A home for the arts

"Everyone has the right to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits."

"" Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, part of the International Bill of Human Rights, adapted and proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 217 A (III) on Dec. 10, 1948

In Oregon Stage Works' thoughtful production of Bernard Pomerance's "The Elephant Man," there is a telling scene in which John Merrick has been offered an apartment in London Hospital. His presence there generates grants for the hospital to carry on its research. In the scene, Merrick talks about what it means to finally have a home after years on the streets and in circus tents as a sideshow attraction.

Once he has a space of his own with people who look after him, Merrick is able to meet with guests from all walks of life who come to visit. He engages in lively conversation with these members of his new family. They talk about art, religion and politics. And they exchange gifts, one of them a stately cane to replace Merrick's beggarly crutch. Without having to worry about where he will sleep the next night, Merrick has time to read, write poetry and even build a model of a church building.

It is fitting that the play was presented in a theater leasing space in a building that recently has been sold.

Home for many artistic organizations remains a dream. A wistful longing given their scant financial resources. Not having a home, they rehearse, paint and sculpt in people's houses, church basements, unheated warehouses and anywhere else they can find.

Not having a home, they have to rent venues in which to perform and exhibit and then try to come up with the funds to pay for it.

At first blush, this scenario may sound romantic: The exciting life of the starving artist. In reality the situation is neither romantic nor exciting. It is a sad commentary on the way our nation looks after the arts and the people in our communities who work to provide us with that art.

For the past 14 months, I have been working with a group of concerned people who believe the arts and artists in our community need a home. A real home, surrounded by friends and family. A place where the creative experience can be cultivated and shared.

The group is envisioning a Producing Arts and Conference Center to be built in Southern Oregon in the very near future.

Its mission statement reads: "The Producing Arts Conference Center offers a new way of connecting people with the arts. It provides space and professional support to encourage, nurture, produce, promote and market creative artistic endeavors in a wide spectrum of the arts including theater, dance, opera, classical and popular music, film and the visual arts."

The center would be run by an Alliance for the Arts, a consortium of practicing artists, arts organizations, arts patrons, representatives from city government, schools and businesses concerned with promoting and enhancing the work of today's artists while preparing and training the next generation of artists.

What we find truly exciting is imagining a place where you can watch rehearsals of plays, concerts, dances and opera, visit open studios, take classes, attend performances and see professionals and aspiring artists working together and learning from each other.

We are encouraged that young people whose schools have been eviscerating their arts programs and whose libraries have been closed would have somewhere to go to continue their exploration of the creative process.

We are grateful that nonprofit arts boards of directors would have training opportunities available to them, that arts organizations would have office space and that theater companies could share auditions, costumes and sets &

and ideas.

But mostly, we are determined that our community be one that actively supports art rather than one that simply has art.

Being in a real home is a great place to start.

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