The Longest Shortest Time

February 27, 2015

This winter has been pretty tame for Minnesota, but I'm far less tolerant than I was during last winter's infamous awfulness. Maybe it's that last winter was full of distractions - moving and starting a new job and Small Dances - that prevented me from being able to fixate for more than a few minutes on how cold I was. Or maybe it's that this winter's project, also known as Gestating a Small Human, has made the cold (specifically, its effect on my muscles) and the need to bundle in 6 layers (increasingly challenging as I get larger) more annoying. This is why I've escaped to the tropics. Last July, when Ben suggested we plan a winter getaway, I shrugged off the idea. That's the trouble with July in Minnesota: you forget about February, the longest shortest time. You forget about how sad and vitamin D deprived everyone looks as you meet their eyes at the grocery store. I'm very glad to be on a break from Minnesota.

There are many different kinds of travelers, which is what I learned when backpacking in Europe with various friends after college. It just so happens that Ben and I are the same kind of traveler. We opt for wandering neighborhoods and sitting at coffee shops and bars in favor of most of the typical tourist spots. We like a nice mix of energetic activities and chilling out on our itinerary, and just a touch of structure. Mostly we walk and eat and hunker down in our Air B & B to rest. Eating in this island town is slightly tricky, because restaurants close whenever they like (and regularly go out of business). Also, there aren't any legible street names, so finding some great place that you've heard about is hard unless you are good at following landmarks. That's ok- sometimes its more fun to grill up your own tacos and stare out at the sad, sad view from your one-room cabin that is bright blue skies and turquoise waves and palm trees. You know: a touch rustic, but with wi-fi (the delightfully irregular kind that makes communication with the outside world feel very optional.)

I like to think that I'm the best version of myself when I travel: spontaneous, anxiety-free, positive and easily delighted by the smallest things. I'm more present, and when I'm not I'm musing over the big picture life things that get shelved during the day-to-day. It's a big perspective check, easier when the lists disappear and you're in a place where no one knows your name. I can generally feel just as at home on an island as I do in my small house in Minnesota, and when I return to the latter, everything feels like a clean slate. 

Perspective is something that I've particularly craved in the last month. It takes 40 weeks (well, technically 36 by the time you know you're pregnant?) to bake a small human, which is simultaneously forever and no time at all. It seems evolutionarily brilliant that a million small changes happen along the way to this big change. In the first few months I slowed way the heck down out of necessity for maybe the first time in my adult life, which felt like a pretty shocking (and surprisingly awesome) change. Now I'm back functioning at mostly full speed, but I've found myself with this strange body that I hardly recognize in the mirror, that moves totally differently. (Also: what does a person do with this much boob?) On one hand, I'm totally impressed with my body's ability to know what to do and where to put things-- to make these dozens of tiny changes. On the other hand, I find myself in moments where I feel completely confused: wait a second, where did the old boobs go? I was kind of fond of them! Or at least familiar with them. And I'm used to knowing if a pain is a stomach growl or something I should be alarmed about. And used to knowing approximately how much food I can eat in order to feel comfortably full, with enough space to still easily walk. Everything is a little bit different. More so every day, and my sensitive self goes back and forth-- one minute fully embracing each change with pride, and the next feeling awkward and concerned. It's like puberty all over again! LUCKILY (says my inner self-help guru), I have the next 14-ish weeks to learn to flex and stay open to both the goodness and challenge, because I hear this is a skill I might need to hone. 

This all might sound ungrateful or at least persnickity, but it has little to do with my excitement for this new chapter or any kind of ambivalence I feel about parenthood or this very conscious decision to have a child; that's not the issue. I'm always like this when it comes to change: I equally crave it, love it and am challenged by the growth and stretching it requires (ha- literally this time). I'm too emo and sensitive to handle it all. I mean, Ben and I are the kind of people who get nostalgic for a meal we cooked last week. Throw a big transition into the mix and we feel all the feels (and then promptly change something else- because we can't get enough or something).

Strangely, when I think of the small human (who I refer to as "The Passenger") being here in the flesh or the big labor rally it necessitates, I feel surprisingly calm and even reassured. I am stoked to confirm that it's a person, and not the reptilian creature its movement often resembles. I'm looking forward to dozens of sentimental things that I will save for listing in my diary, other than to share one: Ben, who's adopted, has never seen someone who shares his DNA. And how cool will that be to watch? I'm saving up my tear stash as best I can.

I'm also saving up my stash of ocean zen, sleep and uninterrupted quiet. I hear they might be in short supply. Meanwhile we've almost made it to March. Nice work, winter troupers. 

5 With: Scott Artley

February 11, 2015

In these interviews it’s felt important to gather a group of people for whom the words “artist” or “creative” or “freelancer” mean different things, and people who have various relationships between their creative work and their income stream. I'm really happy to introduce Scott Artley and his awesome work as a curator and artist organizer, who talks about approaching administrative and curatorial work as part of his artistic practice, and making art is less traditional forms than, say, a painting or monologue. We're downright lucky to have great people spearheading artistic programs that strengthen our communities here in the Twin Cities, and Scott is certainly one of them. 

Describe your current creative work and what drives it or inspires you. How did you get to this place in your career? 
My background is in theater, but I would say that I'm a dabbler at heart. In simplest terms, I'm a curator and cultural producer. I'm very focused on process and on identifying the assets of an artist or a community, and shaping those assets into some tangible reality. I'm the Performing Arts Curator for Patrick's Cabaret, where I develop curatorial platforms to present artists working on the edge of culture, whether because of radical content, experimental form, or cultural marginality. I also own an independent creative consulting practice where I unite my background in nonprofit management and community arts entrepreneurship. Everything I do is united under a desire to support community-driven creativity. 

What are your biggest creative challenges?
I've struggled with the idea that I'm not really an "artist" in the traditional sense. My strengths are in organizing people and processes, and those are skills more commonly attributed to administrators. But I have increasingly accepted that being a "creative" is less about the form that your work takes and more about the way in which you do it. In my case, the way I do my work augments those around me, however they need it, and that is an intensely creative role. It's satisfying and full of rewards, but sometimes it's a challenge to reconcile that doing my work really well means making my contributions seemingly invisible while someone else gets the acclaim. In the end, I struggle with my own ego more than I'd like to admit.

How do you balance work that pays the bills with work that's creatively exciting to you? 
My administrative and consulting work is what really pays the bills, but my creative activity feeds my ability to approach that work with intelligence and insight. I regularly engage in projects that I know will produce little or no financial impact because I know that it's valuable for me and/or my community. When you do something with passion that improves people's lives, that's the kind of magic that you can't buy. So even when my shoestring projects are full of mistakes and don't look as great as my original vision, it's the impact on people that matters and what they remember. When you divorce creative activity from money it lets you do the stuff that's more interesting, and the more interesting stuff is what makes you gain a reputation for producing something of value. That said, there comes a point where you have to declare what that value is--and sometimes that means walking away from creative projects that aren't netting the opportunities or connections you need them to produce. I'll also point out that the only way being so opportunistic is plausible is that I work all the time: a typical week is 50-60 hours, with about 20-40 actually generating income. Finding balance there is something I've never successfully achieved.

Give some advice: what resources have been helpful to you? 
I was at a gathering once where Peter Howard, co-founder of Cornerstone Theater Company, which does process-oriented plays created in partnership with communities, was asked how he measures quality in his work. He paused, and said that he knows he's doing good work when he's uncomfortable--that if he's doing it right, he should always be steeped in the unfamiliar. That, more than anything, has guided my own work.

What local artists are inspiring/exciting you right now?
I am endlessly inspired by the folks organizing local movements around racial justice right now, specifically the Black Lives Matter and Million Artists movements. The most interesting theater is happening in the streets, and there's a lot to be learned there.

[Find out more about Scott's work via his consulting website or LinkedIn or company Facebook page. Find more 5 With interviews here.]

On Small Art

February 9, 2015

I'm plenty opinionated, but I struggle with committing to one thing. (Maybe that's why this blog space has had no fewer than 6 names in 4 years.) I think it's wanting it all; it's being afraid of missing out. Last week when I showed a little piece of choreography in a traditional theater in front of dance colleagues, I started thinking again about applying for grants to make big things in big spaces. I started thinking about being an artist. You know, all in! It certainly seems like it would be nice to be a member of the Real Artist Club.

And that brings me to another sore spot: fitting in. I've always felt like an outsider in life, beginning with the days I was a soymilk drinking homeschooler living in the woods of rural Ohio, refusing kool-aid and processed sugar at birthday parties. Later on it was my lack of pop culture knowledge that make me stick out (a byproduct of the homeschooling and the woods), and then it was the strange performance pieces I was drawn to making-- not quite dance, not quite theater. There's a part of me that has always wanted to sit at the cool kids table and to be really good at one thing: I am a _______________, just like _______________ and _______________. We probably all search (at least a little) for that sense of belonging and affirmation of our choices.

Last week I worked Hotline at the Walker, an installation where visitors can call a number and ask people like (*gulp*) me (?) anything. Someone called and asked how they could ensure being the next Van Gogh. I attempted to walk the line between being cheesy and helpful: you can't be the next Van Gogh, but you can be you, or something like that. We talked about developing a voice and how it's actually pretty problematic in the arts when your work looks like everyone else's.

I've been pondering my own advice as I think about what the next year might hold for me artistically. I write a lot here about how I'm a fan of parameters and assignments for making work. It's almost impossible to walk into a studio with the assignment to "just make something" without coming out with either nothing or something about as interesting as lukewarm dishwater. We need specifications and intention and restriction to create. When I choose projects, I try to begin with my 'why'-- why the hell do I make things in the first place? What can I offer that's unique to me? This helps me choose from what could otherwise be an overwhelming list of possibilities. 

What I keep coming back to is that I want to put my energy and time into making small art. And I'm not just referring to the living room performance series, but also to things that don't look like performance at all; 'small art' as more of a mantra or approach. I've been thinking about...

+ Committing to life-making as much as art-making: According to a lot of the art-as-social-practice folks I met through Open Field, there isn't much of a line between the two-- how we live our lives is how we make our art, and life is art (or at least can be); why would be try to separate them? In the last few years I've worked through some pretty intense life things-- sorting through a lot of my own emotional garbage, supporting my husband as he entered recovery from alcoholism and works to manage depression, learning how to, ugh, be an adult and create a life I like. And some of this intensity has made me feel less "man, I just really want to make a performance!" and more "wow! we made it! Let's quietly relish in this big joy. Let's take a nap and eat a meal and check out our Netflix queue." These moments, along with the seemingly insignificant nights of conversation with friends over wine in my living room, punctuate my life as much as any big project or achievement. I don't need to be pushing the boundaries of my art form in order to find value in an experience.

+ Coming together: My biggest passion is creating opportunities for people to come together, and I think that performance is a really great vehicle for this and that artists excel at encouraging connection. Ben and I have been working to find ways to fund and expand Small Art-- the performance series, that is. For now I'm happy to say that we'll be hosting another one on April 23 & 24. I'm also excited about finding way of integrating my own choreography/performance work into this small-scale, barebones format.

+ More dinner parties: And while we're at it, why not just have more dinner parties? (Or resource parties?) We had a super social January, and though I still think I'm more of an introvert at heart, I've really loved coming together with other humans. I don't need a Small Art performance to do this-- sometimes it's just nice to drink wine (or exotic sparkling water) with good friends or perfect strangers. (I had hoped to do a series of dinners with strangers this winter-- maybe it's not too late?) Point being: small occasions for coming together can be just as satisfying as the big, carefully planned performances. Again, the 'life-as-art' thing.

+ V is for 'values': So yes, I value intimate experiences with other humans, and opportunities to share the good and hard of life. And I also value living within my means and being able to afford my health insurance and being able to pay the artists I work with fairly. I'm able to make performance more affordably when I make it on a smaller scale with fewer dancers in a small (free!) venue. And yes, I do get downright jealous when I see 12 dancers on stage in someone's work. But, until I find a money tree, that's where I'm at. I have certain parameters I'm working with. I like to buy my groceries at the coop; I need to make my work with consideration to money and time (like a musician makes an album).

+ Art for me: I've been improvising more regularly on my own-- sometimes in a studio and sometimes in my living room. It's free, except for the cost of my time and the space (which is often discounted or free). I notice things that work...or don't...and write a lot in between. It might end up finding its way into a piece someday or not. But the point is: I find it satisfying and a nice way to continue to 'practice' without needing to commit to the expense of making a whole formal piece. And sometimes writing in this blog space is a really nice change of pace from performance making or directing.

+ Art for you: I've continue to find a surprising amount of satisfaction in producing and attending and promoting the work that other artists are making.

So, this is the approach to art-making I want to take this year. I want to ask, what can I do with what I have and how can I make it fun? How can it be used to make people feel closer to one another?  And yes, committing to this approach means saying goodbye to some things (and missing out on the cool kids' table) --  at least for now. Maybe 'big art' will be the thing of my 40's. I'm not closed off to the idea. 

[Photos of our small house by Marie Ketring for Pollen Midwest.]

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