When we moved to Portland Oregon in 1994, I feared cultural isolation. I had reason to, since the city was still not the indie, creative epicenter it has become. And it has a way to go before it matches my former home towns of New York, Paris, Rome and Washington, D.C. for world class exhibitions and performances. But thanks to the Internet and lots of travel there are few times I feel deprived of culture.
There are moments, however, when I wonder where the new ideas are now coming from, and whether our exposure to them is being limited. It is important that it not be, now that technological, scientific and creative breakthroughs are happening in China, India and elsewhere.
How will we know the state of our ideas? Will we be aware if the window onto the world shrinking? Who has the power to make it so or to prevent it from happening?
Culture is formed by so many things, including politics. And values. For a long time America drew artists and thinkers here not only because its culture was infectious in its freedom and tolerance, but because artists knew to be successful they had to contribute their own ideas to it.
Which is why I shuddered when I read these words from one of the latter 20th century’s greatest performance artists, Mikhail Baryshnikov (who I had the privilege of seeing dance many times):
“I travel so much in Europe; there is so much interesting theater that has never been in New York.”…”The political fallout from the unpopularity of America’s war in Iraq and other policies could be responsible…Maybe it also spills into art…they don’t care even what Americans think anymore…”
Is this how darkness falls? Artists just don’t show up?
Baryshnikov defected from behind the Iron Curtain, escaping a world of narrow possibilities, to live, work and experiment culturally in the U.S. and the West. And he’s still doing it…but if he’s worried about dim horizons then I’m worried.