A choice made and blame misplaced

My turn

Posted: Monday, April 23, 2001

One of my favorite stories to tell is called "Why We Tell Stories," it's an origin myth that tells how a young man was told the first stories by Grandfather Rock. Each day the boy went to Grandfather Rock and each day Grandfather Rock told him a new story. One day the boy goes, sits and waits but no story is forthcoming. So he calls out to Grandfather Rock "tell me a story." Grandfather Rock says "I have told you all my stories. Go and share the stories with others for where there are stories, there will be other stories."

When I read John Palmes' letter, "Go lemmings, go" (Empire, April 19) I was reminded of this story, because John seems to be arguing that bringing in outside performers cuts into the locals. Like Grandfather Rock, I would say "Where there are stories (music, dances, poets, writers, visual artists) there will be other stories (music, dances, poets, writers, visual artists.) And if all we the performers we see/hear are the locals we will become very parochial."

One of the things I loved about growing up in Chicago was the wide exposure to the arts available to me. One of the things I have loved about Juneau is the wide exposure to the arts available to me, and the fact that even though I lived in a small town, my children were able to enjoy a wide exposure to the arts. Some of those were local artists, some were brought in by local promoters and some of were brought in by the Arts Council. All in all a healthy mix.

The scarcity model, John promotes (if "outsiders" are performing, there is no venue for locals) ignores the fact that there is not a local performer in Juneau who is going to attract an audience sufficient to need the high school auditorium - where JAHC promotes the majority of their concerts. That is not to say there are not local performers good enough to have 1,000 fans.

But rather because they are local and we can see them multiple times in the course of the year, a fan doesn't feel a push to have to catch them at any particular concert, so you never have need for a huge auditorium. On the other hand it is evident that if we're going to catch the Vienna Choir Boys anytime in the next few years, without paying big travel bucks, then their one night performance in Juneau is a must see.

As for the lack of venues argument. Night after night the Nickelodeon and the Palace sat dark, the Hanger ballroom is a rental facility, heck if there was enough call I bet the owner of the Twisted Fish could be persuaded to put in some winter weekend hours. There are sound and light people around, portable light and sound kits. No, I don't think lack of venues is the problem.

So what is the real problem? Very simply because of our isolation there just is not enough population close by to support a professional performer.

A couple of years ago I began to investigate what it would take to do my storytelling at a more professional level. (That is more paid work). I talked with storytellers who are self-supporting. All had one defining characteristic. They all lived within easy drive of millions of people. They could drive an hour in one direction one night and perform, then drive an hour in a different direction the next night and encounter an audience who hadn't even heard of the previous night's performance.

Now I would love to make my living as a storyteller. But I also love living in Juneau. The love of living in Juneau outweighs the love of supporting myself as a storyteller. Is the fact that I can't support myself as storyteller in Juneau the fault of the audience? The Arts Council? The big bad wolf? No, it is the choice I am making. However it is very disingenuous to make that choice and then blame others for their "lack of support."

Where there are stories (music, poets, writers, dancers, visual artists) there will be other stories (music, poets, writers, dancers, visual artists). Thanks, JAHC, for helping us have a vibrant arts scene here in Juneau.

Becky Bear is a local artist who performs as a storyteller.

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