Category Archives: Creativity

Do Not Defund the NEA and NEH

NOTE: The following is an open letter I wrote today to the board and staff of the Pickford Film Center, the non-profit organization where I serve as board president.
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Dear fellow Board Members, fellow arts supporters, and members of the greater Bellingham community,
The Pickford needs your help. America needs your help. There is some indication from the White House that funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is in jeopardy. We need your help to take action to prevent this, not only for the Pickford’s sake, but for that of all arts organizations who do vital work in their communities around the country. I urge you to do what you can to protect and defend the NEA and NEH, because the arts and humanities are vital to our communities and to our democracy.
It appears that the current administration and congress plan to defund the NEA and NEH for some inscrutable partisan purpose, but the math is simple: these two endowments comprise a truly minuscule portion of the federal budget – each receives approximately $148 million annually. That may sound like a lot, but combined it is only four one-thousandths of one percent of the total federal budget. To put that in perspective, if the annual federal budget were an annual household budget of $50,000, the NEA/NEH portion would be only $2.00.
The expenditure is comparatively minuscule, but the benefit to communities is immense.
For example, since 2014, Pickford Film Center has received close to $20,000 from the NEA through the Washington State Arts Commission to support Doctober, our annual documentary film festival. In 2016, PFC received $7500 from the NEH through Humanities Washington to support Media Literacy workshops. In 2017, Pickford Film Center is currently scheduled to receive $10,000 from the NEA Art Works program to support all of our curated series and festivals.
All of this funding the PFC has received supports programs that are about inquiry, film history, foreign cultures, families, and children. These funds allow Pickford Film Center to bring in diverse films that might not otherwise be seen in this community, keep ticket prices low, raise awareness, and serve our community. They provide a vital link in distinguishing Pickford Film Center as an important service to our community. These funds enable ALL members of our community to participate in film and to have their perspectives broadened. Film has always been one of the most truly democratic art forms we have in this country, and Pickford Film Center exists to provide a forum for celebrating and advancing this aspect of our culture.
So please join me in a couple of three small actions that will help lend support for this vital piece of the federal budget, and feel free to forward this email to other arts supporters you know:
  1. If you can do nothing else, there’s a petition at the White House web site. Please sign it: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/do-not-defund-nea-or-neh-0
  2. Call or Write your congresspeople too, urging them to protect NEA and NEH funding in the federal budget.
  3. No matter what happens, keep supporting the arts and humanities. Whatever it is that you most enjoy, be it the cinema, the ballet, the symphony, the opera, the museum, the theatre … please keep supporting them as an audience member, an advocate, and (if you are able) as a donor. Our democracy depends on it.
Thank you.
Brian Sibley
President, Board of Directors
Pickford Film Center
Bellingham, Washington

 

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How to Silence The Censor and Step Into Creativity

“Do not fear mistakes – there are none.” – Miles Davis

“You shall not pass!” – Gandalf the Grey (to the Balrog, a demon of the ancient world, a foe beyond any of you)

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As a creative person, one of the books that most changed my perspective on what creativity means is The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. I read it probably 20 years ago now, but a number of concepts have stuck with me all of these years.

I was having a conversation this morning with a friend of mine, and Julia’s inspiration revisited me again.

My friend (who is a private person, and shall remain nameless) is an intensely creative person, and is very accomplished academically – he holds a couple of impressive Master’s Degrees. He has an interesting bit of personal mythology: he tends to believe that his nature as an academic means that he’s naturally inclined (trained?) to be somewhat perfectionist about anything he writes. I can certainly understand that. Apart from his extensive work in his graduate programs, his research and his academic writing, he’s been published. So my friend isn’t somebody who is perennially hiding away and refusing to share his creative gifts with the world. But perfectionism, as Julia Cameron explains, “is a refusal to let yourself move ahead. It is a loop – an obsessive, debilitating closed system that causes you to get stuck in the details of what you are writing or painting or making and to lose sight of the whole.”

This morning my friend and I were discussing a political issue and I reminded him that he needed to write about his perspective in it. He and I discuss these issues regularly, but I told him “If it just stays between us, you’re robbing the rest of the world of your point of view.”

He told me something that so many of us creative people all too frequently say. He said “I’m far and away my own worst critic.”

Aren’t we all? My friend has a bad case of perfectionism. And he knows it.

So I wanted to write this post for my friend, but also for all of you. Because you all have creative projects inside of you that need to get out, I just know it. To paraphrase Julia Cameron from her book, “if you don’t share them with the world, you’re ripping the rest of us off.” I’ll tell you what I told my friend. Feel free to substitute your preferred pronouns. Here goes …

So …

You think your work sucks? You think it’s not worth sharing?

You gotta silence The Censor inside your head. Think of it as The Balrog, and yourself as Gandalf. Tell that asshole, “You Shall Not Pass!”

Tell him to shut up. He’s relentless. He’s going to tell you that your work is shit. He’s very loyal that way, because he only really cares about censoring your work. He might even be the most loyal follower you ever have.

As loyal as he is, you just need to tell that asshole to shut the hell up. Seriously.

The Censor does indeed have a purpose, though. He’ll never go away completely, so don’t expect him to. But he needs to be relegated to a minor role. He needs to be dealt with. You have to face him and call him out.

The Censor is like a stalker, hiding in the shadows. He knows your every move. He may even know you better than you know yourself. He anticipates your best countermeasures and will try to head them off.

When you start telling The Censor to shut up, you learn to deal with his nonsense. You learn that all of his censoring bullshit can actually focus you.

The censor basically is telling you that your work sucks, and that you’re going to fail if you put it out there. Because he thinks that failure is your greatest fear.

And this is where you reframe your thinking.

I have learned that stepping into my own creative self means that I must have the courage to fail. I have also found that when I am willing to fail, I rarely do. Seems counterintuitive, but it’s true.

The times when I fear failure are when I am most likely to fall on my face. When I confidently move into a project knowing that it’s probably going to suck, thinking that failure is a very likely possibility, very often I do excellent work. Sometimes facing certain failure is when I do my best creative work.

They say you have to laugh at the devil to defeat it. The Censor is like that. You gotta laugh at him. You gotta stare him in the eyes and say to him, “alright asshole, let’s see what you got. Take your best shot. But you’re not getting by me. You shall not pass.”

You face him head on. You don’t ignore him. You make eye contact, keep your shoulders square, and your head up. It’s intense, but the moment you turn sideways, or look down, or break eye contact … that’s the moment he beats you. He’s an opportunist. He looks for the easy opening. You can’t give him the pleasure.

I said it before, he’s your Censor. He’s incredibly loyal. Like it or not, he’s yours. Every time you step into a creative project, you get a fresh opportunity to square off with him. It’s just the two of you, alone on the bridge, and one of you is going to stay standing.

When you face him, he loses power. But when you look away, he gains power.

So don’t look away from your Censor. Face him. It’s the only way you take away his power. And that’s how you share your creativity with the rest of us, because we’re really excited to see what you’re capable of.

Now get to work!

(The Change Agent is Brian Sibley. Follow him on Twitter @bsibley)