Friday, February 5, 2010

All Or Nothing

I want to highlight something from to this post here. I made a call for more black administrators and leaders at majority-white institutions. Scott mentioned a couple of well-known black artistic directors* at white institutions (all of whom were followed by white ADs). Art brought the question of funding more directly into it:
Should funds and grants be channeled towards larger, more established cultural institutions to help them integrate, or should they go to communities to start their own institutions?
Scott replied:
I have argued that, Art, and it is a good question you pose. We usually get around that by saying it SHOULDN'T BE a zero sum game, which makes it so we don't have to make choices. But let's accept for the moment that it IS zero-sum: you have to choose between integrating big white institutions or funding African-American institutions more fully. Your choice?
There was some more back-and-forth and I, quite by accident, hit a point that I want to pull out:
If we're all going to the same three foundations and the same government entity with our hands out, of course there will be jostling. That's part of what keeps us down. I don't have a funding initiative to pursue. I honestly don't think that these issues are addressed best through grants and funding. There are other ways of achieving my goals.
A friend of mine wrote a play where he described the world of AIDS research as being like a kids' soccer game: the whole field huddles around the ball and follows it wherever it goes. This happens a lot in theatre, especially in terms of funders. We huddle around the few granting organizations that support theatre and when a new one pops up, we huddle around that. There is elbowing and jostling and a lot of comparing of litanies. "We need more community-based theatres!," Scott cries, "That's how we'll make theatre relevant!" "No!," I shout, "We need more integrated theatres! That will make it relevant!" "We need more bridges between culturally-specific theatres! That will save us," Adam yells. And, you know what, we're all right. And the funders can't fund us all. So there are hard choices to be made.

But, despite all of our talk about new models, new visions and the dying of the institutional theatre tradition, I don't know how much really think about both new funding models and new funding sources. Not everything is a nail and not every situation calls for a hammer.

In my post on integration, I didn't call for a new funding initiative. It doesn't really need one. But do I think that the cultural make-up of the staff should be a consideration in terms of funding. Absolutely. But I don't run a funder, I'm not connected to a funder, I have no way of making that happen. I can advocate for it, sure, but it's up to the funder.

When I think about that, I realize A) how little power that grants any of us and B) how many other funders there are. If the Mellon Foundation isn't interested in granting awards to reward integration, well, I can find another, a non-theatre-funding foundation and make my pitch. If they aren't interested in funding community-based work, find another funder.

Even if you're dealing with the same "rich people" funding model, there are other rich people who might share your values, in spite of them being rich. One of the things we talked about at the Black Playwrights Convening was how to tap into the black wealth in this country to support black theatre. Prince George's County outside of D.C. has one of the highest concentrations of black wealth in America (if not the highest) and doesn't have a black theatre. You might have to put some shoe leather to the ground and think outside of the box, but I bet you can find your angels. Look at the current trend in Broadway financing for shows with minority or counter-culture appeal: rock stars.

I reject the notion that it's a zero-sum game. If I win support for my intitative, that means Scott loses support for his. All of our initiatives have elements, facets, philosophies that obviously we share, since we've been talking about them for a couple of years now. Would my integrated theatre, located in my community in New York not qualify as community-based? Could Scott's community-based theatre in Asheville be integrated? I think, in terms of actual advocacy, it would do us all a lot more good to look for the parts that overlap and pull together to get those parts handled, rather than looking for the places where one idea is "superior" to another.

All that does is lend more power and influence to the centers of power that exist. And, yes, that includes the NEA. I love 'em, if they offered me a pile of cash, I wouldn't turn 'em down, but when they're the only game in town, what they deem important is what matters. And that has a deleterious effect on the whole field. More players, more money, other influences. We can find them.

In my time on this blog, my thoughts and feelings about the kind of theatre I want to do, the kind of theatre I want to see and the kind of theatre I want to support have changed, morphed and (I hope) grown. My ideas about the ways to achieve my goals has changed and I'm sure it will continue to. But there are some bedrock principles underneath it all and as long as I'm getting closer to those, I really don't care what path I take, or where the money comes from. Just as long as we keep taking steps forward.

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