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From Bill – A Better Way

February 26, 2013

I’d like to dedicate this to all the great patrons of the arts, from whom Touchstone has enjoyed generous and deeply appreciated largesse. Without them we could not exist.

The year has its cycles, its ebb and flow. Today’s February 25, 2013, and we’re definitely in a flow time at Touchstone. Linny passed two weeks ago, the apprentices just finished a brilliant Fresh Voices two nights ago, and the days ahead are a log jam of stuff to do.  My plate is full: in this next week I will be…

  • Working on the text for our April production
  • Rehearsing for the touring of an in-rep solo piece up to New Hampshire
  • Beetling away at the narrative of a National Endowment grant for a piece set to occur over two years from now
  • Planning for three, five years down the line
  • Teaching middle schoolers the skills of playwriting
  • Seeking sponsors for our Young Playwrights’ Festival in May
  • Attending important community and administrative meetings

Or, last but not least, and simply moving on because I’ve made my point, scratching away at a hopefully meaningful blog for this all important web blog.

I was recently reading a very insightful article by Lewis Hyde in the Kenyon Review.  In it he talks about his book, The Gift, saying:

It describes a problem– the disconnect between the practice of art and common forms of earning a living… There are categories of human enterprise that are not well organized or supported by market forces. Family life, religious life, public service, pure science, and of course much artistic practice: none of these operates very well when framed simply in terms of exchange value …Any community that values these things will find non-market ways to organize them. It will develop gift-exchange institutions dedicated to their support.

It would be my view that we haven’t quite got this problem figured out (yet) in this country. Thus, we culture workers are left with either creating “commercially supported art” or working in such a manner that one is carrying on two lives– the one that is the artist and the other that does all the work to support that life.

There is much to do, even under the best of conditions. But in this country, it’s a conundrum, a bit like the ones that so often lead to endless quarrels in our political system whenever addressing any significant challenge. And, as usual, the folks at the center of the issue are left to fend for themselves, with broken social and economic tools, while our leaders fight over who’s in charge while ignoring the problem in the hopes that things will work themselves out in time.

At Touchstone, we work very hard to serve our community, to run “like a good business”– to work efficiently, with an understanding of the market value of our efforts, and the discipline of best business practices. Still, over 60% of our income is unearned, our staff is stretched to the limit, and lack of funding undermines our abilities to effectively make successful art. There is much talk of the importance of gun control, of the violence in our culture, of immigration, and the importance of getting our borders secure, of our budget mess. There is little discussion of the importance of art as part of our culture and how it should be funded. Thank God for our supporters, and if you are one of them, this prayer is most sincere. But relying on the largesse of individuals to keep the arts alive is far from creating a healthy cultural environment. Like telling the homeless to rely on what they can beg off the street, it’s not the ideal solution.

I call on someone, anyone, please, this country! to look further into building institutions and processes that will advance real art in this country, not just popular entertainment and cultural icons. I am simply a theatre creator. My plate is full. As Mr. Hyde goes on to say:

Those who can be clear about supporting the arts not as means to some other end but as ends in themselves; those who can shape that support in response to the gift-economy that lies at the heart of the practice; those who have the wit and power and vision to build beyond their own day: for artists, those will be the good ancestors of the generations of practitioners that will follow when we are gone.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 26, 2013 2:41 pm

    I hear you, Bill. And it’s funny how coincidences work… I am reading “The Gift” these days, and thinking of you (there’s a whole section on Whitman) and the arts, and Touchstone, of course. So your blog post feeds my own reflection on how to make art in and for this world… thank you for taking the time out of busy days to write this. Big hugs to the Touchstone family.

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