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Patricia Nicholson Parker: Everyone Has a Vision

By Published: June 3, 2008

AAJ: The Vision Festival is moving to a new venue this year, at the Clemente Soto Velez Center. You've been at the Angel Orensanz Center for the last three years. What is reason behind the move?

PNP: Well basically it all breaks down to money. The Orensanz is beautiful. It is the most beautiful venue that we could have, but it's extremely expensive and with all that we are doing and never enough money—we just can't afford it any more.

Where we're moving to now is very much a community space. We haven't done it yet, but I think it might really be a great answer because the space isn't beautiful of itself, but what we're doing is to give it to an artist to make an installation. I think that will be great to have the music in the midst of an art work. As well the sound should be better 'cause the ceilings are much less high.

Patricia Nicholson Parker

There is a second space right next to it where people can hang out. It's one of the charms of the Vision Festival that it's built for that, being able to hang out and schmooze. I'm obsessed with the idea of community. I think in this world where we have so little power if we can find a community, build a sense of community, then with community we have power. We have power to do good. And that's what I want. If you want to change the world, you have to change the world that you live and work in. So that's why I have all these ideas of building community, dealing with factions, and treating your staff and audience with respect. All these things are to me extremely important and embedded in the whole idea of the Vision Festival and everything that I do.

AAJ: Am I right in thinking that you have an egalitarian way of paying all the musicians the same rate?

PNP: No, no. I never did that completely. This is what I did, though it was easier to do it in the beginning, but it gets harder and harder. But from the beginning, the Sound Unity Festival that was held [in 1984] paid each musician a set fee. You weren't paid by band. Each musician was paid a set fee and that was it across the board. No-one got paid anything different.

But I thought there was something unfair in that. One time I did this enormous piece at La Mama. I had one scene where I had fifteen extra people in it. The policy of paying was that everyone would get the same thing. That wasn't my policy, that was La Mama's and it was a piece I was doing in their festival. And the fifteen people who came in for one rehearsal got paid the same thing as the people who had been working their asses off every day to get this piece right.

What I try to do is, in the beginning, I pay the most famous people a little less than their normal rate, and the middle people maybe more, and the smallest people I paid them well. And there was a sort of evenness, but I always felt that I needed to respect where people were at in their career. Mostly by age actually. I have this thing about respecting your elders. Now what I'm really trying to do, and I can't really do it quite yet because I don't have enough money, is I would like to be able to pay people their going rate, the way they would get paid in Europe. And some people really hijack me for that and other people don't. And I try to resist that tendency 'cause there are people who are so aggressive and good at business, and I've always tried to resist that kinda stuff. If I can give so and so more money, then I'm gonna try and give other people more money too.

I'm in my transition phase in my growth as a presenting organization, where I'm having trouble keeping up with everything. Because in order for us to grow, I need to build my staff. My staff is still getting totally underpaid and after thirteen years it is ridiculous. I mean I didn't pay myself at all for the first few years. I never paid myself a living wage. Never. And I'm still not. I'm getting closer, but not really. Because I don't care about money, but I do care about treating people fairly and I need to create a sustainable model. My goal is to pay the artists well because they deserve it. I'm fighting for the importance of art and the rights of artists.

There are only two cliches about artists that I can think of that exist in America. One is "neurotic or crazy" and the other is "starving." [laughs]. These are not good clichés. There are no positive cliches. This is the way that art is treated and I do not want to support this concept of the starving artist. I think it is just sick. There is this funny thing, where the city of New York is building these spaces and they were offering to let people have the space on this empty pier to have a festival there. And they weren't going to pay them anything. I was joking with someone that maybe they can't afford to pay us, so maybe we should do a benefit for New York City [laughs].

And then there is this festival called "Music New York." They are not only not paying the artists, they are asking the artists to set up their own space and venue on the streets and the only thing they are doing is publicizing the day's event. And they are saying "this is your chance to be discovered." Typically they are asking that art supports everything and nobody wants to support the arts. And the thing is, the artists don't understand well enough that they are important, they are critical for the health of their communities at large. Here I'm getting off the subject of the Vision Festival 'cause I'm really into the politics.

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