Both Sides Now is a series that charts my findings as an arts (benevolent) double agent, working both on and off stage. There will be tips and tricks for all, the development of a meandering manifesto and plenty of ridiculous emails, interactions and situations. Names have been omitted to protect the foolish.
TL;DR – Us and Them doesn’t help anything. We can’t exist in silos; open dialogue across all parts of the arts world is the only way things improve.
The jazz and improvised music world is fully of lazy ‘us and them’ tropes –
- Why does [insert artist here] get lots of gigs/funding/awards? They’re not very good.
- Artists don’t help us promote their gigs at our venue
- Promoters don’t push our gigs at their venues enough
- It’s not our responsibility to address diversity in our art-form, it needs to start with [insert name of other bit of the arts world that isn’t the one talking]
- Why does opera get more funding than jazz?
I can’t write any more because I’ll wither and die. Do you recognise any of these?
What do the statements above have in common?
Well, for a start they are all negative. Secondly, they all position the speaker and the subject in direct opposition to one another. Thirdly, they are problem focused, not solution focused. Lastly, they all attribute some sort of blame upon another party.
We need to talk to each other more and we need to get better at talking and at taking responsibility. There are formal networks focused on promoters and people in the industry, there are formal networks focused on artists and there’s the myriad informal networks between colleagues and friends in all areas. They all have their uses and their benefits but we need something else, too. Something that transcends these groupings.
Artists, programmers, journalists and audiences need to talk to each other more. I’m just going to keep repeating myself because this is really, really important.
Here are some things I really, really, absolutely believe are true and important:
The overwhelming majority of people involved in the arts in any way, shape or form are involved because they believe in art and its power.
People working in arts funding WANT TO GIVE MONEY TO THE ARTS. They don’t get to take it home at the end of the week if they don’t allocate it.
Programmers take no pleasure in saying no. It’s the worst bit of the job.
We are all running as fast as we can, trying to make things happen and are doing it the best way we know how. We could all improve.
Artists truly and with all of their being believe in their art and that’s their primary focus.
It’s easy for us to stay in our groups and talk amongst ourselves but in order to really make things happen, we need to step out of that for a moment, and talk to some new people.
So here’s my challenge to you –
Some time in the next week, have a discussion with someone who works in a different bit of the arts to you. Artists, talk to a promoter or a journalist. Programmers, chat to an artist or a funder. You get the idea.
This conversation is not about pitching yourself or getting a foot in the door. This is about genuine human interest and connection. Ask about their job, why they do it, ask what makes them excited, ask them how people who do the job do could make things easier for people that do the job they do. Ask them what piece of art they really love.
No mutual moaning allowed. No grumbling, No being mean. Keep it positive and open and warm.