Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 31-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.
Out of the blue, I started thinking about a concept that has not left my mind for several weeks now. It started with a bit of harmless research stemming from the ongoing sense that my job in retail is a crushing waste of time. It’s a part-time job within a capitalist model in which I’m expected to drive myself into the ground to make millions for an owner who isn’t too big on sharing, and if that was my objective, I’d be wildly successful. But it isn’t. My co-workers have their own reasons for being there. Some are young, waiting for their real professions to come into view—an English teacher, opera singer, and photographer —and there are the older ones, pensions in place from fancy jobs in industries that collapsed years ago—a printer, for instance. And there are those who will push off and get back into what they should be doing—chefs, filmmaker and a baker. Then there’s me. At 56, I’m wondering what’s next. Single by choice, my art, music and writing don’t bring in enough to live on. Not by a looooooooooooooooong shot—and money isn’t what I’ve ever demanded from “my art” anyway. But what if we—as artists, filmmakers, musicians, photographers and writers—could use our networking skills and… buy real estate. First, I’d like to say, I’m not a big believer in the concept of land ownership. It seems like an odd cultural myth all tied up with a lot of negative stuff. Mine and yours. Have and have not. Believing I can own some part of a planet that is not mine to own. Problematic, in many ways, but what if there was property available to work on projects—a novel, an album, edit a film—free of cost (or very cheap) for a month or two in a glorious setting with the option of conferring with like-minded and otherwise inspired artist-types? An artist residency program, a writers retreat—maybe a recording studio. It could be booked for riot grrl conventions, writers’ festivals and various workshops—all without many of the prohibitive costs of going anywhere for a month.
I have an actual plan. It’s a bit of a sketch at this point, but a viable model. First, you have to accept that I am a good egg who has agitated on many fronts and aimed to inspire others for over 30 years. There has to be a bit of trust. I am the right person for this.
I propose the radical, visionary, and repeatable acquisition of properties by artists for use by artists. I want to purchase existing infrastructure that sleeps about a dozen people. I’m looking at guest houses and inns around $500,000. I’m keeping in mind transportation costs from different points (airports, ground transportation), proximity to stores etc. through ongoing revenue streams. One idea would be to have one room available for commercial guests ($100-$150 a night) some of whom may think it’s the bee’s knees to be buzzing around an artist residency. They might even pay more to be rubbing shoulders with the likes of us.
I know it sounds like pie in the sky, but it’s an idea that I cannot shake. And yes, it comes with a million headaches, I’m sure, but I would much prefer to be at the helm of something like this than putting time and energy into my current job.
Continued in Vol. 348
“Alibi” from the album Sitting On Snaps (Matador, 1995) (download):