Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"Sellabration" vs. Celebration

The following is an excerpt from a work-in-progress called The Town I Live In.

In their 1980s study “Public Ceremony in a Private Culture,” historians Debra Gold Hansen and Mary P. Ryan paint a pretty depressing picture of public celebrations in Orange County.

Public celebrations, like Fourth of July celebrations and Street Fairs have often been “infrequent in number, narrow in function, confined in space and subdued in mood…tightly organized and highly staged affairs, largely the creations of bureaucrats and business people.”

Rather than genuinely celebrating local culture and community, these events, like the now-defunct “Night in Fullerton,” were largely “sellabrations,” whose goal was to make money and attract local business.

Another good example of this is the popular Street Fair in Old Towne Orange. I went to that last year and the only thing I learned about other cultures was that bratwurst is yummy. It was basically an orgy of consumption. When the goal of a community event is something as narrow and crude as making money, that event leaves the average citizen “indifferent or powerless to challenge the control of the corporate economy and mass-culture industry over the creation and circulation of public values.”

Pretty depressing, eh?

Well, do not despair, because I believe genuine public life and community is growing in Fullerton, and a good example of this is the Downtown Fullerton Art Walk.

Rather than being a “sellabration” cooked up by bureaucrats and corporations, the Downtown Fullerton Art Walk got started by a few local gallery and business owners who were sincerely interested in art, and the creation of a true art community. We have no corporate sponsors, no bureaucratic control. It is largely a do-it-yourself group interested in bringing people together from all walks of life. Local artists are given a chance to show their work.

But, you may argue, aren’t you still trying to make money? You’re selling art! While it’s true that it would be an added bonus to actually sell art, the reality is that, in the three and half years of owning one of the most prominent galleries in Fullerton (Hibbleton), I haven’t made a dime. I have actually lost a good deal of money. If profit was my main motive, we would have closed our doors after six months.

So what is our goal? Why do we do it if it doesn’t make us rich? I can only speak for myself, but the work I do for Hibbleton and the Downtown Fullerton Art Walk stems from a sincere desire to help create community in the face of an otherwise isolated and isolating culture, to promote free expression, individuality, conversations, and good old fun.

If we sit back and let the crude forces of capitalism shape our lives, we will end up with empty “sellabrations.” But if we actively contribute from our hearts, we can create a real, genuine celebration.

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