As I crunch through the ice on the paths traversing the neighboring birch forest, the sunlight glitters off the freshly-fallen snow blanket. The cold sneaks through my scarf and freezes the snot in my nose. In this still, timeless wonderland, I am struck by the stark contrast of the white snow, dark stones, light birch centers, and dark mottled bark.
The crisp whites, dark grays, and chilly greens are the perfect backdrop for a bright red accent. In my imagination, I begin running through the frozen forest, stark naked, with a red balloon. (And I may secretly try this after a slightly-too-drunken sauna.)
The image of the red balloon (from the iconic film of the same name) is so readily available because of a recent interview I did with Michelle Gonzalez-Green, Project Manager of Fab Lab Carolinas and a passionately resolute and astute arts activist in Durham. She envisions artists as carriers of little red balloons:
If I draw out my vision of what the role of the “artist” is in a community, it is like “The Red Balloon.”
That balloon, that creative energy, brings you so much joy. When we meet other people with a balloon, we know they GET it. But trying to hold onto it is so difficult. You turn your head and lose focus, and all of a sudden, the balloon is gone.
And even the people who are just walking along without a balloon enjoy their lives MORE because of these red balloons.
They enjoy the fact that we are here, and they love watching us float away on our balloons. But once the balloons are all gone… well, it’s out of sight, out of mind. They mourn the loss of an artist or a creative space, but no one writes checks to keep them around…
So many conversations I have with artists and creative community leaders (click here for previous interviews) end up revolving around the importance of reliable, sustainable funding.
The Finnish government has outpaced the rest of the world in taking responsibility for artistic funding, but how can small or local communities afford to keep artists focused on using their creativity for the communal good rather that scraping together a meager living? I’ll be writing more about the techniques that I uncover during my travels, but go ahead and share your ideas below!
** If you have a photo of yourself with a red balloon (or your own unique identifier of your artistic self), send it to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will write a follow-up post about our global community of red balloons! **