Ann Rosenthal and Cathy Zimmerman, executive director and codirector respectively of MultiArts Projects & Productions (MAPP), are outraged that there isn’t more outrage expressed by, and on behalf of, artists working in these United States. Not that they blame the artists. They manage and produce programs, projects, and artists all over the world. In a culture that undervalues its artists, their clients must struggle so creatively to survive that they have no time or energy to battle an entrenched mindset.
Rosenthal and Zimmerman are talking less about financial support than about the place of art in a society and the lives of its people. A recent trip to Cuba was an eye-opener. Says Zimmerman, “I had never been in a culture where the arts are so vital and considered so vital by everybody, old and young.” Cuban choreographers have tougher existences than their American counterparts, but, asserts Rosenthal, “it’s no more difficult to live there as an artist than as an engineer.”
It may, in fact, be easier. During a late-night party, their minds were blown by two members of the theater company Escambray. One has an advanced degree in engineering, another trained as a veterinarian. On graduation, they couldn’t get jobs in their fields, so they became actors. They’d studied the arts in school since kindergarten.
Our conversation veers in several interconnected directions. Rosenthal wonders if the putative Puritan founders of the U.S. imprinted our collective unconscious with the notion that the arts are possibly sinful and certainly frivolous. Is it that legacy that keeps arts out of the public schools (unless the PTA pays)? Art is viewed as “a special ivory-tower thing, yet the artists are not treated as if they were very special.” And why have we come to accept this? In the MAPP office, the temperature continues to rise.
Other veterans share their stories in
What’s Eating the Dance World?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 24, 2001