Sean and Ben work it out on line

I’m working with a smart young man named  Sean Hughes to create the White Pines Happenings. Check out out our on-going dialogue, and join the conversation! Here’s the latest chapter, originally posted here. 


So Sean, here are my nightmares:

1. We throw a party and no one comes. None of this is novel anymore is it? I mean when Cage, Warhol and Rauschenberg were blowing people’s minds in the 60s it was in large part because no one had ever seen anything like it before. But now? Aren’t we saturated with cross-disciplinary groups, collisions of genre, art parties with multi-group participation? The paradox is we are resurrecting something that was new once in the hopes of making it new again. What are we adding to the happening concept that is the “hook”? What makes it anything different than a cool art-party fundraiser for some groups and artists we all like?

2. Here we go, playing to the choir again. Over and over I am struck by how much of the audience at these downtown events by small companies are made up of . . . us. In some ways I think: great! Look at us turning out for each other and supporting each other. But then I think, who are we doing this for? I want my art to be seen by people who have no idea what I’m doing, and be able to reach across the barriers of popular culture and touch them: the school teacher, the janitor and his wife, the shop owner, the data analyst, and the information systems consultant. You know – regular people. The creative revolution I believe in has to do those people. My beloved artsy friends are already in the trenches alongside me. How do we reach regular people with the happenings?

3. We think of ourselves as the solution, but maybe we are part of the problem. A hot debate has sprung up recently about the notions of urban “vibrancy” and the “creative class”. I like to think of myself as squarely in the midst of these movements, in which hip artsy people like us “save” cities by drawing capital and investment into formally under served areas. But maybe all we’re really doing is displacing the people who used to live in those areas, and who won’t be able to afford the higher rents our coolness initiates. Maybe we are playing into a nefarious corporate plot, supported by deluded municipalities and funders, who populate cities with a (mostly white) cheap, childless and educated workforce willing to be highly productive for less compensation ’cause, you know, we’re all just starting out. It is the “continuing revelation” aspect of the happenings that attract me the most – that we are producing an event which entertains, delights, provokes and effects change. I want to make something with you and the groups we enlist which leave a lasting taste in the participants’ mouths: a taste of what it might be if artists and creativity could actually save the world (the title of the manifesto we say we want to create at the happening).

See Kotkin vs. Florida in The Daily Beast

See Thomas Frank in The Baffler

So here is my semi-devil’s advocate question: why bother making a big ol’ happening when it doesn’t really effect change, we’re preaching to the choir, and no one will come anyway?