Something Sharon said at the last meeting prompted me to think about the public's perception of the artist and their role in society. She mentioned how it is the artist’s job to keep pushing that boulder up hill. Her statement was a reference to the Greek myth of Sisyphus. It is generally understood that Sisyphus’ job was to push a boulder uphill only to have it roll back down and begin the uphill push again. This myth is often cited as a tale of persistence and discipline. While it is true that Sisyphus’ role was to push the boulder up hill, much like the artist/musician/writer/performer must do to develop their craft, the similarities end there. Sisyphus, who’s name provides the source for the Sisyphean task, had no choice in his punishment, artists today do. Sisyphus’ boulder pushing was a punishment for all eternity levied upon him for his betrayal of Zeus, and for his life of double dealing. Artists today make a choice to engage in cultural production, rather than being sentenced to an eternity in Hades doing and undoing their work. In recent history the role of the artist has shifted from one of alienation and disenfranchisement from society to one of engagement and social interaction. In his essay “Conversation pieces The role of Dialogue in socially-engaged art” Grant Kester, associate professor of art history at the university of California at San Diego, asks the question:
How do we form collective or communal identities without scapegoating those who are excluded from them. Is it possible to develop cross[disciplinary] dialogue without sacrificing the unique identities of the individual speakers?
His question speaks directly to everyone’s concerns about a large multi use space and it’s possibility of limiting autonomous artistic identities. Additionally I see the issue as one of production versus presentation. If we are working towards creating a multi discipline space, festival, event, or project who would this serve? Are we serving the producers or the consumers of culture? I personally believe that interesting art, music and literature can be produced in any environment. If Olivier Messiaen was able to produce masterworks while a prisoner of war, we can easily produce our art in cramped ill equipped facilities. What we can’t do in limited space is work collaboratively, present to the public, and create an impact on the community. Grant Kester answers his own question by encouraging the audience to think of works of art as a locus for conversation. This can be something to think about as we come together as a group of individuals with shared goals. The “art” we produce collectively can be the conversation we generate, and in turn all our personal artistic production and interests will benefit. As for a concrete model to look to, I was fortunate enough to see one first hand when I lived in san Jose California. In one depressed post-industrial neighborhood a developer built an artists housing community called the art ark. The focus of their project was to provide affordable housing to artists and create a community. The location however was determined by a couple of other factors. One factor was the city of san jose's recently built bestor art park that featured a community garden, playground ,basketball court, and concrete pads for outdoor sculpture. This project helped bring the neighborhood around. Also in this neighborhood was the San Jose state university sculpture studio, and a large warehouse with 30 artist studios, a print center and a karate studio. This area become a hub of artistic production(this text is linked to an article about the neighborhood). The location was several blocks from the central downtown area. In the central downtown area along a street of mixed use facilities the city helped relocate several non-profits engaged in cultural presentation(creating the sofa or south of first street district linked here). Through careful planning and some financial subsidies the city was able to create two arts districts, one for presentation and event based programming on a main street lined with bars and night clubs, and another for production in a slightly off the beaten path part of town. While Charleston is not a city of a million people like san Jose, and we do not have the tax revenues generated from the dot com businesses, we do have an abundance of non-profits and cultural producers here. The possibility of a unified urban plan to integrate the arts into the cities fabric might be one to consider. On a practical note every time i drive past the coppleston’s cleaners building on meeting street i think that it would be the ideal location for something like this plan.
What is this?
This blog will be a resource for recording thoughts, ideas, schemes, and anything else that develops on the way to forming a unified voice and center for the Charleston arts community. Everything presented here is subject to change.
How does this work?
There will be a designated set of authors who will be responsible for posting topics for discussion, to begin with anyone may comment on a discussion topic or suggest a new post but only the authors may post new topics (this is mostly to avoid spamming and over posting). In time this can develop into an online wiki or discussion board style web page of information and ideas, but at the moment a blog is the most direct, immediate and open way to track the development of the ideas being developed. if you have a suggestion or want to post please send email to