Art Works Blog

"Hey kids, let's put on a show!"

Tucson, Arizona

by Roberto Bedoya, Executive Director, Tucson Pima Arts Council

Flam Chen, a circus and fire theater ensemble that produces the annual All Souls Procession, which draws about 30,000 to the annual downtown event. Photo courtesy of Tucson Pima Arts Council

I was recently asked to submit a response to the Chairman’s post #SupplyDemand, and the above quote immediately came to mind. That catchphrase associated with the Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland 1940’s movie musicals resonates in part because of the chemistry between Mickey and Judy. This makes me wonder about the chemistry between Supply and Demand. Is it one of animosity, antagonism, song and dance, a marriage made in heaven or hell? And then there is the will to create---“to put on a show”---and how efforts to control that will, and all that it supplies, is often an exercise in frustration.

As the director of the Tucson Pima Arts Council, a local arts agency, I’ve read Rocco's remarks with agreement and disagreements, given my position and geographic location: a midsize American city outside so much of the cultural policy framing and analysis coming out of the big cities on the coasts, which are weak and irritating. I appreciate the lively debate about the “mismatch” that exists between the supply and demand for non-profit organizations that the Chairman has prompted, along with the commentary about participation, audiences, grantmaking policies and market demands as well as the interconnectedness and interdependence of these elements within the cultural sector. Yet, my concerns lie outside these debates.

My concerns are primarily about the demand for equity, fairness, civility, cross-cultural understanding, the sublime, and well-being that I encounter in the community I serve. The relationship between market demands for products and civic demands for belonging is a complicated entanglement that is tied to the mambo between the good and the goods tethered, as well as to one’s understanding of economy and economic life. Is one’s understanding of economic life that of the management of the society’s well being---the family, the land, the resources of a community with a view to its productivity and maintaining the use value of these resources for the long-run? Or is economic life about the manipulation of property and wealth so as to maximize short-term monetary gain through the mechanisms of speculation and debt, through acts of money begetting money? Where is the non-profit arts sector in this set-up? Which understanding of economic life shapes the arts infrastructure and our pluralistic society?

The shooting on January 8th of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the death of a federal judge along with four others, and the wounding of 13 others shocked our city and prompted a great deal of reflection on civil society. The recent passage by the Arizona Legislature of Senate Bill 1070, the anti-immigration law, and House Bill 2281, the ban on ethnic studies in Arizona high schools, has had chilling effects upon community expressions, engendering an atmosphere of intolerance toward cultural and political differences. These laws reflect the animosity toward difference that is being stirred in Arizona that risks undermining our diverse civic landscape by prompting intolerance, incivility, and cultural misunderstanding.

Against this background is the demand for an inclusive democracy and a civic framework for our freedoms, rights, and the common good. This call creates a demand that we use our imaginations, the poetic will to create, to envision our lives together morphing the “let’s put on a show” impulse into “let’s engage.” It is a demand I pay attention to, work to support, and ask the field to reflect upon.

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