Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Shared Marginalities? Circus, Graffiti, and Arts Funding

This is a theme that we will explore more over the course of the year, but a recent article that Polly alerted me to reminded me of one of the more implicit research interests for this project: investigating some of the shared challenges that both circus artists and graffiti practitioners face in being recognized as arts proper.

This debate in graffiti is a long and storied one. Joe Austin, Ian Bourdland, Jeff Ferrell, Susan Stewart, Nancy Macdonald, and many others point to the way that illegal graffiti works within an idiom that is incongruous with art world categories. Exchange value, autonomy, and singularity do not line up with illegal graffiti standards for publicity (on public spaces that cannot be sold or reduced to a quantity), communication practices embedded in ongoing social exchange, and proliferation and reproducibility. Of course, since the 1980s writers have found ways to adapt their styles, and pieces, for gallery scenes, some of which I have followed in Chicago and can be found here. However, at the level of large-scale city funding and major sponsors, commissions are irregular at best.

Circus bears a different history but has some similar difficulties in working within a sellable, and hence, sponsor-attracting frame. Performance based, circus acts are singular but leave no trace, performances are spectacular but often challenge traditional narrative frames, and importantly, perhaps residual anxiety about circus' different outsider, and freak-show histories, it is challenged for not being a real art form, sentiments that bubble up in the Wall Street Journal article mentioned above. United States circus practitioners have been pushing for greater recognition, drawing attention to the severe disparity between institutional and public support for circus in the U.S. and in cities in Europe. Duncan Wall explains that circus is an evolving form, and demands new audiences. A similar argument could be made about graffiti.

Why is it that highly public, gravity defying, and innovative art forms are not being supported in the same way as say, Shakespeare, or American Gothic studies may be? Why is 5Pointz slated for demolition when it is as much of a cultural icon as PS1? To what degree do the differences between arts funding in cities like New York and Chicago, and Paris and London, index social values about the importance of creativity, wonder, and the need to energize public spaces? We hope as the project continues we can continue discussing, and creating, more spaces and opportunities to consider a more durable trajectory of recognition for both art forms.

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