Monday, September 03, 2012

The return

Tomorrow I turn 42.

42 is one of those birthdays you really need to be reminded about.  Up to a few days ago, I had simply forgotten that it was time to have another birthday.  This is one of the key reasons a fellow has a they can remind you that you'll be getting cake and that you're not getting any younger.

As I reflect upon my 41st year, I can't help but look back on the last 365 days with a bit of ennui.  As I look at this blog, and it's former activity, I know where a lot of that ennui comes from.

I used to write.  I used to follow through on writing.  During my 41st year, I did a lot of talking about how I wanted to write more, but when I think about the past year, I think about a lot of talk without walking the talk.  41 was a year that I chalk up to learning that follow through has not been my strong suit.

I'm taking a small step today because I'd like to get back into the writing habit.  Showoff that I am, I need to talk about that publicly, so if anyone does come across this blog, please look at me and validate my writing existence.

I've set a little challenge for myself this year, and I'm asking anyone within reading distance of Artsy Schmartsy to help me stay honest on this one.  I've vowed to do at least one piece of writing for the next 365 days, and I've chosen the sweetest, most intimate bit of writing I can think of:  the handwritten note.

Looking back at 41 I also realized that too much of 41 was spent with my face in a screen.  Too often I found the excuse, "I'm too busy to write!" getting in my way while I had plenty of time to explore the innermost crevices of Facebook.  Facebook crevices are dirty, I tell you, dirty.  That all changes now (Well, it did on September 1 when I started this actually.)

I chose the handwritten note because it's easy.  No fuss, no muss, and I can do it anywhere on any piece of paper.  I also know that my daughters like getting mail, so for at least two days my writing will make someone happy.

Here's how you can help me with my 365 days writing challenge:  Ask me to write you a note! 

I'm asking you to simply send me an e-mail to with your name and address.  I'll then put you down for a note.  I'll warn you now, I'll be asking you to write me back.  Face it, everyone likes to get a note.

42...we're gonna get real. 

Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Easter Humbling

When I was a lad, my mother would write limericks that my brother and I had to follow before we found our Easter baskets (a combination of candy and popular presents of the day...I recall a pair of Mork from Ork suspenders one year).

Always wanting to keep up with my mother, I have striven to try to keep the same practice alive for my children.

For this reason alone, I hate my mother.

I hate her because I now know I will never be the writer that she is. Have you ever tried rhyming something with sofa? My mother can do it while I fall absurdly on my face.

Tomorrow when my family gathers for Easter dinner, my mom will read my tawdry rambings and pat me on the back applauding my efforts. It's easy to do when you know that you are the master and that you will forever be untouched on the Easter limerick front.

If you have any doubt of my failings, I humble myself (prostrate, if you will) with the following (remember, it's like a scavenger hunt):

Wake up, wake up, and scratch your head

No lounging about all day in bed

Some furry scamp with a poufy bottom

Forces you to use your noggin’

No worries there, you gals are smarties

Your knowledge deserves many parties

But cheering comes when you figure out

How clues like these won’t make you pout

Read along and you will find

A treasure that will blow your mind

Journey on, look for an egg

It’s right beside a red chair’s leg.

That’s it you’re all done with the test

Lay down now you can take a rest.

Nah, I’m just joshing you a little bit

The next clue will make you have a snit.

The paper with the new information

Is in Sammy and Sally’s changing station.

Easy, yeah, I know that one was lame

But now it’s getting hard, this game

So far you’ve been totally relaxed

It seems in your favor all has been stacked

Put on a coat, pull on your shoes

You’re gonna need to search for outdoor news.

Extra, extra, please read the fine print!

You girls need to find another hint.

Perhaps there’s more than just one, confess I will

If I made it too easy, there’d be no thrill

Go back from whence you came again

Look where you may find a pen.

You’re probably feeling very cool

I hear you both excel at school

If you’re feeling like you have some hunch

Then look where one might pack a lunch.

I can’t fool you two, try as I might

In a battle of wits, you’d win that fight

You deserve your reward at this early hour

You’ve done good, now hit the shower.

Again you’ve done it, you’ve won the day

I knew there’d be no other way.

If this little search has got you stressed

Please realize how much you are blessed.

Your love and kind hearts mean so much

You give many smiles to those you touch

Share and love each day of the year

And together you shall have no fear.

You both can help others feel as they should

By always being kind, true and good.

Next year I’ll be back with more things to share

Of my coming riddles I say one thing: BEWARE!

Hippity hop to you both,

E. Bunny

Easter Reflection, The Restart

Five years ago, my life changed pretty dramatically when I decided to stop being such a jerk and start giving my life a little moral center. For me that meant becoming Catholic. I've questioned that decision everyday since as all my moral guides in the process said I would, but still I have the root of something to believe in (forgiveness and love are pretty good things I think) when I even consider doing the dumb things I used to do when I was fairly much of a dumb ass jerk.

I'm not gonna get into the messy details of what it was I used to do the made me such a bone head right now. Don't worry, though, I'm actually working a book now about some of that, and you'll hopefully someday be able to pay good money to learn about all the dirty things I've done.

But Easter has been a pretty reflective time for me ever since I ate the wafer and drank the wine five years ago. More than anything, it's a time to reflect on what has been and what may be.

I've not written a lot on this blog in the past months because I frankly I felt I had run out of things to say. There were dramas in Milwaukee relating to the theatre world that had seemed to have muted, the world was seeming to right itself in terms of the economy improving and the possibility of health reform happening, and I had the inclination to learn how to play the ukulele, Rex Winsome had decided to move to Philadelphia. Everything seemed to be getting into its proper place.

But, I have to admit, I kind of miss the action, and as I've been at rest, I've realized there are still things that are driving me nuts. Things I hope to have a dialogue with you all online.

So, I've been plotting a couple of things. And for those of you how have known me from my days as the Artistic Director of Bialystock & Bloom, here's a little teaser: BIALYSTOCK & BLOOM RETURNS SOON! (Kind of, with a new name, but the same 'tude, and a different approach, so I'm actually sort of lying to you, but I can seek forgiveness for that because as you all now know I'm Catholic)

The good Catholics out there will know (or the bad ones like me) that the time after the day we search for colored eggs and cram our mouths with jelly beans and ham is actually called The Easter Season. It's that time in the liturgical sense when everyone who had gone through that whole drama with the Jesus kid looked around and said, "Holy shit. Now what?"

That's what the Easter Season means for me this year.

"Holy shit."--I have an idea.

"Now what?"--I hope you can join me on the next big ride.

More musings, more announcements, more fun and games, and more trying to save the world from crummy ideas (well, maybe actually creating a couple of crummy ideas in the face of fighting that fight, too) are to come right here at Artsy Schmartsy. Thanks for sticking with me. I think we've got good stuff to do together real soon.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Making it in right at the wire...

...i me. Said I'd be back in December, and I am a man of my word.

Thanks for a great year. So much to reflect upon, and so many folks who have done extraordinary things this year to help me have a super twelve months.

I hope to share more thoughts in the coming year, and I hope to finally learn to play ukulele.

For now, peace. And let's all try to be a bit more like Ukulele Mike, okay. Here's a taste.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

My proposition to graciously walk away from Milwaukee Arts Board Funding...the reactions, and a challenge

Yesterday I posted an entry called Milwaukee Arts Board Funding...shut it down.

Today, I got several reactions to that post. Many of them were on Facebook, and since I know many of you don't read Artsy Schmartsy through Facebook (though you can by becoming an Artsy Schmartsy Fan), I thought I would share some of these thoughts.

And then I'll offer a challenge.

Here's some thoughts:

I do completely agree with taking a bold, active choice that
a) changes public perception on artists' presumed 'sense of entitlement'
b) show a generosity and awareness toward the entire community's needs
c) show solidarity amongst all arts groups

If I was smart enough to come up with a-c, I sure ain't smart enough to discover what it adds up to.

And some more:

I think society is best served when people advocate for things that they sincerely believe should be. Sincerity, in my opinion, is the most effective way to shape public values, and the best strategy for garnering lasting change.

If, given the totality of our city's financial challenges, you honestly believe that funding for the arts should be eliminated in favor of core social services, then I applaud your bravery in suggesting so - particularly on an arts focused blog.

But, candidly, it doesn't feel like that's your point. It seems like you're saying that there should really be significantly more city funding for the arts than there is - and that, if the only option is the small (and, now, decreased) amount that's being offered, then we should just turn it all down. It seems like you're suggesting a petition to eliminate city funding as a strategy to ultimately increase city funding. If that's your point, then it strikes me as disingenuous and (perhaps even more importantly) unlikely to succeed as a strategy.

Many thoughtful and intelligent people believe that any public funding of art is a mistake. And their arguments are not without merit. When I look at totality of the issue, I don't happen to agree with their point of view. But I don't think we do society - or our (my) side of the argument - any service by walking away from the debate. At the risk of being repetitive: if we believe there should be public funding, we should say so; if we believe there shouldn't be public funding, we should say that; if we think the funding is too low, we should say so.

Public policy is complicated enough as it is. Balancing "basic needs" and "higher needs" is complicated enough as it is. The best strategy to achieve what we believe is best for society is to acknowledge that complexity and then make reasoned and persuasive arguments for whatever we truly believe. And then to keep on doing so. Because none of this has ever been easy, and it never will be.

And even some more:

What's with the "our turf, their turf" analogy? Is there a football game planned between the arts community and the firefighters? I wouldn't know who to root for as I support both! I don't have the answer to the City budget problems. I don't have the answer to my own budget problems.

Playing the sacrificial lamb of the budget process IS radical, but is it smart? Not in my opinion.

The arts help to make Milwaukee a world class City...and the City knows that. in fact, Calatrava is the City's logo, The Milwaukee Government's web portal page has a photo of the MSO.

This is not about entitlement's about a great place to live, a strong economy, a culturally vibrant population.

I reverse it, it IS about entitlement, but not entitlement of recognition that the arts are important, it's entitlement for the tax-paying citizens of this City that they be safe, clean, educated, have the opportunity to make a living, and as part of that living, be culturally enriched.

If I had more time, I would organize these thoughts better. But I'm at work and need to sell tickets as an effort toward keeping my organization healthy.

Smart people say smart things while at smart jobs while on Facebook it seems.

There are also people who think everything I say in my original post is 100% perfect. But why bore you with those, right?

Okay, so, thoughts out on the table. There you go.

Now, here's the challenge:

Any other ideas?

(And I will accept that "keep advocating that the arts are important" is an idea, but I will also confess that I don't think it's a very good one. If we take the Arts Board as a case study, that's exactly what has been done over the past several years. And all the advocacy and working to convince City Hall that the Arts Board needs more money is a good thing has resulted in cuts to the budget year in and year out. Tenacity or insanity? I'm throwing no stones, I'm just saying.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Milwaukee Arts Board Funding...shut it down.

Yep. I think the Milwaukee Arts Board should be shut down, squashed, decimated, totally drained of funds.

No, I'm not looking to be marked as that guy who never wants to work in the Milwaukee arts scene again. I'm trying to point out some radical alternatives.

To fight for an already marginalized fund so that it can remain marginalized and the pitiful little pot that it is seems like a waste of energy to me at this point.

The people who are making this fight right now are exclusively artists. Granted, I was not at the public hearing last night at City Hall, and I applaud my fellow Milwaukee artists who were there. But, and I know 99% of the artistic community is going to disagree with me on this, I believe we are fighting the wrong fight on this Milwaukee Arts Board issue.

The city budget is a mess. Cuts need to come all around. Many will argue that my suggestion of eliminating the Milwaukee Arts Board fund simply takes arts and culture out of City Hall completely. Guess what folks, outside of Michael Murphy and Nik Kovac there are no great arts advocates in City Hall. Sometimes you really need to burn something down to build it up and make it better, and that's my thought on this whole thing.

If you haven't read the Journal Sentinel's story about the public hearing please follow this link. The basic plot of that tale is that artists showed up in good numbers, but those firefighters (also facing big cuts) were the ones who really made some impact.

I also received a recap and call to arms communication from Christine Harris and The Cultural Alliance today. I took note of this item in the e-mail I received with particular interest:

One avenue we need to pursue better is getting people from other walks of life - particularly businesspeople, or teachers, or students - to speak out. We are in the field, but when people not in the arts directly speak, it makes a much stronger voice. So please think about who else you can bring along in this advocacy. Meanwhile, communicating with the Mayor and your Alderman is a very good idea.

A great idea that jumps out at me in this is to get more people from outside of the arts to speak out for the arts. So, here's my three point plan to start to do that:

  1. Call the Mayor.
  2. Tell him we don't want any Milwaukee Arts Board money.
  3. Tell the Mayor to give whatever would have remained in the Arts Board Fund to the firefighters.

You want to get new allies, you have to sometimes play on their turf. I would like to believe that the world does not function under the quid pro quo philosophy, but the realist in me knows that it does.

If we choose not to accept any money from The City of Milwaukee for Arts Funding, we've actually changed the conversation, and taken control of the future of how we want our city to recognize and support the arts in Milwaukee. And perhaps, a few more firefighters will be attending Gallery Night and the Sunday matinee of SMELL OF THE KILL.

(Please, throw tomatoes at will.)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Arts Funding hoo ha...why I think this discussion is beyond absurd

I have received the following news in a myriad of messages, e-mails, carrier pigeon flybys, rocks through windows, note passed in the hallway between class, and other even more clever means of delivery:
The Mayor's budget proposes to reduce Milwaukee Arts Board funding from last year's $185,000 down to $50,000! We cannot lose this precious city funding for our stellar arts groups.

We need your show of support at the Mayor and Common Council meeting THIS COMING TUESDAY, October 13th 6:30 pm, in Council Chambers at City Hall.

Slug me in the gut for what I'm about to say if you're so inclined, but here goes: WHO CARES!

The City of Milwaukee Arts Board Budget has for years been embarrassingly minuscule. It is time to shovel that fund squarely into the ground and bury it so we can snub our collective noses at city funding and say, "We don't need ya!"

This mental grab for pennies that we in the non-profit arts business live under makes us all prone to histrionics over what is absolutely a hugely punitive and absurd proposed funding cut. Losing 75% of one of the city's smallest budget items is ridiculous beyond measure, but the energy we may all exhibit on this issue might be better spent looking at even greater change.

Here's one of the lessons I've learned about life from THE WIRE (all of life's lessons are in that show, folks, you just need to watch it obsessively like me). If you really want to fix the world, if you really want people to go to plays, attend concerts, and get jobs where they might have the salaries that would make them eligible to write big fat checks for your next art installation, shovel as much money as you can into fixing schools.

You may have heard that the mayor and the governor think the school system needs radical change. "Tru dat" is what I have to say as a Milwaukee area parent who has toured several Milwaukee Public Schools in the search I conducted to choose a safe, inspiring school for my children to attend (a charter school is what I chose, chartered through UW-Milwaukee, not MPS).

I don't advocate taking money away from the arts, and the level of insanity on this proposed cut only highlights how marginalized City Hall has made the arts feel for years and years while tourism is heavily promoted to Milwaukee with the proud boast that we've got a great arts and culture scene here.

This funding dilemma is a call for the entire Milwaukee arts community to finally stop reacting to getting hit in our privates again and again and consider some real activism in terms of putting the cultural plan for our city (when we actually have one) a little higher on the food chain for our local political engine.

I'm forced by the fact that I really like the guy to post this letter from Alderman Michael Murphy:

As you may already know, under Mayor Barrett’s proposed budget for 2010 the Milwaukee Arts Board will lose approximately two thirds of its funds. The Mayor has recommended cutting $110,000 from the 2009 allocation of $160,000. The subsequent result of this action will also be a loss of $25,000 matching grant dollars from the Wisconsin Arts Board.

I am clearly opposed to such a cut; the largest reduction in any department. This proposal would result in a total loss of almost 75% of the board’s funds. I thus encourage you to attend the Joint Public Hearing being held by the Common Council and the Mayor on Tuesday, October 13, 2009 at 6:00 PM in the Common Council Chambers, Third Floor, City Hall, 200 E Wells Street, to share your concerns. As many factors are taken into consideration when determining the next year’s budget, it is important that the Common Council hear your voices in opposition to the Mayor’s budget.

I look forward to seeing you at the hearing to support art in the City of Milwaukee. If you have any questions or concerns, do not hesitate to call me at 286-3763.


Michael J. Murphy
Alderman, 10th District

I'm not encouraging you to not weigh in on this matter, and Michael Murphy is one of the smarter allies to have on your side (please, please, please run for Mayor!) but I'm also suggesting that if any level of this funding is restored, it is in no way a victory. The time is now to think bigger than restoring a six figure cut to an already tragic little arts funding pool and work on the real problem of getting more of our city's own population to believe in and support the arts. Our theaters and galleries are not full on a consistent basis. When that happens, you better believe there will be some more powerful allies on the side of arts and culture in Milwaukee that know how to get attention in the Mayor's office. Until then, we are all just trying to drain the ocean with a straw.