Building The Agenda: Report From Brooklyn Commune #1

I’m pleased to report that the first gathering of The Brooklyn Commune was a great success. We started off with inspiring presentations to a phenomenal audience of thoughtful, passionate, dedicated people. Everyone rolled up their sleeves and dug in deep to build an agenda, converse, argue, debate and imagine together. To stay updated and keep participating on a regular basis, join the FB group. It was daunting to try and write up all the conversations, so if you couldn’t be there, check out these videos instead. (Thanks to Scott Fetterman for donating his video services!)

This is Randy Martin‘s inspiring inaugural presentation on the financialization of American life, artistic citizenship, income disparity and a whole host of really important issues and big ideas:

And here’s Cynthia Hopkins talking to Danielle Hlatky, sharing one of her show budgets publicly and providing some valuable insight into the way artists do (and don’t) value their work.

Two confusions came up after the last meeting that I specifically wanted to address:

1. The Brooklyn Commune is NOT only about Brooklyn. Maybe the name is a bit of a red herring, but after some heated discussions and email exchanges, the name stays. It is just too late to change it without sowing confusion, so here’s a clarifying statement: The Brooklyn Commune takes its inspiration from the iconic Paris Commune of 1871. While sited in Brooklyn, the project is inclusive of all NYC and aspires to develop a vision with national relevance.

2. The Brooklyn Commune is a collaborative public visioning project to investigate the economics of cultural production in the performing arts and propose sustainable economic models for artists, independent producers and the system as a whole. While visual artists and visual arts institutions are certainly welcome, especially those with performance or socially-engaged practices, the focus is on the specific conditions of artists making performance. The structures and challenges of the visual arts world are different than the performing arts and the wider frame of OWS is too diffuse. This project is meant to exist in conversation with and corollary to the work of folks like OWS and W.A.G.E. but with a narrower focus and a specific agenda. The four convenings between March and October will culminate in a weekend-long congress in November to develop an artist-driven platform and vision for the future of the performing arts that will be shared with our colleagues  in January 2014 to coincide with The Association of Performing Arts Presenters Conference. Whether officially or unofficially, this is the optimal time to reach the widest audience, outside of, possibly, the TCG conference.

Okay, so. Next item on the agenda!

A lot of people said they were interested in volunteering and we apologize for not following up immediately. Once again, please join the FB group for more timely updates. We’re a bare bones team and we’re also trying to be respectful of folks and not spam them or overburden them, BUT if you’re still interested in getting more involved, email Seth Hamlin at seth[at]culturebot[dot]org. We’re working on organizing the next Brooklyn Commune meeting to be held at The Invisible Dog on May 12 and could use your help and input and person-power.

In that vein, going through all the notes and post-its and writing from the March gathering, a few themes/ideas/categories emerged as clearly prioritized action items. In light of that and in light of the various emails I received, we’re proposing the following working groups to be initiated at the next meeting on May 12:


  • Independent Creative Producers – developing sustainable models for working outside the institution
  • Diversity and Inclusion – both within Brooklyn Commune and sector-wide, how do we insure that people from all points on the age, race, gender, orientation, religion and cultural spectra have a place in the conversation?
  • Foundations, Funding and Philanthropy – critical analysis of existing structure, recommendations for changes in structures, systems, increasing transparency, renegotiating relationships
  • Aesthetics of Performance – envisioning aesthetic frameworks and vocabularies for the 21st Century?
  • Economics & Finance – bitcoins? derivatives? “the market” – how does an economy and financial system that creates wealth through abstraction rather than the exchange of goods and services resonate with the creation, production and distribution of time-based art and performance? how does the performing arts ecology resonate with the dominant economy?
  • Labor & Value – how do we value what we do? what does value mean? how much should we get paid? how do we ask for it? who gets paid how much and how do those decisions get made and how do we increase transparency?
  • New Models for Social Organization – how do we aggregate ourselves in new ways that are not necessarily place-based? how do we work together outside of institutional structures to share knowledge and resources and build community in a “center out” rather than “top down” way?

These are just a few ideas that seemed to bubble up out of the last process. If you have areas of interest that you are particularly passionate about, then think about  how to articulate them and come prepared to pitch it to people on May 12. We’ll be using at least some of that time to provide space for working groups to self-organize. We’ll also be developing a guiding framework for the desired research and deliverables of each group, contributing towards the culminating document of the project.

Thanks and see you in May if not before!

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