Project 27

As I reflect on an appropriate response a responsible arts journalist might take to such a delicious invitation, I confront an old friend of mine: the other hand. I exist permanently in a state of ambiguity: I love X but, on the other hand, I also love Y.

I love the thought of seizing the arts journalism day. But, on the other hand, I would also love to toil in the engine room of a colleague’s seizure, and make her/his day mine too.

I love being part of a team. But, on the other hand, I also excel at working alone out on the range.

The ideas which follow, therefore, reflect one or other of my hands. They start with the laughably large (but absolutely serious) and proceed to the realistic (but potentially slant).

The bid for arts journalism to dominate the world: Joining the multi-cultural dots (a)

This enormous idea was born in Los Angeles in November 2010. Connecting with my fellow USC Annenberg/Getty Fellows, and with our programme, got me reflecting on similarities and differences, speakers and silences, invisibility and visibility. Since then, I have been conversing whenever I can with people who make and think and respond in places where daily life challenges their every cultural assumption. My home country, South Africa, assails me emotionally, intellectually, psychologically, materially, absolutely every day (as well as: absolutely, every day). But, thank the stars, the country’s artists help me navigate this turbulent terrain.

My fortnight in LA showed me another society of contrasts, and artists wrestling with them. Two months later, I was in Hong Kong, a place where cultures collide and elide and where transition occupies psychic ground as vividly as it does in South Africa.

And then you asked me think about new forms of story-telling, about community engagement, about critical response and about innovative technology. So I started thinking about connecting the people in these societies who make and think and respond.

What about starting a global conversation between those who make art because they think about where they are, and those of us who care about what that art means? This idea was precipitated by the cultural melting pot atmospheres that animate South Africa, Los Angeles and Hong Kong. But the conversation must in no way be confined to these.

There are conventional digital platforms, like blogs, but there are others that may be able to catalyse this conversation (for instance, TED offers conversation and debate facilities). Perhaps the 2011 USC Annenberg/Getty Fellowship could start locating the cultural dots, and joining them up, and finding out later what pattern they might make.

The bid for arts journalism to dominate the world: Joining the multi-cultural dots (b)

The future of a multicultural society surely depends on the tensile strength of its youth – a layer of people raised by a generation with cultural values entirely different from theirs. In South Africa, for instance, this means a generation which speaks a language their parents and grandparents cannot understand. It means centuries-old traditions being forced to adapt to 21st century values – or to die. And it means a generation that may be seeking to communicate through and community in the arts. What journalism exists for these artists to locate themselves critically and artistically? Who reports to the world that it is illegal to dance (dance!) during a Hong Kong protest march? When the young artists of China emerge in Hong Kong and elsewhere to study and perform, who reports on their changing understandings of democracy, and of what this means for their artistic expression? What struggles does a young Hispanic artist experience in Los Angeles? And, in South Africa, how do young artists overcome the politics (both personal and national) of their ancestral pasts?

If I were selected as as a 2011 USC Annenberg/Getty Alumnus Fellow, I would relish the opportunity to discuss these questions, others like them, and their potential resolution, with my Fellows.

Now, the bid for reality

While I do believe these ideas have some merit, and while I greatly enjoy contemplating and planning them, I do fervently hope that you reject them as project proposals. They should be consigned to the status of mealtime discussion. I love having ideas. But, on the other hand, I love being part of others’ ideas. And I know it takes more than a fortnight to dominate the world. So here’s my final proposal: I want to work on someone else’s.

I have thought at length about the potentially suicidal implications of this non-proposal (what? an arts journalist without an agenda of her own?). But I am certain it would be far more practical for you to use my energy (both physical and intellectual) and commitment (to the arts and to humanity, if that is not tautologous) to a proposal that has a chance of succeeding if the right people contribute to it. I want to be one of those people. I was one of the almost 20 000 visitors to www.engine28.com and I was instantly insanely jealous. I wanted to be one of those people.

I want to play for a stylish team, a team that finds new ways spelling the word rules. If at all possible, I want to be one of the people who spend their Fellowship working on a project that is interested in:
➢ Audience/Community Engagement; or
➢ Investigative/Cultural Reporting; or
➢ New Forms of Story-telling.
On the other hand, I’d do anything with a pen and a notepad and a computer if it means – as it did in 2010 – being in LA in a bus full of arts journalists about to do something extraordinary, if it means feeling so exposed I wake up crying, and if it means my life will never again be quite the same.

Wait! There’s another proposal!
Consider this:
1. I also excel at working alone out on the range.
2. In a few months’ time, you might wish you had some documentation of the 2011 projects.
I’d still be in the bus full of arts journalists, I’m pretty sure I’ll wake up crying on at least one day, and I guarantee my life will never be the same again . . . but you could be in possession of a documented Fellowship that only one person could have written.