I sat, as a dancer, at a recent rehearsal. I was one of 8 - dancers and choreographer - with open calendar and planner. The question presented, a question that demanded at least 20 minutes of negotiation, was "When can we all meet again?"
It's a simple question, but I was taken aback by the demands of the other artists' time. And my own.
Time was focused on making money to pay bills (mostly meager living expenses and student loans) - Time was spent not focusing on art-making.
Working at a restaurant.
Teaching dance to children at a studio.
Teaching dance as an adjunct at a college or university.
Tutoring students in a non-dance-related subject.
Nanny-ing or baby-sitting or another domestically-related, paid task.
Administrative work, both for non-profits and for-profits.
Landscaping, construction, or other labor-based work.
Coaching in a somatic practice.
(These are all important fields and practices, but do not necessarily advance the practice of art making or creation. This post argues for a need to value and define time and experience as a commodity in art-making in order to compete in a capitalist economy).
As we sat discussing schedules, I was frustrated that 1) we all needed several different income sources to make ends meet; 2) not one of us was able to focus solely on the creation of art AND maintain a sustainable lifestyle; 3) it was required of each of us to sacrifice one thing for another (in other words, none of us had "disposable time" which we could freely allocate as we individually preferred. Our schedules were full from dawn to dusk, mostly with commitments to meet financial needs.) All of us had many, many years of experience and training at a professional level. And yet, the relationship between our time spent in practice and study was not equivalent to the monetary level we reaped.
In some articles, professionals outside of the arts have commented that professionals in the arts and humanities should have chosen different career paths in order to be financially and economically sustainable (I'm not even saying successful. I'm also not including articles here because I'm sure you've read them or experienced them yourself. Or, you could easily google "adjunct pay", "artist pay", or "dance studio pay" but even these searches are not reflective of regional, local, or individual practices). The argument for careers in the humanities and liberal arts is complimentary to what admissions professionals say on studying the arts and humanities, and advocate for the continuation of the liberal arts environment. These subjects do create educated thinkers and members of society. However, often, these subject do not provide immediate careers in areas that are financially profitable (or allow access to large donations to/by corporations, political affiliations, research organizations, or non-profits) and therefore able to pay off student loans.
My students, and many "children" of the current economy, argue that its difficult to be a "person" and be "someone who makes money". My students want to be humanitarians in their chosen line of work and study. They also want to pay off their student loans. A nurse or a special-ed teacher isn't going to make as much money as someone who sells technological equipment. But, what is the greater value?
Most people in the military or professional, artistic inquiry are providing challenging, deeply intellectual work, but aren't compensated for their time and energy.
What is compensation? Time. Money. Resources. Energy. Space. Experience.
I argue, as many of the interviewees in many articles, arts and humanities are not commodities to be bought and sold. They are opportunities to create holistic individuals interested in advancing knowledge and engagement.
As we, as a culture, move more deeply into the political election season, I need to ask, as an activist, an artist, and an educator what are our "American" values?
How do we value Time?
How do we value Individuals?
Do we value the moving body?
Do we value the physical body?
Do we value creative inquiry?
Do we value inquisitive thought and research?
Do we value craftsmanship?
Do we value artistic investigation?
Do we value ongoing practice of a tradition?
Do we value tradition? How do we define tradition?
(Why do I really need to be asking these questions, publicly or privately?)
In our current culture, I question how we can achieve the needs of our value systems (or at least my perceived value systems) if we cannot achieve the needs of our basic systems?
I refer to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (as demonstrated below) and realize that many who are processing at a seemingly "higher" level are not actually fulfilling their/our basic needs. Perhaps we need to be addressing this as a culture and as a society. (Why is it that people in the Middle East have access to the Internet but not drinkable water? Why is it that people in the US have access to the Internet but not drinkable water?)
I see many of my activist-minded friends asking "why?" - as evidenced by the posts on social media that are going viral. I don't need to re-iterate them here... they're filling your social media walls and channels. (These do belong to the Safety Needs and Love and Belonging categories.) Don't just "like" or "save" the links. Read them! Challenge yourself! How can you add to the conversation? What is your value and what do you value?
I witness many artistic-minded and socially-minded colleagues struggling financially. How can we maintain an element of artistic and/ or social inquiry if we can't support our bodies and minds with enough calories to get through the day (physiological and safety needs)?
How can super-smart students be expected to enter into socially-based careers without the funding to support them? My college-age students are not seeing the financial stability in socially-focused careers. And they're right. There is limited money in public (or private) education, urban (or rural) planning, public (or private) health care, art for arts' sake, nation building (locally or abroad). I might seem pessimistic, but I've witnessed many failures and few successes on each of these fronts.
In a very primal fashion, my heart aches for the people who view the world in bold colors. The people who not only see black and white, metaphorically, but who also see blue and green and red and yellow. The people who see the grey and pastel, and honor them for their dimension, but also challenge all of the colors for their true value. When I write about "seeing colors" I don't mean mystics who see energies or auras, but everyday people who recognize the nuances in our lives. The people who can recognize, appreciate, value, and encourage different "wavelenghts" of experience, background, and knowledge.
|Are we all a little bit mad? Aren't we all a little bit mad?|
I realize that art and education cannot be scripted to a 21st Century capitalist business model. I wonder how a capitalist business society could exist with an artistic culture and an educational, developmental structure. My dream is that society would find a meaningful, valued place for each. Do you have a suggestion?
Until then, I'll stay in conversation with my colleagues as we struggle to find rehearsal time, space, and a place for dynamic shifts in defining "American Values".