Using what we already have.

This past weekend in Vallejo, it was warm and sunny. I ventured into the backyard early Sunday morning. As often happens, when I looked around I started seeing things that needed doing and wound up spending most of the day enjoying the weather and creating enjoyable work for myself. Apart from pulling the grass sprouting up around the baby lettuce in the lettuce box, I gathered all sorts of things to use for the holidays. While engaged in this way I was thinking about how much money we spend on things we don’t need and how we overlook what we already have. This is true for each of us, who are all in some way part of some kind of family or group. It’s also true for arts professionals and arts organizations.

In these difficult times, when The Arts feel the pinch like everyone else, we can all survey our territories to determine what we have been overlooking for its usefulness. Money is essentially an invention, to make a system work. But before money there are needs and the means to meet needs directly without any money changing hands at all. Those are not the words that retailers want to hear with the “holiday season” in full gear, but they are words worth remembering when we consider what is most valuable to us. Art came way before money and filled a basic human need before it ever became a commodity.

People once lived in caves and painted the walls and left their hand-prints. When I go into our little backyard, I gather lavender from the bushes and make bundles, cut the wild grass and make bouquets, clean the leaves off the willow branches my husband grumbles about cutting back every year, to make dramatic art in a large vase. I gather up the peppermint gone wild, and the lemon balm, and chives and sage and thyme and the last of the basil, put them in my favorite thrift store plates and leave them out in the living room to dry, and the bathroom too.

I see fruit trees all over Vallejo hanging heavy with fruit that never gets picked. But not at this house. I worked all summer long canning tomatoes, apples, apricots, blackberries and raspberries. My husband’s faithful watering also resulted in a deep freezer full of dark leafy greens, shredded zucchini and pumpkin puree. So, I won’t be buying holiday decorations, spices, greens, pumpkin puree, tomato sauce or jam over the holidays but my family will be eating “good” and we’ll have a great looking table too that the kids will remember helping me to create. The sun felt great in mid-November so I got extra busy doing a few loads of laundry to save a few bucks not using my drier.

I like to think big, but sometimes small is the way to go. I remember reading from a Suze Orman book some simple financial advice for getting out of debt. She advised people to clean their houses and get organized. (I’m paraphrasing here.) While cleaning, put all the loose change that you find in a jar. When you’re done cleaning and organizing you will feel energized. Then, you should take all the change that you found, whether it amounts to a dollar or thirty dollars (you will find something,) and put it down on your biggest debt. Now that always stuck in my head as some very good advice. More than just symbolic, each little payment on a debt reduces the interest on that debt. Making a positive step in the right direction opens the door of possibilities. Probably, if the banks and the auto makers would do some thorough house cleaning, they could eliminate a lot of their own problems themselves. But while I can’t do much about that, I can clean my own house.

It is important for arts advocates to work together for common goals in the arts, to band together just as big business and financial institutions do, to forward our own agenda. But it is just as important to be able to look in the mirror and examine each and every asset that we have no matter how small and insignificant it may seem, before we look outward to ask for something that we can accomplish ourselves with some sweat equity. Maybe it’s time to clean up the files and update our contacts. Maybe it’s time to put a “junk room” to a more productive use. Maybe we can’t do that big production we wanted to do this year without the funding, but what about a scaled down production that we could bring into classrooms to cultivate a future audience? Over time the value of our baby steps is magnified by the ripple effect, when we dip into the everlasting pool of creativity and ingenuity.

If You Laugh, it’s True.

According to tvbythenumbers.com “Saturday Night Live: Presidential Bash 2008″ got the highest ratings for broadcast television on election night. At the time of the writing of this column the ratings for cable television were not available yet, but I’m willing to venture that “The Daily Show,” with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert anchoring, captured a large portion of cable viewers. Since the show was posted on November 5 at comedycentral.com, there have already been 67,419 views of the program.

Does the fact that Americans turned to comedy shows on election night prove that TV viewing Americans just can’t take anything seriously? Or does it prove that Americans have a hard time taking the pundits seriously, and gravitate toward the art of comedy for a deeper truth? Yes, I said the art of comedy. Children and jesters speak the truth when everyone else is embarrassed (or is that bare assed?) And what do people do when they are exposed and nervous? They laugh. Laughter can be complex, a sign that we recognize contradictions or suddenly see something in a new light that we had not considered or even thought of before.

It’s not good or bad that people turn to comedy. The truth is they probably switched channels between commercials and got different angles from different channels. What the ratings do show is that the Arts are more integral to politics than is generally acknowledged. In fact the Arts are major tools for propaganda and can be quite dangerous and cruel in the hands of dictators. Corporations have their own reasons for using artists and the Arts to manipulate behavior.

Whatever your politics or particular point of view, you as a creator, have your own tremendous power to influence the world around you. You, the arts professional, have honed your skills and should recognize that you belong, and are integral to the way our society processes information and current events. In this new era of change, go forth and create!

Approaching Winter in Vallejo

I have pictures of fresh snow in my e-mail
from people who live elsewhere.

Here in Vallejo, CA, USA it is almost
always sunny by two in the afternoon.

Weary of whatever I walk into the sun
and am revivified while gazing at

bright red hibiscus flowers
blooming in the yard.

Good time for the editor to take
a little break.

But I’ll leave you with a flower poem:

[ad#unnamedflower]

State of the Arts in the New Economy

Everything is changing all the time. Recently change has accelerated in the approach to a historic presidential election in the United States. The state of the economy has revived talk of the “New Deal.” One aspect of the New Deal, for ten short years, that was highly beneficial to arts professionals was an unprecedented role for the Federal Government as a patron of the arts. WPA Federal Theatre Project and New Deal Public Art Projects put thousands of artists to work in various disciplines. It is apparent that radical change is on the horizon as we collectively restructure our infrastructure. I would like to see the Arts take its rightful role, not to drain the economy but revive and rebuild it with the inclusion of new principles.

Geoffrey Lean, the Environment Editor for the Independent in London wrote an article about a Green New Deal, which is a promising and possibly positive development in the economic upheaval being experienced world wide. He states that “Top economists and United Nations leaders are working on a “Green New Deal” to create millions of jobs, revive the world economy, slash poverty and avert environmental disaster, as the financial markets plunge into their deepest crisis since the Great Depression.” I believe that the Arts also have a role to play in the revival of the economy.

According to Americans for the Arts, “…the Economic Impact of Nonprofit Arts and Culture Organizations and Their Audiences documents the key role played by the nonprofit arts and culture industry in strengthening our nation’s economy. This study demonstrates that the nonprofit arts and culture industry is an economic driver in communities—a growth industry that supports jobs, generates government revenue, and is the cornerstone of tourism.”

Now is the time to advocate for a different perspective on what is important to us and future generations. Don’t allow the Arts to continue to be looked upon as charities, when in reality artistic activity can lead the way to economic prosperity. Arts professionals of all kinds should seek ways to work with arts councils, arts commissions, departments of cultural affairs, arts agencies, planning agencies, cultural centers and museums to advance a common cause.

Remember that it is our imaginations that lead us. We’re traveling down a road with bends. Even though we can’t always see where we’re going, if we know where we want to go, then we’ll be more than half way to our destination!

The International Connection

A couple hundred years ago, news traveled slow. Families separated by space were separated by time, writing and receiving hand written and delivered letters. Speed up to my own childhood, when a call to Europe or South America was a long distance call that was a little costly, and a letter would still take at least a few days to arrive. Speed up to today. This morning I received e-mail from Heather Haley in Vancouver, Canada and Jorge Luiz Antonio from somewhere in Brazil within a minute of each of them hitting the virtual send button.
Continue reading “The International Connection”

Arts and Politics

I watched as much as I could stand of the presidential debate last night. I had to quit early anyway to host the weekly Listen & Be Heard Radio Hour. (You can listen to that show by clicking on “October 7” in blogtalkradio player in the right hand column of this page.) Of course Arts, Arts Education, Culture, these topics aren’t important enough to enter the discussion when everyone’s worried about their bank accounts and where in the world to shoot bullets. But it is the Arts that will sustain us even when the stock market fails and our sons and daughters die in foreign lands. It would save us all a lot of pain and sorrow if we would pay closer attention now to the world we are constantly creating around us. Continue reading “Arts and Politics”

Is this a letter or a journal entry?

Looking over my letters from the editor of the last few weeks and even months, I can see that much of it has been progress reports mixed with my musings about progress and motivations too. For a moment or two I questioned myself, and then I decided it was OK to be sharing some of the nitty gritty of what I’m doing from day to day. I figure that I’m somewhere in the middle in terms of technical know-how and understanding. For those who know more than me, I can be entertaining with my mishaps, and remind those with mastery how the rest of us perceive what’s happening as we learn. For those who know less than me, I can be encouraging. I am demonstrating how it is possible to continue to learn and apply new techniques toward manifesting creative goals. Technology of all kinds is becoming more available all the time, and can be a useful tool if we choose to use it.
Continue reading “Is this a letter or a journal entry?”

Learning to work with available tools.

Last night I hosted another live internet radio show. I thought I had my act together, but the reality was that I did not. Part of the broadcast was not being heard, because I had not properly thought through the sound input sources from my computer. When I was informed that nothing was really happening (by my husband listening in another room) I understood in a flash what was wrong. Live and learn. I’m uploading an edited version of the show as I write this column, which I will broadcast again later today. Mistakes and all, I’m having fun! Continue reading “Learning to work with available tools.”

A Listen and Be Heard Wish List

The greatest resource we have is ourselves. Our creativity is boundless. Even a little effort can go a long way. When we combine our energies there is often a synergistic reaction. Here at Listen & Be Heard Network Headquarters we’re looking for a few people to contribute some consistent and positive energy in a few different ways. It’s all for the cause of listening and being heard, so if you feel it, make it real by contacting me and moving forward.

  • Volunteer TV Camera Person(s) wanted for Cable Access production. Listen & Be Heard Network plans to record and air a weekly arts news program. Volunteer must live in the vicinity of Vallejo, CA, USA and be available for studio work one morning a week for two hours. If interested please send a cover letter and resume to Martha Mims at editor AT listenandbeheard DOT net.
  • Volunteer Weekly Arts news producer/announcer. This could be one person, or two or three working as a team. The video would be used in the Arts News TV show, and the audio would be extracted to use for the radio show as well. Content would be taken exclusively from the latest posts at Listen & Be Heard Network Arts News and summarized into brief announcements. This spot could be filled locally using the local tv studio, or it could be provided by someone anywhere with the tech knowledge/ability to share computer files to accomplish the task. The total running time for announcements will be about 10 minutes each week. If interested please send a cover letter and resume to Martha Mims at editor AT listenandbeheard DOT net.
  • Volunteer Columnists, Reviewers, Editors. I’m always looking for some good fresh content to amplify, illuminate, educate and entertain visitors who come to Listen & Be Heard Network for all things having to do with all the Arts. Whether it is the latest indie film review, a treatise on the state of the arts, a recipe or an artist profile, please go ahead an query me with your idea. If you’re looking for some editorial credits, this is a moderated site. That means that every article that gets published gets read first. If interested please send a cover letter and resume to Martha Mims at editor AT listenandbeheard DOT net.

Do you make a living doing that?

Last night I hosted a radio show about the state of the arts. (Listen & Be Heard Network Radio, every Tuesday night at 8pm.) I mentioned an experience I had recently when I went to a party and someone asked me “what do you do?” My answer to that question tends to be different every time I give it a whirl. So this time around I said I was a writer, a poet. The next question was inevitable. It doesn’t seem to change no matter what my answer to the first question is: “do you make a living doing that?”
Continue reading “Do you make a living doing that?”