Sunday, August 17, 2014

Is Organizing Artists Something Akin to Herding Cats?

I remember the first time I saw a ghost town. In second grade my grandparents took me across the country by train to see my aunt, uncle and cousins in Nevada. I got out of school for three weeks and it made memories for a lifetime.

As the railroad wove its way along the side of a mountain, grandma pointed down into the deep gulch below and said, "Look, Eddie. It's a ghost town."

I'd seen enough Westerns on television to know what a ghost town was. This one was essentially a settlement of abandoned houses. It didn't have a saloon or main street or any kind of town feel. But whoever these settlers were, they had evidently built these wooden shack homes in close proximity like this for some purpose. Perhaps there had been a mine down in there. Or maybe it had been for safety. A little community had sprung up, but now lay abandoned... and for a very long time. The Old West is littered with such forgotten communities.

When America Online came along, I began to notice a similar phenomenon. Little communities would form around common interests. It might be writing, or philosophy, or whatever. People were excited to be finding new friends with mutual passions. But the community required very little commitment, and you didn't need to build a house to reside there. You just participated.

I was part of a writers group, and later part of a large community of creative people with 60's connections, including one member of the band Strawberry Alarm Clock, the psychedelic rock band who produced the 1967 pop hit "Incense and Peppermints."

Once the World Wide Web came along in 1994, many of these groups migrated to the brave new cyberworld of web pages, leaving their usergroups behind.

But the urge to form communities is a strong one, and before long there was every kind of group once more, only in a new setting. Writers, poets, artists, philosophers, stock market speculators and gamblers, all reaching out, forming online villages, or in some cases entire online worlds. But like the ghost towns of the Old West, things change and all that's left are remnants of evidence that something had once been there that is no more.

I have been in a number of such groups these past two decades, at AOL, through Ning, and in other circles. I watch and listen and make an effort to contribute something of value, and share my art... but the communities seem to devolve as quickly as they emerged. And it happens so very fast.

For some reason theater groups have a different kind of life span than some of the artist networks I've seen. Maybe it's because performing theater is already by default something you do with other people. And by nature it is usually rooted in the real world with people who are already embedded in a larger community.  (I'll throw in a plug here for some folks doing community theater in Superior. The first really big show, Sealed For Freshness, will be opening September 4.)

Where I'm gingerly attempting to go here is to ask if Twin Ports Arts Align will become another online ghost town. Twin Ports Arts Align is a bi-product of our social media phenomenon. I've found it exceedingly useful as a tool for sharing some of what I have seen happening in the local arts community. Much of what is happening has been missed by the media. And a lot of it is even missed by TPAA. (In point of fact, there are some very strong, connected groups of artists here and there, especially in the ceramics underground.)

My experience with another group I was part of for seven years is that choosing to contribute, rather than just lurking, everyone is enriched and the giver doubly-so.

So I for one hope this network of Twin Ports arts enthusiasts continues to thrive. Few of us like being herded or corralled, but when there is real value in a community and real needs are being met, others will want to be a part of it... and we're all enriched.

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