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  • Criage Chelsea Althage

    I hope the critics by both unjournalistic corporate newspapers rot in their hot and sweaty expensive narcicism.

  • joy m.

    One of the aspects of both Jones and Weiss’ response that I found most troubling was their total refusal to engage with the conversation the artists intended. I saw a play about talented artists with a fierce drive to create and little access to the art world trying to find a way to be seen, to be known, and grappling with the pain of being ignored, dismissed, or deemed illegitimate. The characters, and the play itself, challenge art institutions with the crucial questions: “who is this art for?” and “who is this art by?” It’s a undeniable fact that, for many if not most urban arts institutions, there is a huge disparity between the demographic makeup of the city around them and the demographic makeup of their artists and audiences. Given the increasing diversity of this country and the struggle of most legacy arts institutions to demonstrate their relevance to younger generations, every discipline of the “high arts” is seriously grappling with the questions of the play and striving to expand the circle of people they serve.

    It’s unfortunate, therefore, that Weiss and Jones failed to view the question as one worth seriously considering. To add insult to injury, each critic went so far as to reject the validity of the very premise, contending that the play paints an unduly bleak view of the difficulty of supporting yourself as an artist if you are a poor youth of color. Both reject the nuanced, well-observed, poignant portrait drawn by Goodwin and Coval in favor of a sunny narrative of upward mobility that, for many, has never felt more remote.

    Weiss: “It trades in all the destructive, sanctimonious talk about minority teens invariably being shut out of opportunities and earmarked for prison in a way that only reinforces stereotypes and negative destinies. Counterproductive in the extreme, it deepens and solidifies racial and class divisions and a sense of hopelessness among those who need to dwell on possibility.”

    Chris Jones, on WBEZ’s Afternoon Shift: “What troubled me about that show is that it said that there’s no way in. And there is a way in: you stay in school, you work hard, there is a way that some folks are able to break down some of these seemingly impenetrable artistic institutions.”

    Of course, the play does depict the possibility of accessing this world: one of the characters does find a path to production. But it also reflects the reality that, between the shrinking of the middle class and diminished funding for the arts, it is very difficult to build a career as an artist if you don’t at least have access to family money. Furthermore, the critics’ narrative of progress is challenged by oceans of research proving the stubbornness of the racial wealth divide–which remains as large today as it was in 1970–as well as the lack of social mobility for poor black children when compared to poor white ones. NYU sociologist Patrick Sharkey claims that his research has proven “that it is not possible to compare the economic outcomes of black and white children.”

    These are real problems, and it does no one any good to pretend that they do not exist.

    I find it appalling that, both of these critics reflexively dismiss the legitimacy of the artists’ perspectives, and insist that it is their duty to deny the realities in front of their eyes in favor of a cheery narrative of progress. I very much doubt either Jones or Weiss can claim one one thousandth of the knowledge of the lives of people like the protagonists of this play, and yet they somehow feel entitled to dictate how those characters’ sense of their own possibilities, their frustration and despair, should be depicted on stage.

    I wonder if Jones and Weiss would tell O’Neill on what a downer it is that so many of his characters are alcoholics? Why do they deny these artists the right to depict the truth as they see it?

    It is heartbreaking that these two critics have, when faced with an artful and moving work of art, ignored the intent of the artists and replicated the exact dynamic the play is critiquing. With seemingly no awareness of the sad irony of their choices, they, from their perch on high, dismissed the work of these artists as illegitimate, unimportant, irrelevant. They decided to render them unseen.

  • Matt_Sweeney

    “Jones points to his previous support of work by artists of color—in 2014, for instance, he named African-American playwright Ike Holter “Chicagoan of the Year in Theater” for his plays Exit Strategy and Hit the Wall.”

    In other words, “I’m not a racist, because I have black friends.”

    Even his rationalizations are from another century.

    • Jonathan Dueñas

      Yeah kinda torn on that it’s like some weird benevolent racism… but I don’t think he is racist for his criticism and I think people forced his hand to say something as ridiculous as that.

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