A few months ago Debajehmujig Theatre Group came to town for a professional development presentation as part of the PlanetIdigenUS festival and I was privileged to attend. They do some really interesting work up in Manitoulin Island and have made incredible outreach efforts both in their home community and in other communities in the remote north. In fact, their awareness of their own community and its importance to their survival as a cultural institution is something I am still thinking about several months later.
In the presentation they talked about concerns regarding loss of funding (how can you be an arts organization lately and not be talking about it?) and how they could be self sufficient as an organization. One of the steps towards that for them was to consider the following and to attempt to answer these questions with everything they do:
If a significant change occurs in our society and our communities can only support a limited number of organizations, institutions, and business–the schools, the hospitals, the arenas, the pharmacies, etc.–will our organization be on the community’s list to support?
Who will gather at our front doors to help make sure there is a way to keep them open?
How relevant is our programming to our community?
How porous is our institution?
What an incredibly simple yet somehow overwhelming concept. If someone were to shut you down tomorrow, who would fight to keep you open and why?
I’ve been trying since Debaj was in town to think of an organization I might rally behind if they were put in this position. Probably the Toronto Fringe Festival. Other than that? I’m really struggling. There are other organizations whose work I think is important and who I believe in and whose loss I would mourn. But would I get off my couch and put pants on for them? Meh, not so sure. And you can certainly make the argument that I belong to a lazy and apathetic generation (I mean, I will think you are wrong and generalizing, but you can make the argument), however, at the end of the day, that won’t change the fact that if you aren’t relevant to your community, they won’t support you when times are tough.
So why would I brush the Dorito crumbs off and don clothing for the Fringe? Simple. They make me feel like I’m part of a community. I don’t know them well and I haven’t done much work with them, but every interaction I’ve ever had with them has been positive and left me wanting more. I don’t even know the people there well but they’re always willing to have a conversation with me. Plus, the whole concept of the Fringe really resonates with me–democracy in art, my friends!
I think if you belong to any kind of arts organization in this day and age, you should take a long, hard look at yourself and consider, if you were in trouble, who would be standing behind you? And if the answer is no one or that you’re not sure, you should probably consider why.