Thursday, September 9, 2010

Got the Grant! Didn't get to Speak!

Got the call from the Goddard Got Art people yesterday: I'm among the five recipients of a $1,000 grant to use my art to help elect Terry Goddard.

The inspiration for starting this oral serialization project was moral outrage over SB 1070, and now I get to use my art to help get Jan Brewer the hell outta office. How perfect is this collaboration? I'm totally stoked.

So yesterday I show up at the council chambers with my novel excerpt and my excitement, ready to jump back in after my summer hiatus, read the next excerpt, and make my elect-Goddard statement.

Agenda Item Number Six: Call to the Audience. A guy from the Teamsters speaks, then a woman from Access Tucson, and then another, and another, and before long it becomes clear that the mayor is not going to call my name.

I've been expecting this to happen. Sometimes the place is just full of people with something to say.

There were other things going on. Like budget cuts. In these moments--when the council chambers are packed with citizens with an opinion to voice about their bus service or their public access television--I question my project. Who am I to take three minutes of participatory democracy from a person whose story isn't even close to fictional?

But then: a rant from a guy who sounds like your grandfather on Thanksgiving after a several shots of Irish whisky. Stop spending so damn much money! Thanks, Grandpa, for your nuanced and insightful perspective on how to deal with the city's $51 million budget shortfall. Artistic/moral crisis averted: I now feel fully entitled to my three minutes.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

An Open Grant Proposal

Today I applied for a grant. In my life as an artist and activist and nonprofit administrator and fundraising consultant, I've applied for about four thousand grants. But never have I made my application public. I'm just so damn excited about this one, and whether or not I'm one of the five winners, I think the Goddard's Got Art project is brilliant. Creative thinking in politics: bravo.


TUCSON—The political committee, Goddard’s Got Art!, has been launched in Tucson this week to engage the arts community and the community as a whole to elect Terry Goddard the next Governor of Arizona.  The independent expenditure committee has created a competitive $5000 fund for the creation and production of new works of art by Arizona artists. The works are to be commissioned and will be premiered at an event in Tucson, AZ in October 2010.  Five artists will be granted $1,000 each for a political work of art that celebrates, motivates and excites the electorate with the purpose of electing Terry Goddard to the office of Governor of Arizona. 

Tucson, the Novel: 
An Experiment in Literature and Civil Discourse
A proposal to the Goddard's Got Art Committee
Shannon Cain, September 1, 2010
The vision.
It began with SB 1070. I thought, goddammit, for three years I’ve been writing a novel about this place, a novel that ultimately presents a vision for the kind of Arizona city, the kind of American city I’d like to live in, a place where the arts are valued, the environment is protected, civil rights are defended and the relationship between social justice and economic prosperity is understood. And then here comes SB 1070, as if to assert that my vision isn’t possible for this state. And indeed if it isn’t possible for Arizona than it isn't possible for America.

Artistically, this was a bummer. Morally it was an outrage. I sat at my desk, gazing across my balcony at the State of Arizona Building, whose wavy brick and mirrored glass began to exude a certain funhouse effect. This sort of shit ignites the literary activist in me. I sat there, looking out over the city I’ve been writing about. All this business about denying civil rights, all this business about banning ethnic studies? That’s not the city I know, not the city I’ve lived in for 30 years, not the city where I’ve raised my child and worked a hundred different jobs and grew up and got married and divorced and married and divorced again and drove the boulevards and hiked the canyons and experienced joy and betrayal and hope and fury and love. I know this place, and all that racist fearmongering is not who we are. Maybe that’s Arizona, but it’s not Tucson.

So I’ll just share my vision, I decided. I’ll read my novel to the city. My readings will spark conversations about civil rights, and democracy, and land use and water and immigration, all the concerns at work in the story. I’ll do it in a venue that doesn’t cost anything, and that reaches decisionmakers, and that has a huge audience. Like, thirty thousand people a week. I’ll give it an X-treme element, the kind of thing that calls attention to itself for its ridiculous height, or weight, or duration. An act of literary flagpole-sitting.

The project.
A novel-in-progress called Tucson, serialized as three-minute oral testimonies to the Tucson City Council. Readings at Call to the Audience every Tuesday for roughly six years or until the manuscript is published, whichever comes first. A companion blog for audience participation and civil discourse.

How the project will encourage the electorate to vote for Terry Goddard.
1.     During my three-minute literary presentation at Call to the Audience at the nine Regular City Council meetings between September 8 and Election Day 2010, I will speak for 20 seconds on the importance of electing Terry Goddard as Governor of Arizona. The content of these messages—which could change from week to week—will be developed in collaboration with the Goddard's Got Art committee.
(Mayor and Council meetings are televised on Channel 12. According to the folks on staff, the station reaches 200,000 households in Tucson, unincorporated Pima County, Green Valley, Marana, Oro Valley and Sahuarita, on both Cox and Comcast. The most recent breakdown figures they had were from 2007, but at that time the mayor and council meetings had 30,000 viewers per week.)

2.     Each week, my blog entry will include the Goddard for Governor message as well as a graphic that links to the campaign website.

3.     I will announce new blog entries on Facebook (651 friends) and will finally get my Twitter act together.

4.     I will be available for any public events the Committee is planning. This might include reading particularly appropriate excerpts from the novel, speaking about the arts and social change, and/or leading socially-inspired creative writing exercises or workshops.

5.     In addition to my own twice-weekly blog posts, I will invite guest bloggers and/or interview members of the Goddard's Got Art committee, and will welcome other creative ideas the committee might have.

I should acknowledge that this project revolves around an existing novel manuscript that the committee might not consider a “new work of art.” Yet as a work-in-progress, the novel is in a continual state of renewal and change. New writing will occur based on the experience of performing this serialization. New blog entries will be written as well. And the reading component of the project offers, each week, a new performance.

The budget.
Aside from some video editing software I’d like to buy so I can embed video of my weekly three minutes on the blog instead of naively linking viewers to the Channel 12 website and directing them to “forward to 14:45,” the only project expenses are for basic living. Rent, for example: 720 bucks a month at [an undisclosed location]. One bedroom, 7th floor, southfacing. Killer view of downtown and the monsoon thunderheads. At night the freeway is an electric river humming past my window. The project will require about 15 percent of my time for 9 weeks, so $972, prorated. Also groceries: dark chocolate covered edamames from Trader Joe’s ($1.99) and meals, specifically the Cast Iron Baked Eggs from The Cup CafĂ©—with cubed ham, leeks and gruyere cheese baked in fresh cream with fine herbs—(a couple of Sunday brunches at $9 each, plus tip & tax: $24). Add that video editing software ($50, more or less), and the total comes to $1,047.99. But I’ll round it down to an even grand.

There are no safety concerns, no space or insurance needs. The beauty of this project lies in its simplicity, and in its use of existing infrastructure and systems. 

Some civil discourse questions to be explored on the blog.
·      What is the relationship between art and politics? Art and commerce? Art and economic development?
·      How does my acceptance of sponsorship money from the Goddard's Got Art committee effect the perception of this project?
·      How would that perception change if the sponsor were a local business instead of a politician?
·      How does the acceptance of sponsorship money effect the novel itself? How slippery is this slope? (What’s next, product placement?)

The politics of this art.
The novel’s subject matter is controversial. It calls into question the status quo. I figure I might as well make this clear upfront, and also say that sponsorship of a work of art does not equal the condoning of its content. When City Council Member Regina Romero made me Artist in Residence for Ward I, she did not ask to read my manuscript in advance, nor did I offer it.

Still, I would be happy (and frankly relieved) to work with the Got Art committee on a disclaimer that makes this clear. In addition to the disclaimer, maybe the statement could say something about the role of the artist in a civil society. And something else on the direct correlation between the arts and a healthy economy. Some stuff about a measure of the health of a community being the vibrancy of its art and literature. Maybe a few words about the reliance of a functioning democracy upon an electorate that values independent ideas.