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Patricia Nicholson Parker: Everyone Has a Vision

By Published: June 3, 2008

AAJ: Was it a conscious decision to expand the range of music and bring in people who represent different factions this year?

PNP: Well, a little. We didn't do it that much this year. Actually that is part of the way the Festival has always been booked to tell you the truth. People accuse me of being completely in the pocket, but I don't know why they got on my case about that because that's no more true of me than anyone else. We try to be very conscious. We have criteria for booking and that has always been diversity. It's like you know who you are, you have a certain thing that you are representing. But it is important for the creativity of the music itself to keep your edges open. That's a concept that is invested in the way that Art for Arts functions.

Sometimes if you include someone's favorite they'll think you are being inclusive, but if you don't include their personal favorite, then they accuse you of being closed. You're not going to make everyone happy every year. That's not what our purpose is. The concept of diversity is absolutely embedded and it is really important to me. It is not just in terms of keeping the creativity alive and keeping the edges open, it's also about making our community healthier. It is counter productive that our community is split up into different factions. That is not helpful to any of us, any genre, any stream or aesthetic.

AAJ: Particularly a relatively marginalized genre like jazz in the first place. You don't want to divide, to subdivide.

PNP: And it is. But I think that the community of artists is ready to change this. We are now working on finding ways to come together and all sorts of people are very receptive. I believe that as we learn to work together effectively we can help to change the way innovative arts are supported.

The Vision Festival itself is this wonderful event that brings a lot of people together. The reason we have four groups on a night, that is not to make sure we have big audiences, it is to make sure that we include different people, so that we have interesting groupings so that we expose people to each other. So it is bringing everything together under one roof. That is why you have the visual art there. It is why you have the dance and the spoken word there. It was to bring it all and mix it up and create this whole experience which would really enliven our creativity.

This hasn't made the schedule yet but Sunday, the last day of the Vision Festival, at one in the afternoon we're going to have youth performances. They're from three schools. Two that some of the musicians have been volunteer teaching at, because it's so important we feel to reach out to young people. Two of those schools, then a third; is a group that comes from high schools all over the city, to play together. That's the most accomplished group. The other groups maybe don't have the same technical know how, but they are very creative and innovative in their music, so it will be interesting.

That's Sunday afternoon, the final day of the festival, and that evening, for the closing performance, there will be a youth choir working with William Parker's Curtis Mayfield project. It will be the first time this project performs in New York. The choir is a church youth choir from Brooklyn. There will be other youth participating as well. The youth component, it's part of out reaching to the community, to bring the kids in and have them be part of what we do, because they're our future.

AAJ: Have you found your audience has grown since the first festival?

PNP: Yes, and not as much as it should have. I am not interested in being content; it is not in my nature at all. And in New York there definitely seems to be a lid on it, and I'm trying to struggle with that lid and take it off. One of the things I want to do is, if I can get to this other level as an organization, is to have other Festivals during the year so I can focus on different aspects of things. So you don't try to have the Vision Festival do everything. People love it a certain way and it makes sense to me, keep it vital and flexible and changing, but it deals with certain things and you can have other festivals that deal with other things that really should deserve attention as well.

AAJ: Do you get support from the dance, spoken word or visual arts worlds for the work of the Festival?

PNP: It's like pulling teeth. [laughs]. What I would say is that in America- everyone wants to be a star. And dance, they're at the bottom of the barrel in terms of funding, they are always struggling. But what's happened as a result of what we do is that we have expanded the audience for the dance a little bit and some dance people have gotten into this music, and that's worked. The spoken word people, we must have done something, because we have strengthened ties to certain groups like the Gathering of the Tribes, run by Steve Cannon, and he presents music and he does what he can. So we have strong ties there and we have some ties with Bob Holman at the Bowery poetry club. We will have to find a way to turn these facts about how our connections with other organizations affect our outcomes into statistics. If I want the big funding. [laughs].

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