Last week I was talking about some of the obstacles we faced as publishers of Listen & Be Heard Weekly in print, and our eventual decision to publish exclusively on-line. I mentioned also, that during the time we were printing thousands of copies of the newspaper each week, my husband Tony and I opened Listen & Be Heard Poetry Cafe in downtown Vallejo. A couple months ago, a little more than three years after we opened, we made the decision to close the cafe and move on. There were several different forces at work that led us to make the decision to close our physical doors. The recent declaration of bankruptcy by the City of Vallejo was one factor. The planned development of the downtown that never happened was another factor. I do believe that our personal decision not to get into the alcohol business was a factor as well. But, with the closing of our physical doors will come the opening of virtual doors. It’s part of the plan, (that I mentioned at the end of my letter last week,) to work on strengthening an international network of independent creators.
I know that I am unique. The combination of myself and my husband is a unique partnership. But we also have a lot in common with creators around the world. We struggle, wherever we are, for something which in the simplest terms is called Freedom. What is freedom in The Arts?
On a local level, struggling for Freedom can translate into something like this:
- ‘How can I create and present my work and participate in my local arts community?’
- ‘How can I manifest projects even when the local arts community excludes me because what I do doesn’t fit their definition of The Arts?’
- ‘I am now middle aged or older; my motivation to create is not to get rich. It is important to me to pass my knowledge of my craft on to the next generation, and to help create and preserve ways and means to creative freedom.’
- ‘How can I make a living doing this?’
For me, a weekly poetry open mic (whether in an established venue, or our own cafe) has been the answer for about fifteen years, to all of the above except the last one. Each open mic event is like planting an invisible seed that takes root in unforeseen places, and inevitably transforms into new projects and relationships. But in American culture, income is tied to respect, and many artists find themselves marginalized by a lack of respect. “The Arts” continually ask for funds which amount to charity and implicitly put us all in our place on the totem pole, with the rest of the hired help. Personally, I’d rather be cooking in the kitchen than whining and dining; the reality in the end is that we eat what we have available to us. So who is really in the position of power, the gardener, the cook, or the man who hires the cook because he doesn’t know how or doesn’t have time to cook? What if the gardener and the cook formed a partnership that would help them to fulfill their common goals? In the last few years Listen & Be Heard worked on a local level to create a local network. What I’ve learned is that we have to cast the net much wider, because there is practically no way these days to maintain an existence on the local level because of all the national and international forces at work.
On the National level, struggling for Freedom can translate into something like this:
- ‘How can I break into the book, film, music, art industry enough to even get a reply from someone, anyone, or manage to survive without waiting for my so called success?’
- ‘How can I break into the book, film, music, art industry and own what I create?’
- ‘How can I get some attention from the Press?’
- ‘Why are there only a handful of musicians, authors, actors to listen to, watch, read each year, instead of thousands?’
There are no easy answers to any of the above. The answers are directly related to Freedom, freedom of choice, freedom to think for yourself, freedom to become knowledgeable. In a time when there is precious little freedom in television, even less in radio and newspapers, when more cookbooks get published than novels and poetry, we can accept that this is just the way things are, or we can act on our instinct for Freedom. What I do know is that we are struggling on a multi-national level to be free where we are (back to the local.) The explosion of the use of the internet is driven in part by the freedom to make personal connections that it offers. The creation of a network of Web publications, radio stations, galleries, gatherings, groups in the name of Freedom of Creation can be a powerful source to turn to for Freedom of Choice.
If you look at the Listen & Be Heard Network banner at the top of this page you see a grouping of connections between various projects that I have had a hand in creating, the cradle of a concept. In the coming months I will be working to communicate with groups and organizations which I already know about to create a larger network that should serve us all by creating alternative avenues for Freedom of Creation. From California to Chicago to New York to London, Paris, Berlin, Thailand and Jamaica where Listen & Be Heard has already made very real connections in the past, we can stand up and say together that we have the Freedom to Create our own Network; we have the Freedom to Be Inclusive; we have the Freedom to Know about Each Other; we have the freedom to Own our Creations.
Thank you for reading this far. Please do contribute your thoughts in the comment box below.
Wishing you Peace and Poetry