Artizenship, Part 3: Build it and they will come

Oct. 28, 2014 | Jeremy Benson

Illustration: Jeremy Benson


Artizenship is a 12-part series exploring what it means to be a citizen of Napa’s creative community. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.


Civic Work

Of course, one very obvious, institutional way to become a more active citizen-artist, artistic citizen—or artizen, if you’ll indulge me—might be to apply for an appointment to advise the county Board of Supervisors. As I write this, there are six openings for Napa County’s Arts and Culture Advisory Committee. An advisory committee is the kind of thing that benefits greatly from diverse voices. So you, you diverse bunch of weirdo artists, throw your hat (or beret or trilby or pith helmet) into that ring, this time around or the next. Or attend a meeting, get on a sub-committee.


Conscious of our Weirdness

As a bunch of weirdoes, who are very if not overly conscious of our weirdness, finding a comfortable space in which to present our voice can be difficult. And the difficulty only complicates our participation in the larger artistic community. I can’t possibly be a good citizen of our artistic community, if I’m the only one working with puppets—can I?

Lately I’ve been bingeing on comedian Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast, featuring interviews with comedians and other creative minds.

As a topical tangent, I’ll say that the show is worth it, as confirmation of a suspicion I’ve had since the 5th grade, if not earlier: I am weird—but so are you. People are weird. Hearing successful comedians, writers, and musicians express their oddities and share how they came to terms with feeling alien, does wonders for easing anxieties and neuroses. Owning your weirdness, and recognizing--even exalting--the weirdness in others is a subtle but effective strategy to build strength and cooperation into a community of artists.


Someone Else’s Box

Last week Marc Maron interviewed Larry Wilmore, from The Daily Show, who will soon replace The Colbert Report with his own Minority Report. As a young comic, Wilmore felt his style of stand-up didn’t fit in the expectations for an African-American in the 1980s. He told Maron, “Hollywood wasn’t going to find me. I had to create my own space. …I need to define who I am out there…I can’t fit into someone else’s box.” He later created The Bernie Mac Show, applying elements from reality television to the sitcom.

There are many ideas to be gleaned from this. One: beyond the act of creating a work of art itself, we can and should be creative about its display and context. Jim Henson was not a visionary simply for using puppets, but because he removed the traditional puppet stage, and experimented with the interaction between puppets and the television camera.

Two, and my main point here: we occasionally need to create space within our communities that will let us all thrive together, spaces that will feed our own art.


The Nitty Gritty

The artistic community in Napa can at times feel suited for, or welcoming of, only a small set of artists, who live one kind of lifestyle. It’s a problem of not seeing the weird in ourselves, and therefore not appreciating it in others. But it’s also a problem of not working to create a space for our unique creations within the existing community.

I know artists who do cool things, but who seem to be waiting for someone to take notice, or for someone to join them, or who are trying to fit into a space designed for another type of artist, for other individuals.

We, the weirdo artists, need to step back and walk around, to turn the problem on its side to see a solution, to see where we might create our spaces, and strengthen our community.


In Part 4: All About the Benjamins

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Arts Council Napa Valley 501(c)3 is funded in part by the California Arts Council, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.


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