Watching the Made Here project — a series of short, online documentaries directed by Chiara Clemente (daughter of painter Francesco Clemente) that follow the often unglamorous lives of performing artists in New York City — is not at all like tuning in for Bravos carefully-plotted and drama-packed Work of Art: The Next Great Artist. (There are, for instance, no patronizing Jerry Saltz-ian taskmasters doling out crushing one-liners, stored up over the course of a decade to ruin someone’s self-esteem in under 60 seconds.) However, it does certainly seems more likely that a great artist is among the ranks of this project’s subjects than among the contestants on its fine-arts, cable-television competitor.
Made Here’s 10 webisodes, which were sponsored in part by SoHo’s HERE Arts Center, are to be released on a monthly basis. Each deals with a specific issue that those pursuing the performing arts (from dance, to opera, to improv comedy, to acting and burlesque) face in this city. As the project's Web site states, the documentaries form “a collage of intimate interviews, performances and behind-the-scenes footage,” which amounts to a candid, sometimes stressful, sometimes funny, and ultimately hopeful sense of what it means to be an artist today.
The artists range from highly experimental and new on the scene (such as James Tigger! Furguson, the "stripperformance artist" and “godfather of boylesque”) to already-established performers who have by now overcome many of the obstacles that they faced earlier in their careers. The so-called “Evel Knievel of dance” and inventor of “PopAction” choreography, Elizabeth Streb, for instance, who won the MacArthur “genius” award in 1997, is no longer begging family-run doughnut shops to take her into their fold and hire her. And Charlie Todd, an Upright Citizens Brigade sweetheart, no longer has to dream up improv comedy interventions like the Grand Central Freeze and hilarious No Pants! Subway Ride from the desk at his mindless temp job.
The premiere episode, "Creative Real Estate," stayed on the site through May (with surprisingly insightful video responses posted by fans about their own experiences), and the second “issue” "Day & Night Jobs," was screened at the Chocolate Factory two days ago at a free event featuring complimentary snacks and refreshments. Next month’s installment, "Family Balance, will be shown at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden in Staten Island on July 18 (before the season wraps up with episodes called "Activism" and "Technology").
The project's stories may provide some hope in a time when many working in the arts feel crippled by budget cuts for their programs, and when artists face an increasing struggle to acquire funding for their work. But these 25 performers have persevered — they have cleaned toilets and paid dues, and they have gone on to found some of the most innovative performance spaces and write and star in some most inventive new shows. So there, Jerry Saltz.