A Note From the Founder
It has been a long time since I’ve actually written anything too terribly personal on Culturebot. Partially its because I’ve been striving to turn it into something more than just a blog and didn’t want to muddy the waters with too much personal, non arts-related content. Partially its because at one point I had three blogs and was writing freelance for other outlets and felt overexposed as well as overcommitted. And there are other, more private reasons for wanting to keep my personal life out of the site. But as I face my birthday and, in December, Culturebot’s sixth anniversary, I feel like sharing a little.
I’ve frequently joked that I’m a renaissance incompetent – I can do lots of things kind of okay. I don’t think I’m so much a dilettante as sort of a perpetual “B” student who, if he could get out of his own way, could maybe be an “A” student at least occasionally. Stumbling blocks include a short attention span, a tendency towards melancholy and self-doubt, a fuzzy sense of direction and lack of focus, intimacy issues, a vague sense of persistent dissatisfaction coupled with an equally vague sense of ineffectiveness and frustration. Positives include dogged persistence, loyalty, naivete, trustworthiness, occasional flashes of brilliance and insight, sporadic sense of humor and an appreciation for creativity.
That’s a pretty scant list on both sides, but you get the drift – I’m flawed and pretty normal, I think. And that has always been the point of Culturebot. I’m not trying to be an authority from on high dictating what is good and what is bad, I’m not trying to solve the world’s problems or even the problems of our little corner of the world of the arts. I’m trying to illustrate, from the ground, what life is like for regular people who love arts, culture and ideas and believe that they could play a central role in everybody’s life, that the arts have value and add value. That means that sometimes I will overstate the case and sometimes I will be wrong, sometimes I will misunderstand and sometimes I will be a voice in the wilderness, misunderstood. I’m okay with that.
But I do want to be clear about what Culturebot is, at least for now. When I write for Culturebot – or when Timothy Braun or anybody else who has been a consistent contributor writes for the site – the point is to cultivate personal voices, from the ground, of people who are artists and arts workers. Because, surprisingly, if you get into “the system” – and trust me the arts and culture sector is as much a part of the system as corporate America – it seems that our voices are rarely heard. That’s why Culturebot does the “Five Questions” – to help introduce people, regular people, who are making the arts happen in America. We are your friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members. And most of us are not going to be famous. We’re certainly not going to get rich. That’s not why we do this. We do this because we believe in creativity and imagination, we believe in an open, enlightened society and the exchange of ideas. We believe that somehow the arts make a difference and we want to help make the world a little better.
Maybe I’m just having a midlife crisis and trying to justify having spent six years, so far, on Culturebot. The term “midlife crisis” has become something of a joke, but as I grapple with midlife – or at least a significant milestone in life – the more I realize that it is not a joke at all – it is very, very real. You get to this place where you look at yourself in the mirror and you look at your body and say, “Really? I mean, really? When the hell did that happen?” You look at your life and it kind of doesn’t matter what you’ve achieved or haven’t, because it has to measure up to something in your mind, and you go, “Really, is this it?” And you have to make peace with the fact that, you know, for all intents and purposes, it is. I mean, it could get better, maybe. It is almost certainly going to get worse, at least occasionally. But better or worse, this is it. The decisions you made – or didn’t make – they had consequences and you’re now living with them. You will never be in your twenties or thirties again. You’re just about halfway there. There is, very possibly, more behind you than in front of you. Yikes!!
So you try and look back – if you’re me, anyway – and you try and find some kind of consistent narrative thread to justify everything, to give it context and meaning. For me I think one consistent thread has always been a passionate devotion to DIY in both aesthetic and practice. The most unique voices are frequently misunderstood until they finally make sense to a wider audience and those voices are the ones most likely to reveal unexpected truths. I believe in outsiders and misfits, I believe in the individual journey to creativity and enlightenment. I believe in doing it because you care about it, not because you’re trying to get famous or rich. I believe in speaking truth to power and that art has a unique ability to do that, when it wants to.
I grew up in the 80’s listening to R.E.M and other indie bands, my aesthetic and values were forged in Seattle in the early 90’s alternative scene. While my aesthetics have grown to embrace a wider variety of artistic expressions, my values haven’t changed quite as much. And while most of what was once indie or alternative has now been co-opted by The Man, I still cling to the notion that we can maintain some kind of purity of intent, purity of expression. I cling to the notion that there has to be a place for the Everyman Artist, that taste is not merely the province of the wealthy and powerful and that Enlightenment – not just Eastern style but generally – is the inheritance of every member of society. Is that really too much to ask?
As I wrestle with midlife and all its attendant doubts and fears, I’m trying to hold on to this one small thing, this one small ideal – that it is possible to make the world better through creativity. Not consumerism, not commodification and not commercialism; not the applications of creativity that are predicated on moving units and manipulation, but the kind of creativity that fosters interaction, connection and meaning. The kind of creativity that is employed in the pursuit of truth and compassion. There will always be geniuses and there will always be amateurs. In my world there’s room for both. In my world creativity is an ecosystem where every part is equally important. You can’t have the extraordinary without the mundane, you can’t have the sacred without the profane. The goal is to create a balanced ecosystem, I think.
And I’ve only just started to really have access to and understanding of the larger arts funding frameworks in America- so I’m trying to figure out how best to make a difference. How does one enter into this elaborate system in an effective and meaningful way? I think that the new NEA chair’s motto of “Art Works” is a great beginning – I would love to see the idea grow. And I want to see how the arts power infrastructure plans to leverage the resources of the arts workers for the greater good and how we can make life better for arts workers. My hunch is that if we make life better for arts workers – and make more people aware of all the artists and arts workers around them – we will expand audiences for arts. Because the arts will seem accessible – these are your neighbors, friends and family that create the arts economy.
Like I said before, I’m kind of a renaissance incompetent. Of the things that I do marginally well, writing is probably chief amongst them. So I offer up these musings in the hope that they will lead to something, inspire someone or just make someone feel like they’re not alone as they pursue the difficult, challenging path of a life in the arts. There are actually a lot of us and we need to figure out how to band together, to break through the isolation and overwork and despair. If I were an organizer, I’d start a union or a movement. If I were a businessman I’d start some kind of a business, if I were a politician I’d start a party, but I’m not – I’m, at best, a writer and sometime artist trying to make some small difference in the world. And that’s a start.