In 1997, Madeline Albright became the first female Secretary of State, and “Barbie Girl” by Aqua was one of the year’s most popular songs. Amidst such contradictions, I enrolled as a freshman at a liberal arts university. Though majoring in theater, I chose to attend a liberal arts school over a conservatory. I wasn’t sure it was the right move. I certainly enjoyed studying all kinds of things (nerd!), but part of me worried (a lot) that all serious artists attended conservatories, and only dilettantes chose liberal arts.
Happily, my worries proved unfounded. Though at 18 it seemed that every choice I made would imply lifelong consequences, I realized, to my relief, that there are indeed multiple methods for achieving one’s goals. (Hey, that sounds like something a person might discover at a liberal arts school!) Moreover, I’ve been thinking recently that the liberal arts structure is still relevant to my life, and still a choice worth making.
Over the past decade, I have lived in New York City and made art. During that time, I have also worked a variety of jobs – some of them directly connected to the performance that I make as an artist, and others wholly separate. Currently, I work a job in the latter category. At times, this feels like a bummer, and I have questioned what it means about my seriousness as an artist. But it occurs to me now that I am simply facing the same question again: Do I choose to be an artist surrounded only by other artists, or do I choose to be an artist within a more complex world?
I am increasingly challenged, inspired, and humbled by actively engaging with this more complex world. My day job has become an opportunity for audience development, and it is making me a better artist. It requires me to express myself more specifically, to challenge my assumptions, and to work harder for common ground. It’s often awkward, difficult, and exhausting, but it feels honest and worth the effort. Still.