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Spongebob Squarepants and the Artist’s Manifest Destiny

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In the beginning of one of my favorite SpongeBob Squarepants episodes, Spongebob finds a magazine in his mailbox entitled Fancy Living Digest, a weekly publication on the lifestyles of the wealthy that had been accidentally delivered to him instead of his pretentious neighbor, Squidward.  After showing the magazine to his friend Patrick, the two set out to become “entrepreneurs” by selling chocolate bars to their neighbors, only to get conned, attacked, and almost killed before somehow making a huge profit.

American politicians always seem to be talking about how they support small businesses.  The idea of the “small business” is part of our culture, engrained in our shared history, and it plays back to the concept of the American Dream.

Rocco Landesman, chairman of the National Endowment for Arts, sees artists as small businesses, putting us on the same level as Spongebob and Patrick and referring to us as “entrepreneurs.”  In an interview with Stage Directions, he explains this further, saying that

If we bring art and artists into a town, it changes that town radically. It changes the entire ethos of the place, and it also becomes a different place with a different economy. We have a lot of data that proves that—where you can create artist clusters you really jumpstart economies in place after place. Artists are great place makers, and they are transformative in communities.

Jacob Coakley, in his post on 2AMt entitled “WTF is an Entrepreneur?” conveys a fear I often have when considering the inevitable start of my career once I graduate–how am I going to turn my artistic training into a profit?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely naive when it comes to finance.  I know how to handle my own money (although sometimes my parents would disagree) and I have a basic understanding of how the economy works–BUT, Coakley raises a very good point in his article when he expresses worry about the gap between his artistic ability and his experience in the business sector.  For the past two years (and the next two) I’ve been so focused on honing my craft that I’ve barely had time to think about how I’m going to get people to pay for it.

It’s a scary thought, and I know I’m not alone in having it, but I think Landesman is spot on when he talks about the process of “bringing art into a town.”  As the next generation of theatre artists, I think we should be heeding his call to take advantage of all that our country has to offer.  Many of my peers talk about their desire to go to New York or Los Angeles following graduation to pursue their dreams.  And that’s not a bad thing.  I’ve said it myself.  But I challenge any undergraduate artists reading this post to think about Landesman’s comment.  What if we brought our art to unexpected places?  We are so lucky to live in such a gargantuan country.  There are so many regions and cultures, each with their own history and problems that we as artists can embrace.

A few months ago I wrote a post on this blog about the future of Cleveland’s theatre scene.  I have a special connection with Cleveland because it’s my hometown, but I think it’s a great example of the type of place where art is called for, and those that answer the call have a much higher potential to be greatly rewarded for their work.  New York and LA are great cities, but this country has so many metro regions looking for you to come and set up shop.  Baltimore, St. Louis, Detroit, Cincinnati…those are just a few.  These otherwise forgotten locations offer artists the ability to let their work be seen at the same time that its fresh.

Of course, supporting yourself as an artist is never easy.  But times are changing.  It’s no longer necessary to go to one location and wait for opportunity to come knocking.  There’s no reason to live as a “starving artist.”  There are opportunities for profit out there, we just need to be like Spongebob and Patrick and do the knocking.

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2 comments on “Spongebob Squarepants and the Artist’s Manifest Destiny

  1. I understand the need and the desire to make theater in cities outside of New York City and Los Angeles. I can’t say much right now because I moved to Toronto for graduate studies in Theatre and Performance Studies, but it’s something I want to consider when I’m making plans for next year. I want to ask myself: “Where do I want to make theatre? Which communities would benefit and would teach me about the theatre I want to make?”

  2. […] Spongebob Squarepants and the Artist’s Manifest Destiny […]

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