Birthdays always make me pensive.
Four years have passed now since The Seattle Star debuted online. If the first couple years were about establishing our presence and our quality, our past year was about cementing our identity. I think we have been fairly successful at that. We published an awful lot of work last year, and with all due modesty, I think every piece has been exactly what one has come to expect from the Star as a magazine. Along the way we have gained followers who are finally sure we aren’t a flash in the pan, readers who come to read the Star because we are more interesting than many other choices I shall not name.
Along the way, too, we have finally, I hope, shed that stupid label of being “an arts magazine.” Any casual survey of the pieces from the past two years will show that we publish far more than that. I suspect, too, that in the course of outgrowing that label, we have also lost a bit of faith from people who relied upon us to be more limited than we ever wanted to be. Among certain of my friends, the Star was always the place to read the best theater writing in the city. It still is. But in the process of building our other interests into the magazine, some have begun to grumble that we aren’t doing enough for the arts.
There are many ways to respond to this. The most obvious is that there is more to life than art criticism. A deeper response is that we’ve lost the contributions of John Allis and Marija Vice who filled in when José Amador and I either would not because of our attenuated interest in certain things, or could not because we were busy cultivating other work. What people who complain about there not being good art criticism in Seattle do not realize is that it’s difficult to write at all, and more difficult to write regularly, and still more difficult to write well.
Critics do not have the luxurious life of scholars. Scholars can dig into their subjects however deeply they wish from any point in the near or distant past or what passes for “the present.” They can, therefore, turn all of their energy toward subjects they deeply love, and ignore what they do not. In fact, people expect them to do just that. Critics are stuck in the present, and part of being stuck in the present is that one has to separate the wheat from the chaff as a matter of vocation, and, if you believe as I do in the basic truth of Sturgeon’s Principle, there is an awful lot of chaff. In their more candid moments artists will occasionally admit this. What they will not admit because they cannot is that it’s extremely exhausting for critics to carry their winnowing forks 24/7-365.
It isn’t just that it’s tiring to sit through yet another poor Shakespeare production, or yet another play that is not so much edgy as it is dull. That does weigh upon the soul, of course. It isn’t even that regardless of what a critic says, she must confront the reality that nothing will presently change simply because of her opinion. That also weighs upon the souls of those who like to view themselves as authority figures (I am not one of them, but many of my compatriots are). Rather it’s a combination of these things together with the unfortunate reality that there are only so many hours in a day.
I have myself been asked to write about many productions this past year that I simply couldn’t because I am busy with publisher duties, trying to bring to the Star top-shelf science and technology writing like Ida Jooste’s brilliant two-part piece on the Ebola crisis in Liberia, or John Murphy’s heart-rending travelogues of his time among the Yezidi in Iraq and Syria, or crisp social writing like Alain Mabanckou’s piece on Black anti-Semitism, and music pieces like Larry Reid’s personal history of Seattle sounds “Between Punk and Grunge.” The more the Star publishes, the more we start to diversify our reach, the less time I myself have to write anything else.
But in truth that is the problem I’d rather have. We have lost a couple of local theater writers I respect, certainly, and I still deeply miss the writing of Mairi Snow about the visual arts. I wish others would step in to replace them, but so far no one has arrived. On the other hand, we’ve added writers in other areas. The Star would be much poorer without the new contributions by Gary Corseri, Max Reif, Adrienne Erin, and Mark Taylor-Canfield. And our long-timers themselves have begun to branch out, with Jeff Stevens’ superior writing about local politics complementing his historical work, José Amador’s cultural writing about the Black Lives Matter movement, and my own writing about classical music. We’ve also brought you our third complete novel serialization, with Cole Hornaday’s The Ghost and the Owl Wife wrapping up in December.
If the third year was about identity, the fourth and fifth years are about support. Over the year we aim to improve our ties with the communities of Seattle, and want to see what we can give back. I want the Star to be more involved in neighborhood meetings and civic gatherings, but also to start sponsoring such events on our own. At some point, I aim to have a Seattle Star-sponsored concert series, featuring all artists who use a Creative Commons license for their work, plus literary readings, and arts salons too, as well as workshops and classes on various topics.
We do this also in hopes that as we support Seattle’s communities and citizens they will support us in return, and not just financially. It’s always been the purpose of the Star to reintegrate community interests that have been specialized into irrelevance. The arts, obviously are part of that, especially in a society where the young generation donates all their time and money to social justice and technology education first, and to the arts only as an afterthought, if at all. They need to be reminded–as do we all, I think–that without leisure there is no social justice. Indeed leisure is the first casualty of a broken economy, and needs to be reclaimed. But, too, the arts themselves need to start thinking more about their actual function, beyond clichés and hyperbole, and need to reflect the rest of the world around them with the understanding that their “audiences” and “consumers” are intelligent, sensitive human beings who have more interests that bourgeois theater and well-branded mixed-media works.
Bringing these interests and the people who share them together is one of our goals over the next two years. We hope you’ll join us for what promises to be an exciting 2016. Thank you for all your support over these four years. It humbles us, truly.