by Curt Columbus
What makes an artistic home?
An artistic home is a place where an artist can find nurture and take risk. It is a place where one can receive blunt, intense, but constructive critique, as well as new and generative ideas, generously given, wonderfully liberating, and immensely creative. Artistic home does not develop over a matter of weeks but takes years and years to take root inside the artists involved. Therefore, institutions must commit to making an artistic home a lasting place with multiple returns. This development requires casual and random contact over food, in hallways, or sometimes on the playing field (softball, anyone?). An artistic home, a true one, is always made richer and livelier by the presence of children and their incredible, life-affirming chaos. These can and should be the children of the artists involved, as well as the local community’s children, who are inevitably and inexorably drawn to any place that explores artistic potential. Like all homes, an artistic home can be filled with conflict, but at the end of the day, love is the overriding and overarching quality. (We may argue passionately, but we all kiss good night).
How can one create and/or build an artistic home for others?
Well, the real answer to that question is surprisingly simple. You create an artistic home by putting the needs of your artist collaborators ahead of your own needs or the needs of your institution, and you and your institution have to keep doing it over a long stretch of time. You commit to artists, you support their failures as well as their successes, and you put the people first, not their fame, nor their prestige, nor any other passing fad. Like family members, you love your artists for their flaws, as well as for their talents, encouraging the latter and addressing the former. You create an artistic home by playing the long game, not the short bet.
What is the artistic home of the future?
As artistic director of one of the last, long-standing resident acting companies in the American Theater, of course I am going to say a resident company! But, actually, I fervently and absolutely believe that it is true—I feel that we are returning to the resident company model in this country, for the same reason that the local foods movement and the locally made movement are starting to take hold in the United States. Resident artists feel the commitment of a community, which makes them more deeply connected to that community, which produces better art for the people in that community, and therefore, for the entire world. Resident artists are teachers, community organizers, fundraisers, and political advocates—all things that hired guns cannot do on any deeply felt or deeply understood level. I have several resident artists in my company who have been here for over forty years, and their impact in our community is profound. In fact, with one exception, all of our resident artists have been here for over a decade.
Carbon footprint is smaller if people live where they make art; larger institutional investment goes directly to artists over time, not just to administrators and support businesses; artists can make work that speaks directly to their communities, which deepens the democratic urge and its expression; and communities will have a passionately held belief in the artists in their midst, making them better places to work, to invest, and to live.
Curt Columbus joined Trinity Rep in Rhode Island as artistic director in January 2006. His directing credits for Trinity include Merchant of Venice, His Girl Friday, Camelot, Cabaret, The Odd Couple, The Secret Rapture, The Receptionist, A Christmas Carol, Memory House, Blithe Spirit, Cherry Orchard, and the world premiere of Stephen Thorne’s …Poe. His plays Paris by Night, The Dreams of Antigone, and Sparrow Grass premiered at Trinity. His adaptation of Crime and Punishment (with Marilyn Campbell) is published by Dramatists’ Play Service. Curt’s translations of Chekhov’s plays are published by Ivan R. Dee, Chekhov: The Four Major Plays. The Dreams of Antigone is published by Broadway Play Publishing. Curt lives in Pawtucket with his partner, Nathan Watson.