But first, WHY?

Becca Balmes
November 19, 2016
Brooklyn, NY

It’s late and raining, and I’ve spent the last 12 hours listening to and thinking and talking about utopian responses to intransigent social problems. I was at the first day of the Alternative Art Schools Fair at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, NY, where representatives from 50+ very different art (or “art”) schools, small presses, programs, spaces and more from around the world have come together to discuss and advertise their answers to the problems they’re observing in their subsection of the artistic community. It’s a lot to take in.

Imagine each of the flags in this photo as countries, because their ideologies, approaches, and institutional cultures are all as different as that. (Also, lots of them come from different countries.)

Imagine each of the flags in this photo as countries, because their ideologies, approaches, and institutional cultures are all as different as that. (Also, lots of them come from different countries.)

I don’t think I can make a strong case for anything right now, or lay out a cohesive essay on one particular aspect. I can’t tie it all together, and I don’t plan to give myself a hard time about that.

What I’m going to do instead, is bring out one or two things at a time from my notes. I’ll share it with you, with my thoughts. Feel free to comment, and let’s have a discussion. When I’m ready, I’ll pull together a longer form blog post and probably call a Guild meeting to discuss what Dani (Danielle Grisamore of Lost Keys Literary Festival) and I are bringing back (literally and figuratively) from this trip.

This is what my thoughts feel like right now - isolated in clumps of one or two or three, vulnerable in this period of rapid early growth yet I know exactly what progression to expect and have a plan for them once they become a little taller.

This is what my thoughts feel like right now - isolated in clumps of one or two or three, vulnerable in this period of rapid early growth yet I know exactly what progression to expect and have a plan for them once they become a little taller.

First, "WHY?"

What does an arts career look like – not arts jobs or art sales, but a sustained existence as a working artist – in Macon? This is the core question for my life over the past 2 years and for the foreseeable future, and it’s an important thing to ask and answer.

But the question drumming in my head tonight is not a what, but a WHY: “Why is it important that there are art careers in Macon, GA?”

This question was asked of me in a provocative way today by another audience member at a panel. It’s such a huge question that I struggled to be cohesive in my thoughts, and before I could answer my colleague and friend Dani answered angrily, possessively first. She talked about children with no arts education or creative outlet, about the pride and prejudice of Southerners and the need to give artists the tools to force their South to change for the better. I talked about racial divisions and disenfranchised groups with no real access to any official channels, about lack of education options, about building true communities amongst artists and addressing social change by just creating together.

But there was so much I wish I’d said, so much I wish I hadn’t, and I want to keep asking this why. It’s more offensive and audacious than how, and I think I really need that, like an irritating piece of sand making a pearl.