In the second part of my interview with fellow blogger Scott Chamberlain, we talked about his upcoming Cuba trip. Catch up on the first part here.
EH: So. I’ve ignored the elephant in the room long enough. The whole reason I even thought of connecting with you in interview format is that you’re going with the Minnesota Orchestra to cover their historic Cuba tour. They’ll be the first American orchestra in the Obama era to visit. And you’ll be writing about it, even though you aren’t a professional arts writer. And I want to take a minute to talk about that.
I’ve never heard of an arts writer – amateur or professional – trying to crowdfund accompanying an orchestra on a tour. And not only trying, but succeeding. As I’m writing this entry, you’re at 55% of your goal, and it’s only been a few days. (Readers, please, if anyone has done anything like this before, let me know in the comments.) I know this project didn’t come about as some grand plan or anything like that, but obviously as I’m watching the total tick up and up, and getting excited about having a writer friend on the ground in Cuba to share his thoughts… I’m wondering about whether you think this is a strategy that arts writers will use in future to get more and better coverage of our beloved arts. I have mixed feelings about whether it could work besides for a few very charismatic people, but I’m curious what you think. Do you think your support is just a one-off thing because you developed relationships with your readers in the depths of a historic lockout, or do you think other arts writers in other times and places could do it, too? Many times I find myself wondering, “are the cool things that are happening here a direct result of the lockout, or could these cool things happen everywhere?” Do you know what I mean?
SC: I do think it’s unusual—in fact, the co-founder Musicovation.com, a website devoted to covering news and industry trends from across the musical world, contacted me to ask these very questions.
And I have to say I’m learning as I go. Given the complexities of this tour, it is fairly expensive… even for those of us who are getting the press discount. As an independent writer, coming up with the cost of the trip seemed daunting, but a number of supporters suggested that this was a perfect fit for a GoFundMe campaign… and off I went.
Would such a crowdfunding campaign work every time, or for everyone? I’m not entirely sure. I hope this model works, so that more people representing more voices from the community could get a chance to experience events like this. And I do think that crowdfunding has some real possibilities—for example, the Minnesota Orchestra successfully used crowdfunding to commission Judd Greenstein’s Acadia, and recently MinnPost raised enough funds to expand Pamela Espeland’s arts coverage. It’s an old truism in fundraising that people don’t give you money because you need it… they give you money because you inspire them. So it’s likely that a projects’ success will be determined by how engaging it is… or how persuasive its spokesperson is.
Given that I’m in the thick of things, and still learning on the fly, I hate to make too many definitive statements. Check back with me after everything is done!
EH: You are so well-qualified to take this trip, it’s hilarious. If God could have designed the perfect writer to escort the orchestra to Cuba, He would have designed you. Not only do you have the love for the Minnesota Orchestra and Osmo and classical music, and a hugely supportive audience built over the past two years, you also have a background in Latin America. Why are you drawn there? Talk a bit about your Latin American background.
SC: Thank you, I appreciate it! My interest in Latin America goes way, way back. And I should say that as a bit of perspective, music is just my hobby, while the study of Latin America has been my life’s work. In third grade, we spent a couple of weeks studying the lost Maya city of Tikal as part of a social studies class. And I was hooked. Other kids may have played “cops and robbers” but I played “Mayas and Aztecs”… somewhat to the amused bewilderment of my friends. In fifth grade, somewhat by accident, I came across the Mixtecs, a major cultural group from ancient Mexico. The Mixtecs were not as widely studied as their Aztec and Maya neighbors, and I quickly realized if I was going to know more about these fascinating people, I was going to have to do the research myself. And so at the tender age of 11 I taught myself how to read the Mixtec hieroglyphs and started to become a junior Indiana Jones-style archaeologist.
But I was curious about modern Latin America, too, and during my junior year of college I studied abroad in Costa Rica. And Costa Rica captured my heart. The people are insanely friendly, and the country could not physically be any more beautiful… but more important for me, the place had a fascinating history. More than that… as the country became a second home, it was more a family story than some impersonal, abstract “history.” I translated all these various interests into a couple of advanced degrees, and ultimately found myself teaching Latin American history classes at the University of Kansas. And yes, Cuban history was among the topics I taught.
I am ruthlessly suppressing the urge to assign a reading list for this trip.
EH: What kinds of things are you looking forward to during the Cuba trip? What do you want to get out of it, artistically, intellectually, emotionally? Do you have any expectations?
SC: There are so many elements that make this an exciting trip. Obviously there is the historic nature of it… after decades of official hostility, our two nations stand at a new crossroads. I’m thrilled at a chance to go there during this historic transition—I don’t know that I can express how profoundly moving it is for a historian to have a front-row seat to witness such a pivotal moment in time. But more than that, the whole point of this cultural exchange is an attempt to get our two countries talking again so that we can build a better future… and even though my part in this is small, I’m honored to help in any way I can to get this dialog going.
Part of it, too, is that I’m excited to experience Cuba for myself. Cuba has such a rich culture, and such a fascinating history! Because it was not my principle area of research, I never had a reason to go there before, and I’m thrilled to have a chance to do so now and actually experience these things first hand.
But here’s another thing. Anyone who has gone on tour with a band, choir, or any other club knows what a profound bonding experience it can be. It’s important to remember that this tour isn’t just for the musicians—it will include staff members, board members, and community supporters, too. It is a wonderful way to bring the entire Orchestra family together to build bonds, share experiences, and simply get to know each other as Orchestra family members. Board members can see first-hand how music can see the musicians’ dedication to their craft, and musicians can see first-hand the logistical work the staff members do. And everyone can see how music can build bridges across differences. This tour will promote healing, in a deep and personal way, and that is so important.
EH: Can I fit into your suitcase? I’m 5’5″ and ninety pounds.
SC: How’s your Spanish? :)
EH: I can translate emergency exit signs on Greyhound buses, but that’s about it.
Anywho, I’m gonna hand the closing paragraph over to you. Sell us on donating to the GoFundMe. Why is this special? Why is it a project people should follow?
This is always tricky. I mean, some might want to support be because of the “Cinderella story” element—having an independent writer finally get to go to the ball. Or maybe to support community-based writing in general, or to see if a new model for covering the arts might work. But I think that what it boils down to is something more personal. Over the last two years, you’ve come to know my writings on music, peppered with wacky anecdotes and personal reminisces. You’ve come to know my deep love of Latin America. You’ve come to know… me. Based on that knowledge, I have a question: have you enjoyed my writings, and do you want to see more? My plan is tell good stories that bring Cuba alive and make you feel like you were there yourself. In short, to share an extraordinary journey with you. If you’d like to take this journey with me, visit my GoFundMe page. I’m closing in on my goal, but could still use your help to bridge the gap. Thank you for your support… this wouldn’t be possible without the support of people like you!
Are you sold? Drop $5 or $10 or $20 in the pot at Scott’s Go Fund Me page. If you can’t afford it right now, be sure to read his blog and live vicariously through him.