Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Dance/USA 2010 Annual Conference held at the Ritz Carlton Pentagon City. This event, that brought together many factions of the dance world including artists and arts administrators, was packed full of information, discussion, networking, and celebration. As the artistic director of a small dance company, my responsibilities currently extend to that of executive director, publicist, accountant, and beyond. When choosing whether to attend a breakout session for artists, managers, or agents, etc, I observed myself gravitating towards panel discussions centering around concepts of collaboration.
I had the opportunity to meet many wonderful pioneers of collaborative enterprises. Jen Abrams spoke of OurGoods “an online community of artists that facilitates the barter of skills, space, labor, and art objects.” This site is intended to help artists to swap talents. For instance, if I am in need of someone to design a poster for an upcoming performance, I might be able to trade a skill of my own that is of value to another artist in need. In her own words, Ms. Abrams spoke of OurGoods.org as “the Craigslist for artists.” This site is just about to be launched to the greater public. Be sure to check it out!
Another inspiring speaker was Jon Michael, the Executive Director for Trey McIntyre Project. He spoke on a panel that was devoted to dance artists and companies working outside of our nation’s “cultural hotspots.” Now situated in Boise, ID, the company has successfully integrated into the community through building a dance space, collaborating with visual artists, and bringing dance into a city where there had been no such presence. They interact on a daily basis with other area artists, community members, and beyond. From what Jon Michael described, the association brings a sense of community appreciation for artists and Boise citizens alike. Other motivating members of the panel included Ruby Lockhart, John Malashock and James Sewell.
The overriding message I came away with is that there is more abundance for all when we choose to work (and play) together. Artists are inspired through contact with other artists in their own and other disciplines. Communities are fueled with energy and community pride, as artists interact with citizens and create an environment for curiosity and discussion. Why then, do many dance artists and dance organizations operate in survival mode? Is this just human nature? Instead of reaching out to formulate partnerships and share resources, much of the opposite seems to occur. There appears to be a sense within the dance community, that there is not enough room for more artistic voices. The resources are scarce, theater seasons are competitive to attain, and artists become isolated not only from other artists and organizations, but also from the communities and audiences they intend to reach. I believe that it is time for us artists to wake up before our art form becomes extinct. Life and art go hand in hand...we must move forward in collaboration.