Sunday, July 25, 2010

Welcome to Arts Dispatch

Carl Morris panel from the Hall of Religious History, Oregon Centennial, 1959
While Portland Arts Watch is renovated -- you know, floors refinished, Viking range, that sort of thing -- we have removed ourselves to these digs on a little Cascadian lake, where presently vicious little biters are swarming in clouds around our heads.

Fortunately, this little cabin in the woods has comments -- please avail yourself of the opportunity to correct, expand, speculate and exchange views on topics that arise. Most of these topics group around something vague I'm calling "culture." It's vague because we have no idea what's going to take us by the scruff of the neck and demand our attention.

Simone Weil called culture the "formation of attention." That's pretty vague, too, but it does point out the role we must play if we hope to make our culture responsive to our deepest needs (and the need to party is high on that list) and our most profound questions (including, where's the bathroom).  Social media is great at providing a staging area for attention, social attention, and please join me on Twitter and Facebook, if you want.  But sometimes we need to consider these issues in greater depth. Arts Dispatch (and Portland Arts Watch) are designed to do that.  I'll try my hardest here to make sure that the "greater length" does indeed become "greater depth." But you'll be the best judge of that.

Some of you know that I've been working on an idea to form attention around the things that really matter to us in our lives on a larger scale than a blog.  This extension of Portland Arts Watch would gather (and pay for) cultural commentary by the best journalists we can find working in a variety of forms (text, audio, video, live forums and panels, etc.). We would make that work available to existing media (radio, TV, print, websites, etc.), and our "community of desire," the people who love the arts primarily, would help fund that work through memberships in the organization. Their memberships would enable them to receive advance information on upcoming concerts and exhibitions, ticket discounts and invitations to special events.

That's more complicated than it sounds, as I've discovered the past few. But some progress has occurred. And as it all develops, I'll keep you posted, good news and bad.

Why am I still concerned with this stuff, when our politics and economy have deteriorated and become deformed almost beyond recognition. Well, I addressed this in a Portland Arts Watch post. Here it is:

We'll be talking about Portland culture here, mostly the arts end of Portland culture, though we may digress from time to time. Yes, yes, we WILL digress from time to time. Because the arts are permanently entangled within life itself, life in all its degrees and stations. The arts have special things to offer the culture in general -- a model for the finest execution of our daily tasks and momentary respite from those tasks, a space to  consider the deepest problems we face as individual humans and societies, a place to wonder and laugh and celebrate together.

Deep down, I think the arts are central to the repair, renovation and re-creation of our life together along the lower Columbia and Willamette rivers. They aren't a decoration or a sidelight. They give us an ongoing description of ourselves. They suggest solutions. They grieve and roar in pain and anger. They know when things aren't fair, and they speak out. At least at their best, they do. And then they encourage us to think and feel along with them. This sense of social cohesion, a sense of the whole, this common sense, is mostly missing from our national lives, and it has made democracy almost impossible to conduct. I believe that Portland (and I have the widest possible definition of "Portland") has a chance to generate that common sense, unlike almost any other large American city I know, a common sense that is complicated and practical and adaptive. And if we are going to succeed in this, it will be because the arts have helped us create it.

Most arguments for support of the arts I find either tangential or tepid. I don't think we can have a functioning democracy without arts to feed and nourish us.  I don't think we can have a vigorous economy without arts to inspire and model our creative response to the world. I don't think we can have healthy individuals without the insight and space for insight that the arts provide. Sure, there are direct economic benefits to art activity. And sure, we benefit inherently from living in an environment that is more "aesthetic" than less. But what's at stake in this is more crucial than these byproducts of a healthy shared culture. 

The arts remind us that we are in this together. That we aren't alone in our particular thoughts and feelings. That things can be made right and whole, if just for a moment.  They remind us that the individual can do great things. And somehow, they resolve the great tension of American life, that between the rightful autonomy of the individual and the responsibilities that come with belonging to a group. Honestly, I can't imagine a good outcome to our dire problems -- as a community, a nation, a planet -- without the complex lessons the arts teach us.

That's a good subject for a blog. For many blogs, in fact, and there many fine ones out there. So think of Portland Arts Watch as just another blog on the fire around which we gather to talk over the very most important things we can imagine. It will be fun.

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