Earlier this week, the C4NM staff shared its thoughts and concerns on the Nov. 8 election results with members by e-mail.
Perhaps most critical for our community is clearly identifying the threats to our work, and what we can do to promote our values. In summary, we fear the following:
- Cultural exclusion based on religion, social class, ethnicity, gender identity, political affiliation, world view
- Increased income disparity and failure to address increasing poverty
- Major cuts and structural impediments to funding for the arts
- Changes to net neutrality and copyright law
We hope the broader new music community will stand with us to combat these dangerous possibilities. What follows is the full text of our letter, which details our concerns and what we think the community must do in response.
To the Members of the Center for New Music:
In the wake of last week’s election results, we want to reaffirm the values of our organization and of the community we seek to support and build. Those values are: diversity and inclusion, fair treatment of members, fair payment of participating artists, and advocacy for the growth and integration of our community.
These values do often overlap with our concerns as private citizens. But today we want to address what we perceive to be real threats to the health of the Center for New Music and its community. Based on President-elect Trump’s political platform and campaign rhetoric, we are most concerned about the following issues:
- Cultural exclusion. The Center and its programs are designed to embody an inclusive and transparent approach to cultural production. As staff, it is our duty to enforce that ethos and to battle against external pressures that degrade the diversity and inclusiveness of our community. We fear that this battle will escalate in the coming months, and re-ignite the “culture wars” of the 1990s, ultimately restraining the resources and opportunities available to artists based on their religion, social class, ethnicity, gender identity, political affiliation, or world view. This is perhaps the most important fight that we can face as a community of artists: the fight for freedom of expression.
- Income disparity and poverty alleviation. The struggles of artists in the Bay Area are well-documented, and we are concerned that Trump’s economic policies will only exacerbate the problems of our region. As of 2013, the average income of the top 1% of residents in San Francisco, Oakland and Hayward was 31 times the average income of the remaining 99%. Poverty has also hit record highs, exceeding 13% in San Francisco in 2015. Taxpayers in San Francisco voted for multiple programs to support and protect low-income and impoverished people this month. The ability of our society to effectively care for its poor and low-income citizens is critical to the vibrancy of the Center, and is threatened by the financial policies Trump has espoused.
- Funding for the arts. Contributed income from private individuals and foundations as well as public funding for the arts may be under heavier attack due to proposed tax and budget cuts. The United Way found that nearly two-thirds of donors would reduce their giving by 25% or more if they were not able to deduct gifts from their taxable income. Changes to the Estate Tax also threaten the viability of family foundations. The National Endowment for the Arts has never recovered from a 40% budget cut in the mid-1990s, despite overwhelming public support, thanks largely to annual attacks by Republicans in Congress. Finally, Trump’s threats to withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities would cut off San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and San Jose.
- Net neutrality and copyright law. In 2015, global digital revenue in the music industry exceeded $6.7 billion, an increase of 10% over the previous year. Now that digital revenues exceed physical format sales, shifts in payment policies, copyright protections, and accessibility represent an existential threat to an important revenue stream for many musical creators.
For decades before the founding of the Center, the Bay Area’s new and experimental music scene has demonstrated its values through its work. It’s certainly one of the reasons our region continues to be a beacon for artists. That tradition of action through music can still be found in evidence — here’s a few examples of programs from your fellow C4NM members and curators that have contributed to the strengthening of our community and its values:
Multiple concert presentations in 2016 have shed light on the work of groups that are typically disenfranchised from art music. This month, C4NM curator Adam Marks presented “Albatross: Art Songs by Women Composers” (Nov. 3). Other recent examples include Andrew Jamieson’s Trouble Ensemble (Sep. 24), the “Goddess” program dedicated to the divine feminine (May 6), and “The Fête Concert Series Celebrates Living Women Composers” (Apr. 10).
C4NM curator Meerenai Shim has led the bi-monthly “New Music Open Mic” since 2015, welcoming an incredible diversity of musicians into the Center for group performances. The open mic format has cut across racial, socioeconomic, and aesthetic lines, and we are seeking ways to continue this program now that Ms. Shim’s curatorial term has come to an end.
C4NM curator Zachary James Watkins has sought to address challenging sociopolitical realities that we face as creative artists throughout his programming. His presentations of Amirtha Kidambi’s “We Insist! Freedom Now! Free Improvisations for Revolution” (Aug. 28) and Jordannah Elizabeth’s “A Rumination of Black Experimental Music” (Nov. 4) are two recent and clear examples.
We want to emphasize here that the impact of this work is, ultimately, a collective effort. The Center exists as a resource for you, our members, to more fully realize your creativity. As part of our dedication to fair treatment of members, we will never prioritize a concert based on its content or the demographic of its creators.
We believe that the diversity and inclusivity of our community and its creative output is vital to our collective empowerment. We believe that artists in a diverse community are challenged and supported, and that cultural isolation and homogeneity ultimately lead to creative stagnation. This is why we will always encourage you to connect with your peers, to take advantage of the resources and opportunities we identify, and to create work that is new, challenging, and relevant to you as an artist.
The mission of the Center is expressly to support you, the practicing artists. To that end, we want to remind you of the ways that we can help you realize your work as an artist:
- Concert presentations – Pitch a curator or schedule your own show. As you know, the only person you have to convince is yourself. As a sidenote, we have observed that the people who are most passionate and purposeful about their concert are able to draw the best audiences.
- Curatorial opportunities – If your vision is to support multiple artists, to build a part of our community, or present work that you feel is not getting heard in our area, please send us your proposal. Curators work as volunteers and are empowered through the Center to realize their visions on a broader scale: roughly six concerts per year, for two years. Deadline is Monday, November 21 at 9 AM!!!
- Workshops and Meetups – From monthly composer meetups to panel discussions and professional development sessions, these events offer the chance to both learn and connect. This year we’re hosting workshops in partnership with San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music, and we’re in the process of establishing a couple other partners to diversify the content and formats.
- Special opportunities – We’re always listening for what you need, and responding accordingly. Special efforts have included composer readings, grant days, recording days (like the one this Sunday), and even cheap headshot sign-ups. Our next day of free grant advice will be in early 2017. Don’t forget to keep in touch with ideas for other resources that would support you and your work.
- Affordable concerts – Nothing feeds creativity like other people’s creativity. Your membership, as well as our regular volunteer opportunities, makes it that much easier to find out what your colleagues are up to. We are dedicated to serving members, which is why we put pricing in your hands as the creators, and will always have a discounted price for members.
But these are all “normal” activities, and the reason we are writing today is that it has not been a “normal” week. The times demand more, so here is what we are doing, and what we hope you will do:
Engage with policymakers. The Center will advocate for you within the bounds of what is allowable under our 501(c)(3) designation. Most recently, this meant participation in the Yes on S coalition. We succeeded in getting the measure on the ballot, and gained roughly 63% of votes, just shy of the two-thirds needed for approval. We lost a clear opportunity to protect artists and organizations. But in the process, we were able to establish our local arts community as a political entity and help strengthen our coalition. This will not be the last time that our community needs to speak out and act to protect the interests of creative musicians — please be ready to respond with us in future campaigns. We also encourage you to make your voice heard by contacting your representatives, advocates, and grantmakers, to share with them issues that matter to you as an artist and citizen.
Engage with adjacent communities. The Center has embraced its neighborhood through efforts large and small, including regular ticket giveaways to social service organizations, community performances, special projects like the Market Street Prototyping Festival and Sunday Streets, and institutional partnerships with groups like the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the Hall SF, and Off the Grid. Whether you participate through the Center or in your own area, your willingness to engage not just our community of musicians, but the other communities around you, will help to build a stronger network. If you don’t know how to get started, please let us know! We’re working on a new project with the nearby De Marillac Academy, and regularly receive requests for musicians for Tenderloin and Central Market events. Our online resources (coming soon) will also be focused on building community across boundaries like geographical distance and aesthetic difference.
Engage with each other. The Center is a physical hub, and in the coming months we will be increasing the number of opportunities you have to meet each other. So whether it’s a concert, workshop, panel discussion, or just a casual visit or party (Holiday Party is December 11!), we need you to connect with your peers. We hope you will challenge each other, listen to each other, argue, collaborate, complain, plot and scheme. Our community is built around personal relationships, close artistic collaborations, ephemeral moments of radicality, and unique and intimate performance experiences. We need to habitually cherish, nurture, and accelerate each other’s ambitions.
We are all privileged to live in the Bay Area, and we are privileged to be a part of this thriving musical community. The Center is in good financial health. We are planning to continue operating and growing at our current location for many years to come. But in order to face the coming threats, we will need to adhere to our values, to work together, and to show up for each other.
We believe your creativity can lead the way. Please work with us, and each other, to make your voices heard.
D. Riley Nicholson