If you have ever uttered the words “Artists are flakes,” I still love you, and I forgive you, but I’m here to tell you the following:
1. You’re misinformed (there's hope)!
2. You’re shooting yourself and your community/organization in the big toe.
3. You’re choosing words that dismiss and demean a large group of people.
4. I will correct you if you say it.
I’m no superhero, but I’ve spent the majority of my 42 years fighting for truth, justice, and the rampant integration of arts into my life and the lives of others, so a quick Cliff’s Notes origin story seems slightly apropos:
I grew up in a rural sandhills community in the mid-80’s. As a chubby, indoorsy child, the majority of my days were spent in a cool, quiet room writing stories or poems. When I needed a break, I’d sit at the piano and plunk out a tune by ear. Or I’d find my way into my parents art supplies - acrylics for my dad, chalk pastels for my mom - and create something visual that connected to the story I was developing alone in my bedroom.
It was a way better deal than riding to town to Menards where I might run into one of my school bullies picking up a toilet with his pop or something. (I wouldn’t normally use the word “pop” for “father” but it seems right when writing about picking up one’s toilet).
I hid from my classmates in the summer. School was too hard. Relief was brief and usually, a trap, like that time Danny Watson told me that a popular girl had come to school with a picture of me on her t-shirt.
“Check it out! You’ll see yourself, I promise.”
I was gullible. I checked it out.
She was wearing a graphic tee with a pig on it, skiing through a cornfield.
SKI NEBRASKA! It read.
“See! You’re on her shirt!!! Bahahahaha!”
Super funny, Danny.
I took the meanness I absorbed and worked it out in my summer stories. The isolation. The loneliness. Soon I was developing problems and solutions. Conflicts and resolutions. Arc, based on my own, private, middle school hell. Ways to address my feelings, which in spite of my social isolation, seemed pretty universal to being 11.
As this skill and passion developed in me, and I started to express my interest in creating a life in the arts as a storyteller in the theater, I felt a discomfort or dismissal from others, mainly adults.
“Gonna be a flaky artist, huh?” *chuckle, chuckle, chuckle*
Seriously, 9 out of 10 times, that was the response. “Hey, super smart, sensitive kid who has survived years of school time torture and has found a way not only to cope with it, but also is developing a way to help others cope with something of your own creation...YOU’RE A FLAKE!”
What did you think I was doing in my room all these years, wise, old, salt-of-the-earth neighbor? Picking my nose and listening to Madonna albums?!
*Disclaimer...I actually did listen to Madonna. The nose thing is a private matter.
These attitudes toward the arts didn’t fade away in high school or college, nor do they for me now as a 42 year old woman who has:
Spent nearly 20 years working in arts development and management
Developed several original works, all of which have been produced and make space for community engagement and discussion around challenging issues
Started and maintains a successful LLC and nonprofit
Taught and nurtured people of all ages farther into their roles as citizen artists
Worked as a freelance consultant and director in multiple communities
Spearheaded arts initiatives and programs that improve life for children and their families
Worked alongside Tony winning artists and industry specialists in a national program that I helped create and co-produce
Lifted my own family out of poverty into prosperity after being slam dunked by a family illness...all while working as an artist
Etc and TBD...I'm still learning.
It's still a bridge to gap....and boy, I'm trying.
THE FLAKES GOT SKILLZ AND WE’RE READY TO BRING THEM.
I am not alone in these kinds of skills (or “skillz” from when I got all cool for a hot second above). They are in fact often what draws young people and adults to the arts in the first place. Need a problem solved? Ask an artist. Need a creative approach to a linear problem? Ask an artist! Need an idea you haven’t had yet? As an artist! Need something you don’t even know you need? Ask an artist.
Communities, schools, hospitals, businesses - if you’re dismissing your local artists and creatives as “flakes” instead of truly inviting them to share their take and considering what they say to be as viable as the local banker’s opinion, you are missing out on some great opportunities! Snatch up those creatives! Trust artists and the humanity they bring. You are doing the same work!
Also, I realize so often the “flaky artist” thing is said as a joke or even endearment. There is no harm attended, but harm is achieved. A wall is built. You are separating me from you, us from them. These words build a wall. You’re too awesome to be a wall builder. Yes, you. Tear it down.
Also - artist friends...we must look within at our own culpability in the perpetuation of this stereotype of artists as flakes. Don’t let the world tell you what you are, that’s not your style! Budget. Create projects. Pay your bills. Self promote. Collaborate. Realize your own value and place in communities. Show up. Do what you promised. If there’s not a seat at the table, bring your own and shimmy right up there next to the steamin’ mashed potatoes. Take a heap. Offer the resident Danny a heaping helping of that stuff and smile while he eats it. Feed him enough that he too, can one day ski Nebraska!
(Sorry, got sucked in there for a second...)
Take notice. Take notes. Take charge! You are not a flake. We are not flakes, or we wouldn’t still be standing!
Universities and training schools - teach your arts students to be entrepreneurs instead of convincing them they’ll starve if they don’t look and sound like Jennifer Anniston circa Friends.
As a friendly reminder, most artists are not:
Crazy or entitled people
Someone no one should trust
People who should justify their existence
People who should work for dimes
People who should apologize for existing
Many artists are:
If you know an artist who struggles to be everything they can be, let them become them. This stuff takes time, like anything else one does with one's life. Invite them to participate as best reflects their talent, skills, and availability, and be generous with them. The reward will be yours, I guarantee it!
Croissants are flaky. Artists are citizens. Enjoy both, but don't confuse them.
There's no shame if you've ever made this error. You are loved. We have to talk about these things to move forward. Let's do it together, stronger, for the greater good. When we all do better, we all do better.
(And hey, Danny...I forgive you, whether you want me to or not. FYI - I'm still skiing Nebraska and loving every minute).