Why trees?

I’ve been promising a blog post for a long time to explain why I chose the name The Arbor Fellowship for this project. Here we go.

Naming is an interesting thing to think about for a business that deals in creativity and faith, because naming is the first creative act God handed over human beings:

“Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. (Genesis 2:19)

We aren’t told if language already existed between God and Adam (Eve hadn’t been created yet) so it’s hard to imagine what process Adam used to name the animals. Our word “hippopotamus” comes from Greek words meaning “river horse.” Did Adam use a similar process of comparing the animals with what he already knew and had language for to name them? Or did he just put sounds together that he liked together and thought fit the beast?

Similarly, what I’ve experienced in naming many pets, and a few businesses, is that (1) the name relates to something I want to recognize or call out, but also (2) I just like the way it sounds and fits.

There are a lot of layers in the name The Arbor Fellowship, so it will need more than one blog post to fully unpack it. But, in brief, it has to do with:

  • Trees as a metaphor for how the arts work,
  • The presence, role, and meaning of trees in the Bible,
  • The importance of community for human flourishing.

These are all things I want to recognize or call out with the name.* I also like the way it sounds and fits with what I hope The Arbor Fellowship will become.

Continue reading “Why trees?”

The holy calling of the teaching artist

Perhaps I wanted to write this blog merely to make an excuse for why I went quiet for three months.*

For the last two years I’ve taught one class, M-F, at a local Catholic high school, a basic-theatre-principles-and-beginning-acting class. How can one class, five days a week, take so much time and energy? I finish at 11:25 every morning (11:05 on Wednesday Mass days), then I get some lunch, then by the time I sit down to work and answer the emails that have piled up it feels like the day is nearly over, so why bother. Teaching takes A LOT of bandwidth. Ten days left, but who’s counting. [I am. I am counting.]

Over the past 35 years I’ve taught students aged 10 through college. In addition to acting and theatre basics classes, like I’m teaching now, I’ve taught: business skills and entrepreneurship for artists, public speaking, oral interpretation (i.e. performance of literature), Shakespeare (acting, literature, and history), contemporary dramatic literature, medieval dramatic literature, NYC cultural history, and even one extremely misjudged foray into film aesthetics. [Note to self: I am not a film person, and film people can tell.] 

Many artists take teaching gigs for purely utilitarian reasons. Teaching pays when sometimes creating doesn’t. I took both the high school job and the film aesthetics class at the height of COVID, when my musician husband had lost most of his work, solely as a way to help us pay the bills. But other teaching gigs have fed my spirit and my creativity even more than they’ve fed my body. 

Continue reading “The holy calling of the teaching artist”

Art is not free.

I’ve just started reading The Death Of The Artist: How Creators Are Struggling to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Tech by William Deresiewicz (order here in paperback after 2/1/22 – DON’T get it from Amazon for the very reasons he writes about). It’s an amazing and terrifying book. For a moment I thought, “He’s saying everything I want to say so maybe I don’t need to write my book after all.” But I quickly realized that (1) not everyone would want to read his 368 pages and (2) my book is for a different audience anyway. So I’m still writing it. But I plan on quoting him extensively. 🙂 

Deresiewicz’ premise is that the basic financial exchange between audiences and artists has been broken by the internet, and (among other results) the common assumption is now that the arts are supposed to be free (or at least cheap). There are many reasons why that is an incorrect and dangerous assumption, but the main one is that art is not, and never will be, free TO MAKE. So why should it be free to consume? 

Here’s an excerpt from the (very rough) first draft of my book, about #1 of the three points in Luann’s Arts Business Paradigm. Since this paradigm is so much at the core of everything I talk about, I will get to #2 and #3 eventually here in the blog. But I tell my students that, even if they remember absolutely nothing else that I ever say to them, remember:

Art is not free

Continue reading “Art is not free.”

[much] Labor and [little] Value

I typically agree with everything Seth Godin writes. Even saying “agreeing” with him sounds weird, because so much of what comes out of my mouth when talking about creative business comes directly from him.

But in his Sept 20 daily blog post (which I highly recommend you sign up to receive in your Inbox), he wrote something that made my heart sink:

Too often, we’re tempted to price things based on what they cost us to make. It’s more useful to price things based on what they’re worth to those that might want to buy them.

Seth Godin, Labor and Value

Well, Seth, that sounds terrific and would definitely be “useful” if the things you’re making are already, actually, worth enough “to those that might want to buy them.”

Continue reading “[much] Labor and [little] Value”

Why trees? Part 1

The project I’m developing now is called The Arbor Fellowship. There are a few reasons for that name, which I’ll get to in Part 2. 

First: What it will do. 

I’ll be working with fine and performing arts students at Christian colleges and universities, to help give them the business and life tools they need to have sustainable, thriving careers in the arts. 

Why is that important? Artists make culture, culture shapes people, and people create the future. I care about the future.

From my own 30+ years, post-education, working professionally in the arts, there are a few things I strongly believe:

  • Artists need time to grow into creative maturity and cultural influence. 
  • Artists won’t get that time if they are having to work for free*, squeeze their creative work around demanding full-time day jobs, redirect their work entirely toward commercial uses, etc., over long periods of time in order to pay their bills.
  • To create the “margin” needed to make enough work to grow in maturity and influence, they have to get paid. 
  • To get paid, artists need to think of themselves as, and work like, business owners and entrepreneurs.
  • We didn’t learn how to do that in our art/music/drama/film/dance schools (with a few new and notable exceptions, as these realizations are slowly starting to spread through academia). 

Why do I believe this? It’s the last 30 years of my life. And of hundreds of artists’ lives I’ve observed during those years. 

Continue reading “Why trees? Part 1”

The Year of Kudzu

Well, it’s been a good long while since I’ve posted a blog. 

A lot’s happened since February 2017. Can I get an amen? That seems like such a long, innocent time ago. I just reread that post and I’m amazed at how much has changed in my external circumstances, but not in what I’m thinking about. 

The primary idea in that 2017 post was that artists serve the community in ways that are unique to being artists, in addition to producing and presenting their creative work. In the 15 months to date of the pandemic we’re in, in which more than 60% of full-time artists (in any discipline) were fully unemployed, a whole lot of people didn’t have any choice in how/whether they served. I imagine for most of them, serving took a back seat to surviving. I pray that they were served by someone.  

My musician husband, Chuck, lost all of his gigs and about half of his teaching from the move to Zoom. I was fortunate that my job with Creative Waco continued on Zoom with few other changes, and I actually picked up a semester of teaching at Baylor that I wouldn’t have been offered in healthier times. And, without a pandemic and the accompanying loss of income in our home, I probably wouldn’t have taken a gig teaching a theatre class at a local Catholic high school, which turned out to be surprisingly rewarding.

One of the reasons I stopped blogging was that my work with Creative Waco, doing professional development training for artists, received a two-year grant and I was able to expand what I was doing. So plans to write and speak at colleges got put on hold.

That grant is coming to an end, and we’re not trying to renew it with a role for me because…wait for it…

Chuck and I are planning to move back east within the next year.

Continue reading “The Year of Kudzu”

Gardening day

Yesterday I got to do some things related to gardening, so it’s a good time to introduce that topic.

One of the theories I’m thinking through in my life and work here is that artists serve the community in ways that are unique to being artists, in addition to producing and presenting their creative work. So one of my goals when I got here was to get involved in as many different community groups as I could. Of course it would need to be something I was passionate about, because to really invest deeply I’d need to want to be there.

I decided to take “grassroots” very literally.

Continue reading “Gardening day”

11 years ago today…

wedding_street…I put on this dress and married the guitar player I stayed in New York for.

I’d moved here two years earlier to spend eight months studying the Meisner Technique, a method of actor training that I planned to take back to Atlanta and teach. But I fell in love at first sight with my boss’ brother and, well, so much for that plan.

We got married in an Italian restaurant in Times Square on a Saturday afternoon, surrounded by old friends, new friends, and family members.

Some years passed. I worked a few different jobs; Chuck played gigs and taught lessons.

Then the day came that I asked him to leave New York for me. Continue reading “11 years ago today…”