Thursday, June 28, 2007

Maybe They're Not So Bad is a sprawling crafts-selling site, web 2.0's handmade answer to ebay. Their rapid growth, actual funding, and general slickness are a little off-putting, though, and I have not entirely embraced them. I'm not the only one. Their very personable representative Matt was one of the few people who didn't look at me like I was an alien at Craft Congress this spring when I talked endlessly about marketing. Theirs is so effective and standalone that to some (myself not necessarily included) it feels like they are trying to brand words like handcrafted. Shields are still up but this listing I came across recently made my little heart go pitter-pat. I'll be tuning in, wish i could be there.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Pandora's Trunk - June 30th

Pandora’s Trunk

Bi-monthly arts & fashion showcase

Saturday June 30 2-7pm

Free admission – live music – free drinks

Mina Dresden Gallery

312 Valencia @ 14th

Pandora’s Trunk Presents Versus

Take part in the eternal dualist battle between good and evil!

The audience will be the players in an all-encompassing game exploding the binary notion of the dark and light sides of life. We will all join together in playful and earnest celebration of life beyond a black-and-white worldview, playing with and against each other in a tipsy and joyful rendition of humanity’s battle with itself. Artists from all parts of the spectrum will present to you their work in paint, fabric, metal, wood, string, spit, and bubblegum. Pick sides and put ‘em up – talk the artists into selling you their work and go home with a pocket-sized unique souvenir of one little drunken corner of a revolution. Each transaction will grant you a pass to win or lose in the name of whichever side you are on. Don’t worry – drinks and merriment are for winners and losers alike.

The art and fashion offerings will come in good and evil and all sizes, shapes and colors. Look out for ties, scarves, cowboy shirts, and jackets for boys and girls from Medium Reality. Miranda Caroligne will of course be there telling you snips and secrets from her upcoming Reconstruction Clothing for Dummies manual. Bad Unkl Sista, Fatima, Rose Pistola, Cotton Candie Stockings and more more more rounding out the fashion plate with clothing and accessories for your most delirious opium dream.

Metallurge casting is coming to showcase astounding and functional art-metal castings that you may have seen at Maker Faire. We are welcoming back sitar player John Arns, and of course handmade gourmet chocolates for your eating pleasure!Visit our website for a frequently updated roster of artists and pictures!

Had fun last time? If you want a quick and easy way to support us in our efforts, take a few seconds to forward this to a few friends who you think would be interested. Word-of-mouth is the most powerful force there is, and we would love to have your help.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Anna Bella Eema

"Cry theater in a crowded fire" -Artaud

Crowded Fire is a standout among SF's scores of young, hungry theatre companies; producing young, fresh, relevant works with a surprising level of polish. Last weekend I had the pleasure of catching Sunday afternoon's performance of Anna Bella Eema at TJT; I decided I had to go see it after a friend said at Zeitgeist "Three women sitting in chairs that they never leave the entire show and it's not boring." This I had to see.

Anna Bella Eema's story coalesces slowly as if out of the scraps of sound with which the show starts; The story is told in fragments that (worry not) slowly cohere to comprehensible language and story. Imagination and reality are interwoven in a meditation on the worlds that we create, choose, and fight against. The show is playing through July 1 at TJT in Potrero, San Francisco. After a brief lull it will be extended July 5-15 in Berkeley. I'm glad I didn't have to cross the bay to see this play but it's one that's worth it. Its exploration of the problematic relationship between wild things and the restrictive but expansive modern world affected me very profoundly.

I stayed after the show for the talkback, not something I normally do. The intimate setting and young company emboldened me; often this can devolve into something very dry. It was disheartening to hear some of the older audience members' confusion about elements of the production which i thought were very well executed. The show interwove reality and fantasy in a very deliberate way, reminiscent of that Latin style of romantic surrealist fiction whose proper genre name escapes me at the moment. A woman asked afterwards about various fluid events meant to blur this boundary, wanting clarity on which had "happened" and which had not. How do you explain the leap she is failing to make here? The (co-)AD who led the talkback was very adroit at handling these kinds of questions. All of the actors came out and were very clearly engaged and invested in the creative whole of the production, which was refreshing. It's frustrating, though, to see a so fully effective (for me) play, and then see it sail right past other members of the audience. Part of me thinks that a play about the modern world caging wild things is naturally going to have more resonance and appeal for a young artist than someone of a certain age in a stable and adult job/life situation. So must artists make work relevant to their audience instead of themselves? Are the concerns and lives of artists necessarily separate from those of their audience? How does an artist compile an audience that they would like to speak to? Ooh, that's a good one. Who do you want your audience to be? What are you trying to accomplish? I make small and populist work because I would like to interact with that audience, I know how to access them, and I understand their needs and motivations the best. It would be nice to reach a broader audience, to spread my thoughts wider than a circle that already believes me. Must an artist create separate works of art for their peers and those who they would like to draw into the fold? How can you present separate works of art, to appeal to a broader array of people, without alienating them into those that 'get it' and those that 'need help'? There is such a real and regrettable social division already between young artists and those who are not artists but educated and mature enough to appreciate their work in a thoughtful way, it's important not to emphasize this.

During the talkback the (co)AD also made a regrettable comparison between theatre and fine art that hangs on the wall. There is a viscerality to a theatrical experience that cannot be paralleled, but there is a pretty clear and delightful way to integrate various levels and styles of work in the visual art world. There is also, I think, something of great value in being able to reference a work over years, through different periods of time in your life. The painting may only sit there over the years, but you can come to it every day and compare your ongoing life experiences with that same (hopefully) soaring, complex vision of reality to see how they change in relation to each other.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Art for Profit

Profit vs non?

I have existed in the nonprofit world my entire professional life, until a year ago when I chucked it all and started a business. My theatrical design/production training included a sketchy overview (from mr. i-like-to-dress-like-a-pirate) of the way nonprofits and theatre administration work but it's very much an art that requires specialization and groups, and the work that I do is not on the track to leadership. (we'll get back to that, don't worry)

The fundamental difference between the two is that the nonprofit cannot make money above and beyond the salaries of its employees, while the whole point of a for-profit business is to do the same. Does this make them diametrically opposed? In a non-profit, the ultimate decision-making body is the board of directors. This board only necessarily has to be one person but is often many, often rich, often opinionated, often ego-driven "supporters" of the arts. Theatres are always then run by the artistic director, followed by the managing director. This points to another major difference, a noble ideal of putting creative in a position to trump business. The result, though, is that most theatres are managed by an actor, and have their strings pulled by a collection of bored retirees. Maybe this is why they are so fucked up.

For-profit entities can be run however they please. Mine is a benevolent dictatorship at present. As long as it is completely opt-in, a benevolent dictatorship is an appealing social model to me (it's a bonus that I get to be the dictator, sure). I'm not looking to become a national t-shirt chain, though, although that's a successful 'indie business' model. the internet is flooded with (especially) women looking to turn their at-home crafting into some sort of dream job. The companies that exist in any kind of major way all sometimes seem to produce the same pap as ever, only labeled 'indie'. Artists are often asked by collectors to paint work to match the couch - if they are lucky enough to know any collectors. Paintings as cheap as $20 become a hard sell when they are placed next to a t-shirt, also $20. It has utility! I must purchase it! Don't kid yourself - successful corporations have brainwashed you with their superscientific marketing research and ultra million dollar advertising budgets. The designer becomes a production position in a clothing manufacturing firm; the structure of the manufacturing process and your business practices seem to matter so much more than your actual product to the scale of your success.

Do the arts simply not make money? Must a business run effectively necessarily be watering down its creative product? Is compromise necessary for commercial success? Is compromise even bad? In theatre, all the artists learn to work with the limitations of the script - these limitations are like the rocky crevasses in tidepools where the interesting things happen. Sea anemones are best at clinging to the turns and corners of when things must fit around something else. Compromise is food for the creative engine.

Going Independent

I left theatre because I ceased to see jobs in the future that I wanted to have - the culture of regional theatre doesn't place my skill set equal to others' in the command structure. This rift between administration and production seems to be a little universal - a friend at Amazon described basically identical frustrations of not being allowed to manage projects on a macro level, but being expected to carry out the work as capriciously decided by management. It boggles my mind the way organizations of all kinds will hire people to act as project managers, but not actually want them to carry out these vital, cost-saving tasks. Value is placed on getting what you want regardless of what the guys who actually have to carry it out have to say about the ramifications. What makes these practices abusive in the profit and non-profit fields alike is the way undercompensated employees can trace what could have been a raise of their salary through waste they could have prevented if they were empowered to do so. Kathleen Fasanella has great examples of this in her book, and lots of practical management advice that heads of organizations would be well served to heed.

Next Step

A few days ago I went to a house fete for Indy Arts and Media, a local nonprofit that produces a nonpartisan news feed and an arts/media expo here in San Francisco. I will probably be doing some work with these guys in the coming months. There was a little speechifying at the event. Emphasis was placed on integrity, and i wrote word for word "we will not influence the content of what you do". It seems like a young, lean, excited organization, and I like the one guy I've talked to. The speeches made sense. I'm curious to peek behind the curtain to see where this odd-shaped org fits into my Spectrum of Questions and Issues - maybe there will even be a few answers from the Nonprofit side.