Roberto Bedoya & Vanessa Whang

Know your history to know who you are.

by Tanya Mote

At the 2008 National Performing Arts Convention in Denver, NPN demonstrated its commitment to supporting artists as the best advocates for their own work by subsidizing forty artists to participate in a conversation previously orchestrated exclusively by six large performing arts service organizations in the country. And participate NPN artists did. Almost immediately, NPN and Theatre Communications Group members organized an action to protest the censorship of filmmaker Madhusree Dutta whose invitation to participate was rescinded when convention organizers found the political content of her documentary likely to offend the event’s corporate sponsors.

If you know the history of NPN, you know the action of NPN at NPAC was not an isolated incident.

NPN allies Vanessa Whang (musician, former NEA program officer, and program officer of the California Council for the Humanities) and Roberto Bedoya (former executive director of National Association of Artists’ Organizations [NAAO], policy analyst and current Tucson-Pima Arts Council executive director) recently chatted about NPN, taking a historical view of its impact and contribution to the field, marking its commitment to values-driven practice. “NPN’s values are pretty strong. A value of commitment to dialogue, understanding the value of risk in artistic explorations…belief in empowering talent in communities. And an astute mindfulness about the changing landscape that is our ethical political landscape…” Bedoya said.

NPN has been concerned “about creation and supporting artists and their work; whereas others were much more concerned about delivering  audiences to the music hall and the product,” Bedoya said.

NPN values inform the practice of partners and the artists that tour on the network: and those values and practices have long, deep roots. Bedoya observed that the Liberation Movements of the 1960s and 1970s are the foundation for NPN’s sector of the field. Bedoya remarked:

“… they’re largely a byproduct of the ‘60s emancipation movement. Whether it’s artists saying ‘I want self determination over how I present myself and I’ll create an alternative space.’  Or whether it’s queers saying ‘I want a gay and lesbian center.’  Or whether it’s people of color saying ‘I need La Peña, La Galeria.’ And feminists coming forward…So in many ways, this emancipation movement that is a byproduct of the ‘60s Civil Rights Movement has really carried and informed a whole lot of cultural production and cultural support systems.”

NPN’s commitment to supporting a vital counterdiscourse has necessitated speaking truth to power at the big policy and funder tables. “The policy in the U.S. context is really about these systems of relationships. This system of arrangements, what’s privileged and not privileged. And what I discovered is that there is a privileging of what I call the delivery system as opposed to the creation system.” And NPN is about the creation
system. According to Bedoya, NPN is about “composing the world.”

“And composing the world is what NPN and many other networks do, who have been around and work closely with artists and in neighborhood situations, people who are really trying to do the hard work of imagining our plurality through a lens of creating more beauty, more justice, more equity, whatever it may be.”

NPN has fought for the right to compose the world for a long time. Bedoya references the NEA v. Finley et al lawsuit in which NAAO was a co-plaintiff. According to Bedoya, the storytelling of the Culture Wars focused on Finley and the other three artists named in the suit (Tim Miller, John Fleck, and Holly Hughes), but not on the networks of organizations presenting the artists who were feeling the chilling effect from the law.

Most organizations were members of NAAO, some were also part of the commissioning network of NPN, so in some ways our membership base, our shared membership, was constantly foregrounding the need to do some strong advocacy work around this attempt to chill the voice of these artists.

Know your history to know who you are.

December 2010

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