Art Works Blog

Same As It Ever Was

Seattle, Washington

Typebars by Molly Ali via Flickr

When the NEA asked me to contribute to the #SupplyDemand dialogue, I did a little research that uncovered a certain editorial from an edition of the Clayton High School Globe in St. Louis, Missouri, dated January 31, 1963. Here’s a short excerpt:

"Enough is Enough"
By Rocco Landesman, class of '65

Last week in Ms. Barksdale’s homeroom, we had a spirited debate, the crux of which I am pleased to share with you now. (full disclosure: I am a proud member of the Equestrian, Baseball and Swing & Salsa Dance clubs and also sit on the Principal’s Advisory Council)

Ms. Barksdale led a conversation among the class about the intersection of our school curriculum and our extra-curricular, after-school clubs. We talked about the original impulse behind the after-school club movement in this country, the increasing role of teachers in shaping club agendas, and the too limited definition of success in use by many clubs today (attendance + # of attractive classmates + getting laid).

Another topic arose, one that is central to all of us who care about our clubs: the mismatch that currently exists in supply and demand for after-school clubs at high schools around our country.

At that time, I cited Mr. Wilson Jenkins, Clayton High's security guard, who recently reported a five percent decrease in club attendance at our school and a five percent increase in attendance behind the Woolco across the street at the same time of day.  This is juxtaposed against a 23% increase in the number of clubs offered at Clayton, and a rate of growth for clubs that is 60% greater than all of the cornflakes in my morning bowl of cereal.

When I released these results at a meeting of more than 3 of my classmates by the second floor bathroom outside of Mr. Lombardi's lab, I said that anyone who hears these numbers has to ask about balancing the equation, which means either increasing demand---perhaps by inviting Tiffany Tidwell or that minx Martha Fulbright to attend more clubs---or, yes, maybe decreasing supply.

I have made this same observation to a number of my classmates but it wasn't until the gang outside of Mr. Lombardi's room heard the argument that things really took off. Stephen Penrod immediately began to whimper like a baby while running up and down the hallway, asking over and over again,"What is my mission? What is my mission, dammit?" Kevin Patnick mooned the cheerleaders and yelled, “Is this relevant?" and Ricky Walker pretended to be a zombie and mumbled, “I want ac-cess...I want to en-gage!"

After much confusion and mayhem, I decided to write this editorial---not to take back what I said---but to encourage us having a safe conversation in such a way so that the members of the Dried Fruit Club don't sit on me in protest.

The editorial continues on ("Do we really need a Film Club, a Film Festival Club and a Film Making Club!?") but one can see that even back then, the young Mr. Landesman had a flair for sparking dialogue and getting people thinking. It is interesting to consider his past concern for the plight of after-school clubs in light of his current concern for the plight of not-for-profit arts organizations, which are really just clubs that sprout up whenever there are two or more people who share the same interests and who support a structure for pursuing them.

The beauty of clubs is that they don’t need to adhere to Darwinian economic principles in order to exist; they only need people who care and who are willing to invest in their sustainability. This allows space for pursuing whatever creative tangent or strain seems interesting, regardless of its broader appeal. If a wider community discerns merit and is intrigued, awesome. Then support (funding, attendance, etc.) likely will follow. But if someone doesn't value their local Dungeons & Dragons Club or perhaps questions if they are running themselves responsibly, what’s the big deal? Just don’t support it. Don’t go to the meetings or to their annual car wash fundraiser so its members have more gold pieces to buy armor and horses.

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