A star is born! Today is the very first day of MinnesotaPlaylist, a fantastic web venture by former Minnesota Fringe Festival Executive Director Leah Cooper, playwright Alan Berks, and playwright/web/design guru (and fellow Ministry of Cultural Warfare-ite) Matthew Foster. It’s a gorgeous presence that pulls together written and photographic essays, casting calls, theatrical classified ads, talent profiles, discussion, criticism, and a performance calendar. All created and edited and managed by people I deeply respect, admire, and just plain enjoy as friends. It is, to put it simply, freaking awesome; and I love it. Let’s feed it so it grows up big and strong. As may be apparent from my silence since the last post over 20 days ago, I’ve recently fallen into an artistic Dark Age – sure, as the analogy demands, I have been doing things…they just haven’t been documented. My artistic progress as of late has been at the mercy of our generation’s Economic Armageddon, the struggle to find and land work, and the upcoming (and terrifying, I might add) Presidential election (seriously – the opposition's VP candidate/huntress-of-the-north somehow miraculously makes George W. Bush sound like an informed, oratory genius. Whaaaa?). But the launch of MinnesotaPlaylist was just the glimmer of light I needed. The first issue of their magazine asked of essayists (one is Miss Mo Perry, the best button in all the land) “what is the function of the performing arts?”
Good question. A question that I feel compelled to (at least partially) address. Especially when arts funding is most certainly bound to vaporize in attempt to keep other necessities afloat.
Just last week I ran into a local filmmaker at my favorite coffee shop, and while we were catching up he lamented about the same Dark Age feeling. I remarked that artists are the cockroaches of society - we survive through it all. I had intended it to be funny. And yet many a truth is said in jest - due to the great undervaluing of the arts as a whole, a majority of us live in poverty or near-poverty to begin with, so when crisis hits there’s not much for us to lose. We’re accustomed to living frugally. And frankly, our art often seems more poignant in the face of adversity – economic, political, social, environmental – performing arts give voice to the voiceless. It questions. It provokes. And on the other side of every major low point in history is artistic documentation by way of commentary and entertainment. In our most recent history the intense popularity of the cinema during the Great Depression comes to mind.
And don’t get me started on all the proven benefits of the arts in communities – the tangible, dramatic affect on quality of life and social justice and economic vitality. The Minnesota State Arts Board can enlighten you with all the stats you’d ever want to know on the matter.
To me, personally, the performing arts are an integral part of the world as we know it. A body isn’t much use without a brain. And a brain is certainly of no use without a body. As such – the performing arts, the brain - are certainly of no use without the world to give them a home. I believe it follows that the world is not much use without the performing arts to contextualize it. To offer a beautiful escape, a cunning design, a scathing evaluation. This mystifying world makes sense through the filter of art. This mundane world becomes mystical through the filter of art.
Indeed, we may be poor, but our riches are endless.