For Gracetzu de K
Today is Boring Group’s Got Talent Day. It’s a randomly selected day in which the nearly 400 members of The Boring Group on Facebook are invited to show off their talent. It’s a competition, and the implication is that the most boring performance will take the prize. To my knowledge, the prize has not yet been announced, but it most likely be something like a pack of Dixie Cups.
As I lay in bed thinking about my contribution to BGGT Day, I had one of those non-boring epiphanies. I realized BG and its adorable little global community equal the story of my life. It’s a seemingly random crowd of people who came together by accident and fell in love with each other.
I have been doing this over and over for the last 40 years.
The impetus came when, at 19, I went to San Francisco with some girlfriends. There, in a coffeehouse, I discovered a circle of poets and artists who spent their time engaging, provoking and entertaining each other. They were lonely eccentrics who were relieved beyond measure to have found people like them. It satisfied some hunger in me.
I now realize I spent the rest of my life replicating those circumstances and connecting people in little love-knots like that.
It began in earnest in 1978 when I started a magazine, High Performance, to connect visual artists doing live performance all over the world. I had met a number of them and knew they needed to know they were not alone. To kick things off, I used a mailing list of “Correspondence Artists,” an international network of isolated people who were sending each other their visual artworks through snail mail (long before email, cell phones or the WWW). I invited them to send me a picture of their latest performance art event, along with a description, the title, the date and the place. Each piece would get two pages. I would publish as many as I could afford. It was a very early example of both crowd sourcing and virtual community building. The magazine grew to cover new art in all media. It lasted 20 years, and the community has lasted even longer than that. Some of us got married to each other (including me and my husband and partner in all this, Steven Durland).
In 1989, two crucial things happened simultaneously. With others, I started a local artists’ community in Santa Monica, Calif. The 18th Street Arts Complex is an acre of land containing five buildings full of utterly diverse spaces and people who live and work together. At its heart is Highways Performance Space, which I also co-founded to bring together local and traveling performance artists. I lived and worked there for five years, a time when it became the beating art heart of Los Angeles. It was home to all the loners who needed to find people like them. I wish I could count the times people fell into my arms and told me I saved their lives.
The other significant occurrence of 1989 was my discovery of Alternate ROOTS (Regional Organization of Theaters South), another collection of loners spread out across the southeast who had the curious notion that they could be artists without moving to New York or L.A. That they could make art in and with their own communities. Annually, they gathered in the mountains of North Carolina to share work and strategies. I was invited to join them because one of their members wanted me to help her in infiltrating this theater community with performance art. She had been reading High Performance. (I eventually became so entranced with the brotherhood and sisterhood of this group that I moved to the South.)
It wasn’t long before the magazine and the Complex in Santa Monica began to show and document artists working in communities. A whole new group of loners around the world became a network. In 1999, we stopped publishing on paper and moved to the World Wide Web, founding Art in the Public Interest (API, our fourth non-profit) with a Web site called the Community Arts Network (CAN). We all know by now the power of the Web to connect people in virtual communities, but back then it was still a bit of a strange idea to those in our existing networks, many of whom were serious Luddites. But there were universes of younger people who flocked to CAN, relieved to find out that there were artists all over the world trying to collaborate with their communities.
All good things come to an end, especially in the art world, where you run out of foundation funding after about 10 years. So CAN went into the Archive in the Clouds, but its members are still connected in cities, towns, universities and community spaces everywhere. They have a Facebook page.
Which brings me back to Boring Group. Now retired, I live in a happy, tiny village in the middle of North Carolina and I thought I didn’t need any more virtual communities. Then, thanks to the creative Grace Kavanaugh, BG raised its beautiful head, beckoning lonely, eccentric bores from around the globe who were tired of the predictable banality of the Web and looking for a place to be snarky about it. There are almost 400 members now, and they are completely besotted with each other. It is vastly entertaining and deeply touching. Many people who felt alone in the world – in an extremely specific way – now have good friends who understand them. They console and support each other; they help each other out of trouble. Some are even meeting face-to-face.
Here I am again, in the middle of a virtual love-fest. I guess it’s just going to keep on happening. My name is Linda Frye Burnham and I am an addict. But I am not alone.
Linda Frye Burnham