[The Seven by Nine Squares home page] [YAWN 16] [Art Strike 1990-1993]

Report from the Anti-Art Festival

Theatre of Sorts instigated an Anti-Art Festival, held in Cleveland on March 31st of this year. This event was inspired by the Art Strike propaganda I had been handed over a year ago, so therefore I had been thinking about Art Strike and its implications for quite some time. The Anti-Art Festival was an attempt to put some of those thoughts into action. The concept was to set up a performance/exhibit situation upon non-hierarchical lines. There would be no panel of distinguished judges to accept or reject anyone's work. All that had to be done was sign up by a deadline. Announcements of the event were sent forth resulting in 16 various performance acts committing themselves to the event. In addition, anyone who wanted to exhibit or distribute their work in whatever media was invited to simply show up that night.

One of the most interesting (for me) aspects of Art Strike is the concept of not doing "art", because there is the essential question: just what is art and what is not art? By eliminating curators of this event, it was left up to the individual to decide what was not art and then present it for others. Would the audience/viewers agree or disagree as to whether what they were experiencing was not art? My hope was that such an event would lead to some lively discussion and a sharing of a whole spectrum of ideas and viewpoints. The anti-art festival was not limited to art-strikers, for I have met many people who oppose art strike or support some of its tenets, and limiting the event in any way would be an act of censorship.

Another aspect of the festival was to see how little money could be spent. Many people in the arts community are currently up in arms about the strangle hold put on the National Endowment for the Arts. My own personal feelings about government funding are that it

  1. is best to learn to do without government funding;
  2. leads to dependency and ultimately influences choices in what it produced. One is not likely to take risks if that will lead to loss of funds; and
  3. created unfair competition between various groups and individuals since the decision as to who gets the money is left up to bureaucrats who will fund the established and conventional art groups before anything new and innovative.
I spent about $50 on publicity, postage and long-distance phone calls. The Artichoke was made available for $85 to cover cost of rent and cleaning, and Kevin Williams, the manager of that space, was kind enough to take a risk and let us pay after the box office receipts were in. In addition, a sound system and sound man were found for an amazingly low $25 for that night. Admission was $3, this being my estimate as to the cheapest price that would still cover expenses along with the hope that we would draw at least 50 paying customers. Any additional money taken in at the door would be given to the Northeast Ohio Task Force on AIDS so that any profit would benefit a worthy cause.

We pulled in $145 at the door. This is not a multiple of three as there were people who showed up with less than $3 in pocket and they were asked to contribute what they could. The actual number of people in attendance was undoubtedly twice the amount who actually paid to get in and that includes all the performers and exhibitors, and the various people who volunteered as stage crew throughout the evening. My estimate is that at one point or another there were about 100 people involved in the event. At any rate, I was able to pay Kevin the sound man. I gave the rest of the "profits" to the AIDS task force and Theatre of Sorts absorbed the publicity expenses, which since the money had long since been spent did not seem like any real big loss!

My critique of this event centers upon its duration. It was quite long: doors opened for viewing at 6 PM, an art trial began at 7 PM, a gay wedding took place at 7:30 PM and then the performances began at 8. Since I had no idea what the response would be, I had put no time limit on any of the performances, hoping that it would somehow all work out. Most people signed up for 15 to 20 minutes worth of time, though some took a half hour. In addition, two people called me after the deadline and had good reasons as to why they hadn't contacted me sooner. Softie that I am, I said that they could go on at the end of the evening. For the order of the rest of the acts-I drew names out of a hat and that was the performance schedule. The last performance was finished by 1 AM and so it was an endurance test of sorts for those who stuck around until the end. If I were to do this event again, I would wait until the deadline, count up the number of acts then divide the time equally among them. Then if three people had signed up, they'd each get an hour. If 50 people had signed up? I probably would have fainted from amazement, then realized that something this popular should go on for an entire week, gone for radio and TV advertising and made a bundle of money!

Now, as to the work presented, well, I overheard a number of discussions as to whether any particular act was art or not. I am not going to offer a critique. In my opinion, there are far too many art critiques in the world already. And as for anti-art critiques, I am inviting all the participants to share their opinions in the next issues of my 'zine, "The Dumpster Times". I will say that my impression of the evening was that it was not boring, that people were engaged in lively discourse throughout the night, and that it was a success in at least one area-it is very possible to have a performance/exhibition without government or corporate funding and in fact for very little money whatsoever. Therefore, I would encourage people to consider stealing this event, or adapting it and making it better.

[Theatre of Sorts, Cleveland