Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Fund Raising

Last night was a blast --- Andrew and Stef organized our second fund-raiser (the first was a yard sale in May) at Sonotheque, a great club just north of downtown Chicago. It was a great venue for us, and they were extremely generous in letting us take the entire amount collected at the door. Stef and Andrew had arranged for a list of DJs to come in and spin tunes, so there was no shortage of music. The place was very chic, very modern --- in fact, it was very non-descript outside. You'd hardly know anything was there, and I gathered from a few of the regulars that that was somewhat intentional. The owners owned a couple of expensive, chi chi restaurants, and they tended to just pass along knowledge of the place by word of mouth to select clients. So it had a certain exclusive feel that was sort of fun.

We also had some giant posters of enlargements from a comic book Monica found at one of her many estate sale forays: Atom Man. Appropriate for us. We raffled these posters off for a dollar a ticket.

As I worked the front door, collecting the cover charge, I had to reflect that it's unfortunate that in our country there is so little support for the arts. 10 or 15 years ago, we'd have a pretty good chance of getting some financial help from the National Endowment for the Arts, or from several other foundations or endowments. Not anymore. As our country gets more and more conservative, the arts suffer more and more. I've had to come to grips with the fact that our country is not one that values its art, or its artists. A by-product of the so-called American Dream work ethic is that people have less and less tolerance for those whose work is not necessarily revenue-generating. Especially today, in Bush's "ownership society," the emphasis placed on monetary self-sufficiency and materialistic gain as the only worthy outcomes of labor puts a real squeeze on art. If you can't sell that painting for $50,000, why are you painting it? Is that movie going to make a million? No? Then why are you wasting your time? The converse, of course, happens this way: did that movie cost 50 million to make? No? Then why should I go see it? I don't have to tell you this has already been happening for quite some time.

And it's not just happening in the arts, as we've begun to learn while making this film: science has been suffering from the conservative's push towards a gain-based value system as well. Does that research you're doing have a chance of making a million for the patent holder? No? Then we're not funding it. Does that experiment have a chance at creating a marketable device or chemical or drug that a company might buy? No? Then you can't have the equipment you need or the lab space. It seems like the days of pursuing knowledge for knowledge's sake are going away... this is one of the questions we'll be exploring as we begin to talk to scientists.

It's interesting, as Monica has pointed out several times, the parallels these days between science and the arts in terms of money. Sometimes the work has no obvious monetary value, no way to generate revenue. Scrambling for funding has become the norm, and it seems like our country values the intrinsic worth of these endeavors less and less.

Which is why we have to work so hard to scrape together the money we need to buy video tapes, to get insurance, to rent a camera. We can't depend (or even hope for) grants without a long, long track record. So, we have to be creative and come up with other ways to generate the funds we need. Thanks to Andrew and Stef, we were able to do that and have fun at the same time. Despite the fact that it was a heavy, wet, snowy evening, we got nearly 100 people in the door. Stef took some great pix which I'll try to post here at some point. We got enough cash to get our insurance paid for for the year plus a little more to pay some debts. We're planning on more of these events in the future --- hopefully a square dance is in the works!