It’s been nearly a year since I’ve posted anything on The Chronicle of Artistic Failure in America. You may be wondering a few things. First, why have I been away so long, especially after chronicling with singular obsession the ongoing failure of art in this country for nearly two long years. Also, more importantly, why am I suddenly back and posting again now after such a long hiatus? What gives?
Well, in answer to the first question: It’s complicated. I stepped away from CAFA in the summer of 2009 for several reasons. The biggest was simple burn-out. I had simply grown tired of covering, week after week, month after month, the ongoing failure of our citizens to support the arts and what that failure was engendering for the country and its future. I was depressed and cynical and growing full of repressed anger and resentment of humankind — something that is not part of my usual nature. Also, I should add, at the time — in August, 2009 — my wife and I were planning the biggest creative step our lives: We were expecting our first child, and I did not intend to step into that experience with a pocketful of bad feelings. So for my own well-being, and for the well-being of my daughter-to-be, I stepped back and stopped following the madness that is the struggle to make and support art in America. I turned my back on it, and I don’t regret that.
As to the second question — Why revive CAFA now? — well, that’s simple. Because, for the first time in a few years — indeed, for the first time since I started this thing — I feel hopeful again. About art, about my life, about our prospects for the future. I am full of hope.
Why? I don’t know exactly. It’s not like there are many tangible signs of success out in the arts landscape (nor, for that matter, in my current professional life). Arts organizations and nonprofits continue to suffer in Minnesota and elsewhere. Arts organizations, in clear view of the increasingly ambivalent moneyed class, continue to struggle. Groups are being kicked out — both nationally and locally — of their locations and forced to scramble for alternative digs. Meanwhile, the art market continues to be in the tank. And, of course, individual artists, who almost always exist in a state of struggle, are feeling the recession particularly acutely. Plus, there are my own circumstances: Wherein, after twelve productive years in the arts writing biz, suddenly pretty much all freelance writing gigs have all but dried up; and, to put icing on the cake, this past spring I was laid off (for the first time ever) from my day job at a local nonprofit.
Still, despite all this I’m hopeful because — as I pointed out in another venue in 2008 — the arts and artists often stand at the front gate of innovation and recovery. Indeed, as the New York Times reports today, this is exactly what’s happening in one of America’s Ground Zero locations for artistic and economic failure. In an article titled “Wringing Art Out of the Rubble in Detroit,” Melena Ryzik reports that the failed urban landscape of Detroit, dotted with abandoned buildings and decimated neighborhoods, blighted with its own “particular brand of civic and economic decay” has also drawn something unexpected: “a small but well-publicized movement of artists and other creative types trying to wring something out of the rubble.” She sites the upcoming appearances in Detroit of Maker Faire, of the brainstorming conference TEDx, of the performance artist Matthew Barney — fitting for a place that is suddenly home to a “slew of handmade salvagers” and a growing D.I.Y. culture. Among the Detroit-based projects that the article lists are: Loveland, a “micro real estate” enterprise that sells parcels of Detroit by the square inch for $1 a piece; the Heidelberg Project, which turns houses into found-object sculptures; Mitch and Gina, who buy up houses for art and gardens; and more. Go and check out the article — it’s an object-lesson in what creative thinking can accomplish.
In the end, I figure, if Detroit can lift its weary, embattled head once again, so can the arts. So can you. And so can I.