Friday, June 29, 2012

The Myth of the Scarcity Economy?

The Myth of the Scarcity Economy?

This past weekend I was in Boston for the TCG National Conference called "Model the Movement." I loved Seth Godin. It was a liberating idea to turn an organizations marketing attention away from the masses and back to the tribe. I enjoyed DJ Spooky, he was very intelligent and I enjoyed listening to him nerd out about the “theater of molecules.” I also always have a great time reconnecting with friends new and old from around the country that I see only once a year, usually at the conference. That said there was one particular idea this year that stuck with me after the conference. The idea was that we must fight the myth of the scarcity economy, or simply, when we work together, and we put generosity first, we will find sustainability. Even more than finding sustainability, I think we can find that it is easier to roll with the punches, the ups and downs, when we approach things from a perspective of generosity instead of fear of depleting resources.

In line with this idea of “rolling with the punches” there is something about the word “sustain” that just frankly rings false. The world is in a constant state of flux, beginnings and transitions. So I guess the main point I come back to, is that holding on too tightly, is actually the thing that causes harm. We have this idea that change and letting go are failures. The meditation I am taking away from this conference is to trust that there is enough for everyone.  That may perhaps require a change in how one measures “enough”… Side note: I know that the world is overwhelmed by suffering. There is poverty, there is hunger, there is an abundance of violence and neglect. I am, for this essay, talking about our relationship to our everyday lives as artists creating work in America. 

I was reading a book last weekend at the conference that brought up the myth of the scarcity economy in ones day to day life. The last break out session I attended in Boston was an update conversation with the Creative Commons, created by David Dower, Polly Carl, Jamie Gahlon, and VJay Matthews. The Commons consists of a New Works Map, New Works TV, and HowlRound. The HowlRound online magazine has been very successful. There have been a lot of really powerful and intelligent essays posted that created really charged conversations. At the break-out Polly brought up the “myth of the scarcity economy.” 

When I talk about a scarcity economy I am referring to the idea that there are a small and finite number of things in the world, and they are rapidly running out. By “things” I mean success, love, inspiration etc etc, and I also mean good reviews, sold out houses, feature articles, you get the idea... I think we have a responsibility to really fight against that habit of thought in our work. The generosity that is the platform for the Creative Commons is the thing that inspires me. I think that the Scenic Co-op in Austin is trying to achieve and exemplify that principle of abundance and generosity.  

The business model we practice at Salvage Vanguard Theater (SVT) is also trying to exemplify this sharing and collaborative approach. The SVT hub contains the Co-op and SVTs theater productions, Trouble Puppet Theater, Gnap! Theater Collective, Scriptworks, SpankDance, Merlin Works improv classes, and Church of the Friendly Ghost experimental music curators. These groups make up a consortium of arts organizations that run the SVT hub as a family of sorts. It’s a co-op. Each organization takes an area of responsibility in running the hub. Trouble Puppet does small maintenance tasks, Church fields renter tech support calls for sound and light issues, Gnap! keeps the supply closet and concessions stocked. For participation in the consortium, they are given scheduling priority, free rehearsal space and workshop space, storage space, office space, cheaper rental fees, and full use of any tech in the space including our projectors. SVT, like most other companies with budgets under $500,000 does not have a very large staff, and will not be able to afford expanding or growing the staff any time soon (though we take small steps each year) but with this model, we are able to stay afloat. More than just staying afloat, we are thriving.

Often times, we can look around ourselves and become terrified by the shrinking budgets and growing competition for grants and foundation gifts, and yes we are in fact in a scarcity economy when you look at just the numbers, and just the dollar signs. Yes, we are in a recession. Yes, we are faced with a digital age and more and more people spend their entertainment dollars on movies and HBOGO. I believe however that perspective is everything. It is so important to remember that one success does not in fact deplete your chances for success. One brilliant idea does not mean there are less brilliant ideas to be had in the world. I think that the more we work together and pool our resources and move forward with a spirit of generosity in all areas of our craft, the more likely we are to see that generosity returned to us again and again. 

In the break-out group for artistic directors with budgets under $500,000 at the TCG Conference, the meeting became an information sharing session. At one point the moderator said "all this resource sharing, its spooky" and that lead to a really wonderful conversation about the fact that in times of recession, in times of scarcity, the only thing that we can do is lean on each other. Sharing is the only way forward. Generosity and collaboration are the things, ultimately, that will be able to sustain us, or, as I said earlier, even more than sustain us, working together will make it easier to let go and allow the inevitable changes that await us.

Jenny Larson, 
Salvage Vanguard Theater
The Austin Scenic Co-op

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