrating. Professors are becoming adjuncts. Employees are becoming independent contractors (or unpaid interns). Everyone is in a budget squeeze: downsizing, outsourcing, merging, or collapsing. Now we're all supposed to be our own boss, our own business: our own agent, our own label; our own marketing, production, and accounting departments. Entrepreneurialism is being sold to us as an opportunity. It is by an large, a necessity. Everybody understands by now that nobody can count on a job."
"Still, it [entrepreneurialism] also is an opportunity...."
It is through this framing--that designing your own future really is an opportunity--that we approach the challenge of pursuing community-based artistry in 2015. One of the most significant challenges is to attempt to manage the delicate balancing of our current necessities (e.g. paying the rent) with the time and dedication needed to pursue our mission-driven future plans (e.g. a community-based residency). On a practical level, every time the phone rings and there is an opportunity to engage with the outside world, it might be best evaluated through the following checklist:
1. How much does it pay (after expenses)?
2. How much time and energy will it require (including preparation and travel), taking me away from focusing on my own projects and goals?
3. Does this opportunity come with any flexibility (so that I can be sure to meet my own needs first--or, at least, not last)?
4. Will I derive enough artistic satisfaction? (Oh, how I wish this could be the first criterion on this list!)
5. What is the potential for creating and/or building relationships that may yield benefits in the future?
6. How does this opportunity position me better for what I want to achieve in the future? (How does it help me address my long-term strategy?)
I'm really interested in exploring the ways that #5 and #6 can be part of the equation. For instance, can you imagine a scenario in which you would agree to perform at your neighborhood block party for no money? Can you imagine re-arranging your private teaching studio schedule in order to make a special trip to work with a handful of students at a new community center with a potentially robust arts audience? In what circumstances would would you decide to choose a part-time job that allows you to work from home on your own schedule but has nothing at all to do with your art?
Read Mr. Deresiewicz's entire essay for the author's take on the evolution of our understanding of artists in society--including their training, their practice, and the shape of their careers--and the "new questions, open questions, questions that no one is equipped as yet to answer" in 2015.
Sharing excerpts of the learning happening in "Building a Community-Based Residency"