In this season of conventions, a group of people who make their marks creating unconventional spaces for artists kicked off a three-day gathering here last night with a dance interpretation of David Stockman's budget cuts and finished off with a video party.
Washington Project for the Arts director Al Nodal will act as dean to about 200 artists and arts administrators from alternative arts spaces all over the country who are meeting at the WPA on Seventh Street NW for the third national New Artspaces III Conference, which gets under way today. The goal this year is to try organizing groups such as the WPA into a formal network concerned with exhibiting new art and artists.
Talk of taxes and budgets was also on stage as Liz Lerman and the Dance Exchange Performance Company staged her "Docudance 1980, 1982," one of several pieces last night attended by about 125 just-arrived conference participants. In this piece, which is dancing and acting, there are quotes from the Atlantic Monthly article on David Stockman, and dancer Jessica Rea does a fine portrayal of the budget director with a pair of scissors soberly proclaiming, "Cut, slash, trim, divided, diminished, pared . . . " It was well-received.
So was a setup where the dancers act as stagehands--but not at the wages that Kennedy Center stagehands make, Lerman told the audience as the dancers/stagehands changed scenery during the performance. "If they did," she said, "you would find the cost of this three-minute scene change more than our entire budget for tonight's performance." Much laughter here from budget-conscious artists.
"I'm working on a defense budget solo," said Lerman after the performance. "The material is very, very rich."
The attire last night was mostly laid-back artsy--jeans, Hawaiian shirts, mauve tights--but the getting-to-know-you talk in the steamy evening heat outside the WPA was all business: arts group dues, organizing, the expense of working in Soho, comparing notes on performances at different spaces. It could have been a caucus of the development directors of major museums.
"All those other institutions--museums, colleges--have organizations like this," said Jim Pomeroy, a San Francisco performance artist and teacher of sculpture, wearing a hot-pink shirt with the words "Sierra Pacific Power Company" on the back and "Tom" above the front pocket. "As money gets tighter, you have to get organized, otherwise you get represented out of the other organizations."
Organizing will take some work, for they do not all agree on how it should be done. "Some people don't think it's necessary," said Nodal. "Some feel it will diffuse funding. But there are more questions than dissension."
"This group is beginning to recognize themselves as a major force in contemporary art," said Robert McGingley from a Seattle group called On the Boards. "Survival is difficult. We want to formalize ourselves into some kind of coalition that has some political force."
McGingley spent his time yesterday the way any savvy professional with a political sense who comes to town would--he lobbied Congress. "Our state arts organizations pay more state excise taxes than is allocated to the state arts commission. We pay $3 million in taxes. The state arts commission gets $1.2 million."