Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Going Corpro

Here is dance video. I guess I would call it minimalist breakdancing; it's also an advertisement. This dance troupe does something pretty creative and cool - are they like the monkees, formed by a company for a purpose, or are they like blue man group, formed for the work and then later popular enough to have a viable commercial career? Here is another Youtube video, of a giant piece of artwork (in bed with physics) that can walk under motive power from a gust of wind. This thing certainly cost a pretty penny to build.

At Craft Congress this weekend, Becky and I argued a bit over the idea of corporate sponsorship of indie efforts. It's an interesting issue.

Scion spent a bunch of money sponsoring music events and throwing its swag everywhere in the hip hop community, and there's been a recent backlash against it. They have been sponsoring arts events for a while now as well, including the CC itself. It's interesting that their involvement there was much more low-key; they in fact did not want their logo on materials or branding present in any way. They had an art gallery briefly in hayes valley san francisco. I went to an opening at that gallery; there were cars in the middle of the room, car seats with video games in the corner, and branding everywhere. We ended up getting into a protracted disagreement with security after the opening had ended because they kept trying to empty the public sidewalk outside of the gallery. It was overall a pretty opressively 'corporate' experience. So what has changed from their gallery last year to the Congress today - is it the very different nature of the event? Has the company learned from the backlash, or is it a calculated move to affect the hearts and minds in such and so a way? Does it much matter if the only difference made in your life by their presence is the fat wads of money they give you? Maybe.

When I was in high school I was accepted into a prestigious state-funded summer arts program, Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Arts. We all arrived for our five week program brimming with artistic idealism and a sort of awe at the idea of being part of a community consisting only of artists. A piece of work was collected from each of the visual artists to put on an initial 'portfolio showing', but we were shocked to learn a restriction: no nudes. The state was unwilling to compel its students to view representations of nudity. A nasty feeling crept into my guts to learn that similarly, the literature students were restricted from reading explicit poetry. The dance & acting students could only go so far. Obscene songs would not be allowed. I spoke with the administration over the issue to learn their concerns and generated a solution - an additional show where attendance was not mandatory. The administration encouraged me to do it, giving me an empty studio to occupy. My two 'uncensored' shows were a success - students were able to produce and perform work that would have been forbidden. Alix Olson baked me a cake. The lesson that I took away from this experience, which stays with me to this day, is the idea of how much can be accomplished by working with established authority, on your own terms.

A strange undercurrent of the new indie crafts movement is the sponsorship of events that many promoters are seeking and accepting. Is this a compromise of the integrity of what we do, or voluntary sponsorship of the arts, good citizenship on the part of corporations? I think each case is different, and each relationship must be examined with care. I also think that the arts have never been lucrative, and the idea of corporate citizenship acts must be considered because those big entities are not going away, and they are not going to stop having all the money. The fact of the matter is that money is the way that our society places value on time and at some point if a profession does not include any money the practitioners of it will not be able to sustainably establish a career. Career span allows an artist or artisan to hone finer points of craft and understanding, allowing these fundamental aspects of our culture to move forward, making progress the same way technology or medicine must progress. The anarchistic bent inside of me looks forward to a time when we can all support ourselves diffusely, through person-to-person interactions. If in the meantime I can get a hand up towards this goal without being asked to compromise my goals, I am going to examine the hand stretched towards me for filth and then, detecting none, grasp it firmly and reach upwards.


  1. Hey Rachel,
    I’ve been meaning to leave you a comment on this after we got back from Craft Congress but got sidetracked. I’m going to start by saying how impressed we were with your enthusiasm for learning more about making your event successful …and by viewing your sites and photos, it looks wonderful and you are doing an amazing job. Your artists are absolutely fabulous…you have definitely hit on some talent, not to mention your own. You should be very proud of how far you have come in such a short time.

    It’s interesting that we weren’t the only ones that felt the tension in that discussion of corporate sponsorships and a little uncomfortable at that. People certainly have strong opinions about it, but I don’t like to feel like I’m being judged for making different decisions than them for our event. A lot of it is based on the level business experience one has too...my partners and I just happen to have creative, marketing and business backgrounds and it helps in making The Girlie Show what it is. All of us at the CC are completely different individuals and events and we have different goals for them. If it’s one’s intention, one can keep their event at an indie grass-roots level, but for The Girlie Show, we choose to step it up for more variety of people to participate in and support our artists and what we are doing to change our community’s perception of “indie” art/craft. I think the majority of us probably feel the way you do to an extent about corporate politics. But, like you say, to what degree can we sustain a financially stable artistic career without having to hold hands with corporate at some time? You really can’t.

    We haven’t had to “deal” with the issue as far as national corporate sponsors, yet, but know we will be approached at any time…especially in dealing with national media opportunities. You are absolutely right…the fact is, to be a successful business; you have to make decisions at times to help support what you do to take it to the level that it needs to be at. But, it doesn’t mean you have to sell your soul either. You are in control of what your business is and when you have set standards of sponsorship and a mission for your business, you just don’t let corporate dictate to you what their role should be. If they want to be a sponsor, then they have the options that every other local sponsor has based on the sponsor levels you have already set up for your event.

    That doesn’t mean that there can’t be exceptions or flexibility, but you certainly don’t have to do what “they” say. There’s always a give and take…each party wants something from the other and there’s a way to compromise where you both can be happy without giving away who you are. I personally think certain sponsors can legitimize an event and help the larger community to support it as well. You can’t sustain a for-profit event with only other artists or friends showing up at your event that don’t necessarily have the money to spend (even though they support you with their presence which is invaluable). You have to have the patrons with the funds and means to purchase the art and sustain the lively hood of the artists that are selling. All different types of people can be included in what you do. And, a lot of times to get those patrons there, you have to go larger and more corporate.

    In honesty, even when you deal with your local small business sponsors there can be some “authority” issues as you mentioned above. You really can’t get away from the politics, I’m sorry to say…and no, it’s not fun, but you have to be strong and stand your ground for what you want your show to be. Anyone will try to take advantage of you, even the small businesses you know and trust…we know from experience. It’s all a learning process…and you do better with it the next year.

    It was good to see how open you were at CC to the discussions and gleaning ideas to make your event even better. You are definitely on the right track and have a great attitude. We got some great ideas for our show too…even though we are so much different than the rest that we met. There’s always possibility when you have an open mind. Keep up the good work my dear and congratulations on another successful Pandora’s Trunk.

    Erin Merryweather
    The Girlie Show LLC

  2. hey, thanks for all the kind words. I definitely feel that I'm fulfilling a need in several different communities, and being in business for myself has taught me a lot about how fantasy must be supported by reality. I love feeling like I'm providing that support for other artists like myself. The current handmade movement is a really great launching pad for independent business but I sometimes feel like precious few people active within the movement are able to fully support themselves with their business - maybe because the movement is only joined by people who feel like they need it.