Sunday, March 04, 2007

This has been a week of major computer headaches for me-- all people who write viruses and malware should roast slowly in Hell. My apologies to both of my loyal readers :)


(News-Herald, March 1)How does an artist make a life in Venangoland?

For some, location isn’t critical. A painter’s work can travel to the audience, and a writer can work in any remote cave that has internet hook-up. For those folks, an area like ours offers the advantage of living cheaply. It’s more of a challenge for performing artists, like musicians or dancers to locate, or relocate, to these parts.

It’s a challenge, first, to find people with serious backgrounds willing to relocate. With luck, we get a John or Susie McConnell or a Susie Daniels with real experience in the Big World, but who have roots that bring them back here. We’re also fortunate when an Ed Frye, a Don Cochran, or a Bob English decide to stick around rather than take their talents Out There. Occasionally someone turns up in these parts just because—well, we get lucky.

You remember the song: “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” The song is talking about New York City, and it’s dead wrong. It’s hard to leap from small-town performer to big city success, but it’s not easy to jump the other way, either.

It’s hard to make a living in a small setting. “Show up, amaze the rubes, collect bushels of money” is not much of a business plan, though we have certainly seen people try it. Two things inevitably scuttle that plan—first, we rubes aren’t as easy to amaze as big-city hicks imagine; and second, if you’re a pompous jerk, it doesn’t take very long for word to spread through the entire not-very-large, well-networked musical community.

Even with a good plan, it’s tough. Dan and Patty David tried as hard as anyone in a while—they had some talent, some skills, and willingness to invest time working their way into the community. But in the end, they still couldn’t gather up enough money to make a living.

It’s not just the money that makes settling in the small city a difficult choice. People rarely go into performing because they have small, easily-fed egos, but small town settings rarely gush fat fountains of adulation. It’s part of our charm—no fake-smiling cheek-smooching hugfests, but when someone does applaud your work here, you know they mean it.

At the top in the Big City, you get fame and bales of bucks. Small city performers need to be more self-directed, willing to keep plugging because they either believe in the work or just plain enjoy it.

When artists do bring big city performing and teaching skills to the small city, everybody benefits.

First, other performers step up their game. Hackers like me have a little talent, a few acquired skills, and that most important hacker quality—a sense of my limitations, so I don’t bite off more than I can chew. The chance to work with big guns is always a chance to get a little better, and pass that on. It’s the reverse of the Bad Apple principle—a few talented performers can elevate a whole community of artists.

That, in turn, benefits the whole community. The arts don’t make a good substitute for shelter, clothing, and a well-filled dinner table. But I do believe that being surrounded by the arts in action, the chance to be witness to something beautiful or powerful or moving, makes being human a bit better. Otherwise we would all be eating our plain baked potatoes while wearing a plain white t-shirt and staring at the bare walls of our crate-furnished homes.

For the performers, the last big benefit is the chance to do what they do. A Marc Holland could still be in the big city, dancing on the Broadway stage and making his way in the rough and tumble world of the Big Time. Would he get to stage three or four shows a year and run his own studio, while still living a comfortable, relaxed life? Probably not.

What these folks give up makes the last benefit for us natives. Here, they get less attention; we are likely to take them for granted. Our children grow up thinking it’s just normal to live in an area with active theater groups, gifted dancers, talented performing groups, live music. Years later, they may realize their luck—but in the meantime, they enter life thinking that a life filled with art and beauty and music is how things are supposed to be, not some exotic luxury. I think that’s a Very Good Thing.

One of my plans for improving the world: take unemployed performers working in big city obscurity, waiting for one more chance to do what they love—send them to small places like Venangoland. They get to do what they love; the rest of us get to live richer lives.


Dittman said...

Glad to see you're back -
"New York New York" may be the obvious choice, but I wonder if "What a Waste" (from Wonderful Town) isn't more appropriate! :)
In all seriousness, I think that one of things that you didn't mention is the prejudice/inferiority complex that artists in small towns have to face. Lots of times (even other artists) see those who have had success in "big" cities and returned (or moved) here in terms of failure. "Must not've been able to hack it, or else why would Artist X be here!"
I think that as a community, we have to come terms with the fact that we have a lot to offer artists and they might (gasp) move here because they want to!

Peter A. Greene said...

Agreed. The local inferiority complex infects many many things, including this artist relationship picture. For whatever reason, we spend a great deal of time telling each other how much this, that or the other thing sucks.

I visited Dallas once, and was really struck by how damn proud Texans are to be Texans. Would be nice if we could get us some of that...

From my Flickr