Oh Please, Get A Grip

I was skimming the artsjournal newsletter and saw this article  entitled “A Debate Sparked By Andorra” which intrigued me. I know nothing about the country of Andorra and thought it would be an interesting “news of the world” piece. Instead the article is about:

…the inclusion of what seems to be a corporate presentation in the San Francisco Fringe Festival‘s lineup this September. Ian Woodall, a British, Andorra-based mountaineer and motivational speaker with quite a controversial background, is coming to this year’s festival with his presentation The Tao of Everest — a talk he gives predominantly to executives at companies like Microsoft and Ernst & Young.

With its supposedly impartial lottery system for selecting shows, the openness of the fringe format is what makes the festival so much fun. But I wonder if there should somehow be some limitations imposed on the kinds of productions that are eligible to apply? I mean, unless it’s somehow an ironic, twisted or otherwise theatrical take on the corporate presentation genre, surely a straight corporate presentation should be excluded from the lottery for inclusion in a fringe theatre festival?

Are you serious? This is one of the silliest ideas I have heard in ages.

First off – if you are foolhardy enough to have a completely unjuried festival (while maintaining some kind of political/aesthetic/artistic agenda) then you have to deal with what you get. End of story. Edinburgh Fringe is largely – outside of a handful of arts-driven venues – a corporate whorehouse for comedy and novelty acts. Why should SF be any different?

Two: lecture/demos/speeches have been part of standard theatrical fare for hundreds of years. See the clever post-post-modern reinvention of the lecture/theater genre – Chautauqua! by NTUSA, currently playing at PS122. Not to mention the countless solo shows by journalists, athletes, child stars and every other Tom, Dick and Harriet who thinks they have something unique and important to say and is looking for a book deal/hollywood offer. Certainly in NYC the entire raison d’etre of the Fringe festival is as a showcase to display theatrical content in the hope of corporate sponsorship and mainstream success. So who cares if somebody chooses to express themselves in a non-ironic motivational speech?

Third and finally – it is time to lose the foolish, deluded and self-defeating anti-corporate rhetoric. Yes, corporations are evil. No-one’s denying that and we certainly aren’t going to argue that Halliburton supports or creates great art. But at the same time – who do you think funds theater? Have you looked at the names on your local Rep house? Have you looked at the donors and philanthropists and sponsors who provide the money for non-profits arts? If you follow the money it all goes back to corporations. Altria, anyone?

The time has come to stop positioning theater, arts and culture in opposition to the forces of corporations and capitalism and start figuring out how to work with them in constructive ways. Art has always required sponsorship – whether it was the Greek polity for Aeschylus, Queen Elizabeth for Shakespeare, the NEA or Altria. The issue now is how to adapt our funding and creative production models to the shifting landscape. If Facebook is the sixth-largest nation after Brazil (here is an interesting, if cynical article in Fast Company about Facebook as nation/state; lacking the imagination to envision a new mode of trans-national political organizing for the Information Age) – then government funding is going away and corporations and self-organizing interest-based member aggregations are going to hold significant financial sway.

If ART WORKERS refuse to assert their agency and play WITH the corporations they will be forced to endure crappy art made by non-creative corporate drones OR they will be brutally hobbled by a lack of funds OR they will become completely irrelevant. Oh and I have so much more to say on this.

I have been working on a viable model for this for about a year and will be launching a beta site for the initiative in a few weeks.

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