Filed under: art, class, Visual Art | Tags: art, cultural accessibility, Cultural Institutions, democracy, ID NYC, Museums
I’ve lived in New York City for over a decade and a half. This year, I’ve probably gone to more museums and cultural institutions than I did in all the previous years put together. This is due to the new ID NYC, a program originally conceived to assist undocumented immigrants but that is now making a difference in the lives of all kinds of New Yorkers.
The ID NYC allows for memberships to over 3 dozen cultural institutions across the city. It means for me, that dozens of places that were formerly cost prohibitive are now completely available. I feel like I’m participating in the culture of the city I live in in a way I never have before. The doors are open.
I have experienced this kind of availability in London – where so many of the pubic institutions are truly public and charge no admission fees. This kind of openness creates an engaged literate population. Why has it taken so long for NYC to open its doors this way? I can’t imagine that any of these institutions were thrilled about offering free memberships – but a lot of them operate at the city’s pleasure and the city must be making it worth their while somehow. It’s a hugely important step toward making art be for more than just the privileged few. I hadn’t been to the Guggenheim in probably a decade. The Museum of the Moving Image, maybe 2 decades. And I care about the things they have in their buildings. I just couldn’t shell out $25 a pop to see that stuff. With the doors suddenly open, I can engage.
We talk about accessibility a lot. In so many of the grants I write, the foundations or governments or whomever’s doing the funding, want to know how we make our work accessible. The burden of accessibility seems, in the past, to have fallen primarily an individual artists or companies, while institutions, just by virtue of existing seem to been able to claim accessibility because of various education programs or community events. But those are just gestures. ID NYC has flung open the doors to so many places and I’m very excited about what that will mean for the art that’s going to come. Maybe, finally, we can have a real diversity of audience – of income, of race, of culture. Accessible and exciting.
One of the most amazing things about suddenly having access to museums is my new ability to just run in for a short time. I was early for an appointment and I was near the Met – so I just ran in for half an hour – I got a dose of the Egyptians and ran back out. It was actually a perfect way to experience the museum. When you’re paying, there’s a need to somehow make it worth your while. You don’t want to pay $20 to just dash in and look at one thing. And then in trying to get my money’s worth, I end up over-stimulating myself and I forget more than I remember.
Previously, the policy at some museums where the “Suggested Donation” meant you could pay them whatever you wanted didn’t actually make the work accessible. The shaming effect of just paying a dollar is probably hard on everyone but for people who are actually poor, it can be prohibitive as there is already considerable stigma for poverty. No one wants an appraising look from a museum clerk to add to the bad feeling. So to be able to run in for free, with no status drop required, for as long or as short as you want – it’s a total game changer. For me, it will surely make a difference in my creative work to be able to dash in and get a dose of inspiration when I have a spare half hour.
Culture should be like this. We should be able to access it whomever we are or however much money we have or don’t have. This stuff is important.
I’m inspired, too, by Italy’s decision to invest half of their terrorism prevention dollars in culture. I think it’s very smart. Because the more culturally engaged we are, the less likely we are to want to murder people.
Being able to freely see things like Ancient Egyptian papyri and beautiful paintings can save lives! But also…it just makes for a richer arts environment and that makes for better art, in the end.
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Filed under: Gender politics, theatre | Tags: democracy, gender equality, Greek, Orestes, patriarchy, sexism, Western Theatre
Visiting Greece inspired me profoundly. I was struck by the landscape, the stories, the history of the theatre. In a previous blog, I wrote about my sudden understanding of how intertwined Democracy and Theatre were. I was deeply moved to think of how important theatre was to the Ancients. I was also struck by the fact that women were included in the Ancient theatre audiences – even if they weren’t on stage. Apparently, they were expected to attend. It was all very exciting to imagine.
The same evening I learned about the history of theatre and democracy, I got to see a production of Orestes in the Theatre at Epidaurus. It was an interesting production that I was glad I saw. AND I couldn’t help but notice how chock full of misogyny it was. This made me remember how full of misogyny almost ALL the Greek plays were which made me think that maybe, just maybe, that’s what all those plays were for.
In a way, it feels like the ancient plays exist to tell women to shut up and not worry their pretty little heads about the choices men make. I was particularly struck by a passage from Orestes in which he was pleading for his life and argued that if the crowd listened to Menelaus they were all going to be forced to listen to their wives from now on and did they want THAT? Oh no.
I mean, Greek democracy has been the model for many a civilization. It emphasized everyone participating in civic questions – rich, poor and in between. It was, by all accounts, a vibrant, lively, civic experience. For men. Because women were not a part of this democracy and all kinds of decisions about war and whether or not their sons and lovers and families were going were made without their voices.
The production I saw at Epidaurus featured translated modern English surtitles. The titles used the word “bitch” with startling regularity and the effect served to really bring out how often women are disparaged in the play. The fact that there ARE women in these ancient plays is interesting (especially since they were played by men) but in so many ways it feels like they are there to be put under control. Every single woman in Orestes is threatened with death and/or rape and even the woman who is already dead at the top of the play is posthumously denigrated. I’m sure there are translations of various plays that feel less threatening. But I wonder if our modern translations soften the misogyny a bit to make them more palatable for us.
I am deeply inspired by the past. I think there are a great many things worth returning to our roots for: the democracy of the first theatres for example. But I think Western Theatre may have some misogyny built right in to our history. It’s Baked In. Like an ingredient in a pie, it is so ingrained we don’t see it and it has traveled through so many generations – the theatre just naturally reinforces the patriarchy. This would explain why theatre has been so far behind in achieving gender equality. Perhaps it began for the opposite reason.
But. I am a Theatre Maker. And if theatre began as a tool for the patriarchy, I still think we could use it to end it. If once theatre aimed to control women – now, perhaps, we can use it to liberate us. But with our eyes open.
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