Lebenskünstler

On localization in the arts – Scott E. Walters

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 08/02/2013

Speak Your Piece: The Extractive Arts – Scott E. Walters

The problem with Kaiser’s argument is that none of the artists he mentions stayed in their community or even in the states or regions where they were from. They all left and went to the “big coastal city” of New York, just as the anti-arts politicians said, where they entertained the elite, also like the anti-arts politicians said. Kaiser hasn’t, in fact, refuted their beliefs in the least. More importantly, while the artists he mentioned achieved renown, many, many others from similar small towns followed the same path and saw their talents go unappreciated and their gifts unnoticed, talents and gifts that would have added so much to their home towns.

This is the extractive creativity economy in action.

Like clear-cutting a forest or blasting the top off of a mountain in order to send wood and coal to urban dwellers, the American arts system extracts artistic resources in the form of talented young people and tells them that the only place they can make a living in the arts is New York City. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is a major lie. Let me use a statistic from my area of expertise, the theater, to make my point.

My point isn’t that theater (or dance or painting or music or…) is a lousy way to make a living – why should the readers of Daily Yonder care about that? My point is that, given those dismal facts, shouldn’t we be teaching our talented young people the skills needed to practice their art in places other than New York and Los Angeles, in places that are starving for the arts, maybe even places like their own home towns? After all, the bar is pretty low – if you sold tickets to your friends and family you would make more money than did 58% of the so-called professional actors.

How would interest in the arts improve across the country, and even in the legislature, if performers put down roots in a place they loved, built a life there and created art that reflected the stories, the songs, the dances, the colors, the shapes of their chosen town? What if the arts world was more like a local farmer’s market, filled with products that grew organically from the dirt, rain and sun of a particular place? What if, like local farmers, local artists found a way to make a living within the context of their specific place, rather than within some generic model created for somewhere else that wastes 58% of what it grows? And why can’t those places include rural areas, where people are just as interested in being entertained and enriched?

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