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From Bill – The Future

October 18, 2013

Map_of_South_Bethlehem2

In January 2015, a little over a year from now, The Charter Arts High School for the Arts is planning on moving to a new facility at 321 E. 3rd St., one block from Touchstone. With them come close to 450 students in the arts and 70-some faculty members, AND two new theatre spaces – one a small black box, another an approximately 375-seat, beautiful auditorium. If you’ll note the map above, they’re moving into the center of an area that is already full of arts institutions – Touchstone, Godfrey’s, Zoellner, Pennsylvania Youth Theatre at The Banana Factory, Mock Turtle just across the river at the Ice House, and the Bach Festival at Packer Chapel. There’s no doubt that the temperature is about to be turned up on the arts/culture stew over here on the South Side. Things look to cook. The students at the Charter Arts High School have a terrific attitude of curiosity and service, and I find them performing or just plain helping out everywhere! This is not only excellent for their education, it’s excellent for the health of the arts and life here in the Valley.

Still, it is very difficult for an individual artist to earn a living here in the Valley. There’s simply not enough paid work. Many of the artists that Zoellner, Touchstone, and Godfrey’s bring to the stage come from outside the Valley. What is going to happen to these talented youth when they graduate only to leave for the big cities, where there is a bigger arts marketplace? And what can we do about it?

Anyone out there with an answer or answers? How can we keep them here? These youth are our most precious resource; they carry with them a sense of belonging and rootedness that is essential to building an authentic local culture. In the arts, we find answers to who we are and how to move forward as a community facing ever more complex challenges – IF our artists reflect the local culture and aren’t simply entertainment machines. And through creative education, we build a work force that has what it takes to deal with all the inventiveness required for ever evolving manufacturing and business entrepreneurship. This is our challenge.

So, I have an idea, a hunch, a way forward, and it involves rethinking, even further, the role of art in our lives.

It appears to me, if we step back and look at the huge cultural changes we’re going through, that there’s a trend towards, we’ll say, “democratization” of the arts, and just about everything, actually. I’m not going to try to prove this, but for me, when I look at Reality TV and how it seems to acknowledge that all our lives are essentially dramatic, or YouTube videos being as open to a teenager as a TV mogul, or the dissemination of news through Twitter and Facebook and the teetering of media powerhouses like NBC or the Philadelphia Inquirer – what I see is the decentralization of not only media power but “the center” itself. The “center” is getting spread out among us all. And I suspect that this change is in our favor- that we can have some of “the center” here, here in Bethlehem, the Lehigh Valley; no need for young people to run off to find it. It’s not as important to be in Philly or New York as it once was. Certainly online education and work at home trends support this. But how do we need to change to encourage this trend? To help it along?

Stay tuned. More to come, and comments are very welcome.

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