Most every day I recognize how lucky I am. As an artist who works a lot, I’m grateful for my opportunity to engage with diverse ideas and to seek, both alone and in great company, ways to understand and share some small corner of the giant mystery of existence that engulfs us all. It is a privilege to study and explore a spectrum of fascinating concepts: expression, experience, beauty, communication, human nature, history, the body, composition, community . . . I know that most jobs are not like mine, and that though I work hard, there are essential differences between the activities I call work and what other people have to do to make a living, and that there are certain hardships I do not suffer--a few bullets I have dodged.
Still, there is no denying the struggle in making this a life—making ends meet is a challenge. For artists, the primary reward is the creative act itself—the making. When negotiating a fee I often I find myself in the odd position of searching for a rationale to take a job for less pay; it is confusing to care so much about these creative ventures for their own sake that it seems too painful to walk away, even when the math doesn’t work out. It gets doubly confusing when the party across the table is in a similar position and frame-of-mind, as are other artists and arts organizations. Everyone involved is excited about potential and wants so badly for the thing to happen. And of course that shared urge is beautiful . . .
Last week, at the end of a long day, I enter the mail alcove in my building’s lobby. Tearing open the envelope from USPS mail recovery center misdirected mail, I discover a money order for $1000 in a brown envelope. Beneath the Forever Stamp and the NYC postmark, my name and address are carefully handwritten in ink, although one wrong digit in my zip code has sent the check on a 2-month boomerang journey to Atlanta and back again. The envelope bears no return address, and on the money order, the sender only identifies him or herself as, “Anonymous appreciator of arts and artists”.
I am stunned. What person would do this? The act seems so outside the norm as to border on insanity. But, holding this check from Anonymous, I feel . . . lightness—a near-physical sensation of being lifted up—of being empowered and valued. It's not like getting a paycheck or a fee for a job—there is no Quid pro quo here. This gift asserts that there is a general value to what I’m doing—and it is a mandate for me to continue.
I want thank my mysterious donor, and writing this post is my way of doing that—because his/her generosity means so much more than the thousand bucks (though that is nothing to sneeze at). This gift is most meaningful because it comes from one person—from someone within my overlapped circles of friends and colleagues. No panel decided together, no application got reviewed, there was no discussion, but instead, one person, unprompted, chose to make giving a creative act through a gesture that describes a set of values, and at the same time nurtures them.
So THANK YOU, “Anonymous appreciator of arts and artists”. Beyond helping me pay my rent, you have strengthened me and made me want to work even harder. You are vitally important—increasingly so in a society that often struggles to identify inherent value in creative practice. Your gift will multiply through me as I find ways to actively affirm and support the curiosity and creativity in others. That’s a promise.