You cannot know what it means to see your incredibly handsome future spouse emerge from a cloud of smoke on stage, wearing white tights, and sporting the pseudo military dress uniform of a prince. You’d have to be sitting there in the Marcus Center waiting through the party scene of Nutcracker, hoping beyond all hope that he isn’t a terrible dancer, that his feet don’t suck, that he doesn’t drop anyone or land on his ass. Then, BAM, you’d have to be like, “Jesus, who have I been having sex with? This dude is amazing!”
That all happened four months after Paul and I met. Along with the 32 performances of Nutcracker that year, there were the countless rehearsals, warm ups, bandages, painful shoulders, concerns over the post-holiday layoffs, and the worrisome behaviors of board members. I got to know what it means to move into the circles of professional dancers, their relentless attention to their art, usually mistaken by bystanders as capriciousness.
You cannot know what it means to meet his friends over the years; you’d have to see them in action or through Paul’s eyes to understand. David, Gregg, Lauren, Rose, Ellen, Marloes, Luanne, Mary, Cindy, Sarah, Fabienne, Meredith, Cheyne, Buffy, Peter, Cheryl, Fujie, Gail, Peter, Jonathan, Josie…so many more. Some knew they were artists; others saw themselves as dabbling. Others still would be shocked to hear how Paul respected their work — work they didn’t know they were even doing.
As long as art has been commodified, artists from Isadora Duncan to Banksy have been plagued by questions about their commercial viability. Others of us — those who draw pictures for ourselves, play with chords, or worry over the right word or punctuation in a haiku — don’t understand ourselves to be artists at all. When Paul transitioned from dance to visual arts like painting and sculpture, he fretted that he was not pulling his weight financially at home. It took a long time for him to acknowledge that two years earlier he had supported us during my last year in grad school. Such is the effect of oppression on artists.
My friends Kurt and Rachel recognize what is involved in supporting arts and artists. Their sons, both musicians in different genre, are creating lives that push against the expectations of capitalism. There are performances, supplies/instruments, trips, and late-night schedules that to outsiders may look frivolous if competition and acquisition are core values. To other parents, their support may look like indulgence.
I cannot even begin to guess what my support for Paul must have looked like to others unwilling to honestly consider the cost of art. There were months when he would produce nothing, getting crankier and crankier by the week. Then, usually with tears pouring out of him, he’d get a surge of energy and sketch, paint, sculpt. I still periodically come across a sketch pad with a few empty pages in front, then notice that there are a dozen more completed compositions hiding behind them.
Fortunately for Paul and me, there was never a time when we were at a loss on how to give to the arts. But the focus of our attention on dance became much easier with the advent of Michael Pink as Artistic Director of Milwaukee Ballet. His vision, audacious choreography for men, and genuine kindness pulled the company from the brink and make it a joy to witness. He recognizes the need to introduce new audiences to classics and more experienced audiences to current repertoire.
Pink has also further developed the excellent Milwaukee Ballet II. Though this group has been around since 1978, under his leadership it has become a great opportunity for emerging dancers and a contributor to increasing access to the arts in the city. The year before he died, Paul was very enthusiastic about their appearance at Milwaukee Jewish Home, where he was convalescing following one of his last hospitalizations. The young dancers were moved by the specificity of his appreciations; his fellow patients were impressed by this knowledgeable man, assumed to be much diminished in his automated wheel chair.
Also in his last years, Paul was increasingly impressed with the company founded by a dear friend of his, Lauren Jonas. Though Diablo Ballet is in California and we would never witness a performance, we both became smitten by the work it was doing to reach out to young audiences and to youth for whom access to ballet is very limited.
Once Paul died and the need for a trust to support him became irrelevant, I was able to increase my gifts for arts. I am pleased to remember both Milwaukee Ballet and Diablo Ballet in annual giving.
What are your connections to arts? Do you have museum memberships, film festival passes, or season’s tickets? Do you consider making gifts unattached to some event or perk? It would be great to keep the discussion going in social media or the comments on this post.