Friday, January 12, 2007

Area wants to cash in on arts assets.

I was invited to this meeting and attended part of it Tuesday night:

Extracts from
Area wants to cash in on arts assets
'Culture Shock' aims to promote the arts ... to draw tourists

Patrick Winn, Staff Writer

CARRBORO - Artists create here. Novelists write here. Bands rock out here. ... Now community leaders want to market the area as an arts-focused tourist draw.

"Culture Shock" is a push to brand what many already know: the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area is replete with nightlife, music, museums, book readings, performances and all things artistic.

Tourism generates roughly $127 million each year in Orange County, according to the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitor's Bureau. Wilner suspects "Culture Shock" could increase that figure 25 to 50 percent.

"Wilner" is Jon Wilner, director of the Carrboro ArtsCenter. This organization, back in the 1980s, had a funky, welcoming space in a converted mill and was started by Jacques Menache, who deserves a post all to himself. Jacques supported local music and we played there fairly regularly; we also attended some fantastic programs there by bands that nobody else would have booked - I particularly remember a band from Provence staging a fabulous Occitan country wedding!

The current booker at the ArtsCenter is pretty hostile to local music; there was a very fine jazz group that even NAMED themselves after the place, who played there every year, year after year, who got abruptly fired after one of the regime changes. The members were so hurt and insulted at least some of them have sworn they'll never pass through those doors again.

The registration cards for the Culture Shock conference hinted at its sub-text. Under "occupation" there were many, many possible boxes to check. Are you a web developer? An arts professional (i.e., someone who makes a living OFF artists)? Chamber of Commerce? Independent businessperson? I kept looking in vain for a "musician" checkbox. This WAS an arts meeting, wasn't it?

Turns out "we" all - actors, writers, visual artists, musicians etc - were lumped under one breezy category: "Creative Types." Patronizing? Maybe I'm too sensitive.

There were about 100 people in attendance, and after some snacks we sat down to listen to Wilner and his guest facilitator. I can't even duplicate the tone of this facilitating - there was hand-waving, bureaucracy speak, and power point.

Bob and I had to leave to go play on a radio show (the WCOM-FM "Roots Rampage"), but we came back to the meeting a couple hours later. By then the, uh, visioning was mostly complete. However, I can't really tell you what the conclusions were because the bullet points had a teflon quality - my mind kind of slid off them...

Sigh. A bunch of years ago I accepted an invitation to be one of the token artists on an "arts task force;" the heavy-hitting Durham and Raleigh "arts professionals" had decided to, hmm, well, I went to meetings for almost a year and I can't really tell you what they were actually trying to accomplish, but I do believe it similarly had to do with filling restaurants and building new hotels based on the Triangle becoming an "Arts Destination." After about a year all that had been accomplished was:
  • Deciding on a design for letterhead;
  • Getting the by-laws almost completely completed.
By then, most of us "creative types" had fled because by and large we don't have a head for that kind of thing.

Some business and civic organizers evidently think artists might be geese that lay golden eggs, but "on the ground floor" (another phrase from last night) we look kind of scruffy and unpredictable. Not the kind of people they want around... in fact, don't they often zone against us? ...

Remember that picture of Janis Joplin meeting the suits at Columbia Records? They couldn't understand her - or stand her - but they figured there was money to be made so there she was, chaos incarnate.

Possible chaos notwithstanding, if there is profit to be derived from being a "Arts Destination," there's good reason to support neighborhood scruffy artists - they're living off nickels and dimes while they create the content which is theoretically going to enrich the community.

Often artists feel like beggars. Visual artists beg for public walls to hang their paintings on, producers beg for spaces in which to stage their productions, musicians beg for gigs. But wait! Public walls with paintings hanging on them, plays happening, music in restaurants and clubs - isn't that what makes for an Arts Destination?

To be continued.

News flash: My daughter Melina (her recent art is just below) and I have signed up for a painting-at-the-beach weekend with Jane Filer! There's something to look forward to.

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