Testing… Testing…(Is This Thing On?)

Hello all,

Just thought I would leave a quick post to make sure everything is up and running smoothly and also kill the proverbial second bird by telling you a little bit about myself beyond my bio.

I’ve worked in the arts since I was twelve. Back then, it was as a child stage actor in Washington, D.C. From the very beginning, my artistic practice intertwined itself with political concerns. The first show I was in was Bill Finn’s Falsettoland, about a family coming to terms with the AIDS Crisis back before the disease even had a name.  The second show I performed in was a musical about the AIDS Quilt. Both of these took place right before Clinton was elected, and I marched in his inaugural with the AIDS Quilt.

In other words, working in theatre took me even deeper into politics and political issues than a DC kid normally goes. It was probably inevitable, then, that I would end up getting into arts advocacy when I moved to New York to pursue a post-collegiate “career” as a theatre director.  I put career in quotes because there isn’t really a career in directing theatre.  A career implies some kind of codified structure for a life and work and money that doesn’t really exist for theatre directors.

I think it’s safe to say that my journey into the arts policy and advocacy world was born out of a series of questions my own difficulties in theatre provoked.  Questions like why theaters programmed the plays they did, or why the labor market is structured the way it is or why theater companies preferred building new buildings to adequately paying their personnel dogged my years in New York.  A short trip to Denmark on a research grant further cemented exactly how simultaneously miraculous and unhealthy the nonprofit arts sector in America is. Miraculous because it regularly creates wondrous works using amazing, brilliant people for less than the cost of the make-up budget in a mid-level indie movie. Unhealthy because I saw in Denmark how an adequately funded, properly managed arts sector could work, and how a national playwriting scene could be created from scratch with the right  incentives.

I hope to share with you some of what I’ve learned along the way this week, along with opening up some real dialogue. I feel one of the greatest challenges facing theatre right now from a funding perspective is that there is very little interaction between artists and funders that is not mediated by large institutions that have as their top priority perpetuating and growing themselves, so I’m happy to open some communication for what I hope will be a provocative, stimulating and honest back and forth.

We’ll get to real posting on Monday. In the meantime I just wanted to say it’s great to be here and I am very grateful to Tommer and everyone at GIA for setting this up.  If you feel so inclined, I’d love to learn a little bit more about you and your organization in the comments.

Thanks!

UPDATE: Marc Vogl has a great comment below where he asks:

“when you say “there is very little interaction between artists and funders that is not mediated by large institutions that have as their top priority perpetuating and growing themselves,” what suggestions do you have for funders to either get around this mediated-relationship, or to do a better job of contributing to a better alignment of individual artist, arts organization and arts-funder goals so that the interactions all the way around are better.”

I take a stab at answering him below. If you have ideas, I’d love to read them as well.

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3 Responses to Testing… Testing…(Is This Thing On?)

  1. marc vogl says:

    Great to hear from you here on the GIA website. Looking forward to hearing you tell it like is!

    One question: when you say “there is very little interaction between artists and funders that is not mediated by large institutions that have as their top priority perpetuating and growing themselves,” what suggestions do you have for funders to either get around this mediated-relationship, or to do a better job of contributing to a better alignment of individual artist, arts organization and arts-funder goals so that the interactions all the way around are better.

  2. Paul Mullin says:

    Looking forward to it, Isaac!

  3. isaacbutler says:

    Marc,

    (First off: good to virtually see you again!)

    It seems to me that this question you are asking here is of the utmost importance, particularly given the crisis in arts funding our nation is facing during the downturn. How do we get funders the right information so that they can better help the art form? And perhaps just as importantly: Who do we rely on to tell funders what the art form needs? I wouldn’t want the majority of US Artistic Directors on that list of people.

    Despite owing pretty much my entire career (including this gig) to my blog, I am not slavishly pro-internet. At the same time, it seems to me that the internet is a place where funders and artists should be able to find each other. I’m not sure that having these kinds of conversations in public in an online forum on the internet where nothing can ever be deleted is the right way to go always. Sometimes closed doors are important for candor. It’s only after deciding not to pursue a life as a professional theater director that I feel completely comfortable sharing my opinions on the regional theater system and specific people/institutions within it. I think, though, that there might be a way to harness the power of the web, preferably on the cheap (as no one has any money these days).

    Some kind of structured online convening that brought artists together with funders and limited the institutional presence in the room (at least at first) seems to me like it could be a great step forward. One thing that I think most people want to know in these situations is “who would I even begin talking to?” I wouldn’t want to call up a stranger at Hewlett and try to give them a piece of my mind about issues facing my community. So even if nothing specific and concrete came out of such an event, the relationships built there could have a real lasting impact.

    There also has to be desire to have such a conversation. Plenty of artists just feel like yelling. And they have plenty to yell about! Plenty of funders just want gratitude. And they deserve quite a bit of it! We have to get beyond these responses to have a constructive dialogue about how to move forward.

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