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Is There Art After Trump?

The following commentary is one in a series from KCET and Link TV writers and contributors reflecting on how the incoming president will shape, change, and redefine the future of California.

 

Now that governance is to be reduced to a vast theatrical spectacle, featuring a rogue's gallery of liars and kleptocrats, I find myself questioning the value of artifice as a way of addressing the ideal world. Not all art is artifice; nonetheless, art must necessarily activate a fantastic or imaginative cognitive plane to transcend the parameters of design, information, material science, and spatial organization upon which it relies. Still, aren't we up to our ears in artifice? What can the production of further fictions contribute to a culture buried in lies?

In my own work, I am focused on how an arts institution can offer the public some concrete benefits that are badly needed and poorly funded, while offering participants in those pragmatic undertakings the possibility of that all-important imaginative space as well. For all the talk of a creative economy driving L.A.'s current growth, it is clear that some people's creativity is more readily nurtured and more consistently remunerated than others. Skills-building and community organizing are high on my agenda. Since my curatorial practice is artist-driven, I rely on the artists with whom I collaborate to pose questions and offer research and insights throughout their residencies and projects. Some artists think and feel their concerns about politics, the environment, racial justice, collective action, and individual freedom are instantly relatable to anyone with a clue about what is going on around them. Now is not the time for elitism in the arts. We need to speak in clear language and stop treating non-specialists like they are uninvited or uninformed. I'm agnostic on Joseph Beuys' claim that "everyone is an artist" but I definitely think that arts institutions can and should make space for everybody.

18th Street Arts Center's #WeTheArtists campaign
18th Street Arts Center's #WeTheArtists campaign | 18th Street Arts Center

At the epicenter of Southern California's technology and entertainment industries is a huge missed opportunity, when the vibrant creative and cultural community for which our region is known for is pushed out through rapacious and thoughtless growth. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Santa Monica, where the loss of Bergamot Station as an arts and culture hub leaves my own home base, 18th Street Arts Center, alone without a cultural corridor to anchor and amplify our art-focused message. 

With every challenge comes an opportunity, and I am exploring a variety of ways to bring artists and their ideas and insights directly to people wherever they are without waiting for them to cross the threshold of an institution they may not yet know or trust. This is not business as usual, and the art that people experience as they go about their daily lives needs to take them out of their "normal" and point them in some other directions. 

In my writing, as a critic and a scholar, I feel even more urgency to raise concerns about arts and culture agents and institutions that perpetuate and legitimate policies of exclusion, wage theft, and appropriation against art workers of color. At the same time, I hope to be able to point to some examples of institutions that are doing things right — investing meaningfully in pluralism at a structural level, making space for dissenting voices, different values, and other traditions. We need to model what we aren't seeing at those highest levels. Once more, that's where imagination comes in.

"The Emperor Has No Balls" | Link TV's Made By Hand

Of course, all of this is easier said than done when the Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities are first on the budgetary chopping block. Contemporary art is a tough sell when everything seems to be going to hell. But really, if you want to know the worst thing that can happen, and how to survive it, talk to an artist. Chances are, she's already been there. We need our artists to show us the way out of the coming darkness. 

Today, I am even more grateful to have made my home in Los Angeles. Every language, faith, and culture is here. We are vast and varied, but we can be unified. We can lead the way forward. We have to respect and support one another to do it, not only with words but with actions and with resources. 

There are two paths to insight — the slow reveal, and the sudden flash. I'll be asking myself with each new initiative, is this an illumination or an ignition?   

 

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