When you’re an artist of some kind, oftentimes, when residing in a city other than Los Angeles or New York City, you’re told that you have to leave in order to succeed. You’ll hear several individuals using their positions as supportive friends and colleagues to point out the plethora of resources and opportunities in other cities that are much more suitable for what you do artistically. Granted, it’s understandable why they would offer such advice, especially if they have observed how hard you work at your craft and perhaps how little progress you’re making towards securing a fan base in your city. However, packing your bags and jetting is not the best move, always. You have to consider how far you’ve come in your artistic building process.
Let’s use me as an example. This post is inspired by a recent conversation about my new stage play that’s currently in production through my company, Harkins House Productions. I live in a city where being an artist of any kind is the hardest thing to do here, largely because there’s not a comprehensive infrastructure in place to support the many gifted visual artists, writers, emcees, spoken word artists, singers, musicians, dancers, photographers, filmmakers, graphics artists, etc. based here. Cities like Los Angeles, New York City, and Atlanta, for instance, have these comprehensive infrastructures in tact which are comprised of media outlets, cooperative venues, business incubators, financial backing, and supportive civic & political leadership. However, in relocating, an artist would have to do some serious rebuilding; something that could actually hinder growth and success rather than spur it.
After listening to a semi-lecture on how much I would thrive if I were to relocate to New York City since I’m doing theatre, my only response was, “But I live in this city, though.” I went on to explain that my three year old production company, which is working on just its’ second original production, probably would struggle even more in New York City, despite the host of theatre venues there. For one, I would have to work at rebuilding a professional & personal network while learning the city enough to seek out the resources I need. For what it’s worth, I have that here in Memphis. It may be small and, at times, frustrating to deal with, but it’s there…and that counts for something.
Secondly, I have not been able to pour real work into HHP because I’ve been rising every weekday morning, for seven years, making money for a Fortune 500 company. But, as of March 13th of this year, God released me from that. So now, I’m able to work at implementing everything affiliated with the HHP vision. Before I expand, those elements need to be in place as each one is apart of HHP’s complete business model. Because of the cost of living, I would have to hit the pavement and find work to cover the bills while I resided in New York City. Here, in Memphis, a dollar goes a lot farther (unless it’s a MLGW utility bill)….and that counts for something. Thirdly & honestly, I don’t want to relocate. I like the proximity of Memphis to my hometown in Mississippi, where my immediate family lives. My parents are growing older and have had their respective health issues. While they are still chugging along, I still want to be close enough to them so I can care for them, if necessary. That counts for a LOT.
Also, I believe there is great power in the concept of ‘blooming where you are planted’. From a spiritual perspective, we have to be careful about following these so-called ‘traditional’ or ‘standard’ routes to success. Think about it. What if part of your destiny is to succeed in one of the most unlikeliest of places? Take all of this into consideration before you submit your change of address card. Have you really done everything you can in your city? I haven’t, which is why I’m staying put for the time being.
Now, let me point out that while securing a local base is critical, I do not believe it will sustain an artistic professional at all. At some point, an artist must expand in order to fully sustain themselves with his/her craft, mainly because your people (fan base) don’t just live in your city. They live all over the world. This is why having an online presence is imperative…and this online presence must have a local, regional, and global reach to be effective. This is why my mission statement for HHP concludes a sentence with ‘reaches audiences worldwide’ because as the company grows, it will. That’s where I’m headed, but first, I have to take up the monumental task of using Memphis as ‘my Hollywood’* and building a repertoire of Broadway quality productions. Prophetically speaking, something is just supposed to happen here anyway…and many of my artist friends sense this too…that’s why they haven’t left either.
*My theatre mentor here in the city of Memphis is Playwright/Producer/Actress Ruby O’Gray of the Bluff City Tri-Art Theatre Company. Her motto, for over thirty years as a theatre professional, is ‘Memphis is my Hollywood.’