Monday, November 28, 2011

Nickel and Dimed Culture

  I don't talk much about lectures or philosophical discussions in this blog, but I fully endorse them as cultural events.  Your basic online dictionary defines culture as "The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively."  This definition perfectly fits my own internal designation of "culture,"--what I want to experience  more of and examine my engagement with.

  I do regard thoughtful, smart presentations and discussions as proof of intellectual achievement, (and therefore a part of the collective of culture as a whole) and accordingly, I was very interested in the panel discussion for NAU Theatre's staging of "Nickel and Dimed" that was held on Nov. 17.

The play is based on the book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich. The story follows as the author takes minimum wage jobs, lives in hotels, and basically "tries to understand the hardships and financial difficulties of the working class in America."  Many at NAU remember reading the book 6-7 years ago as part of a one-campus/one-book type thing. 

  The panelists were chosen from various departments on campus and in the city, and included John Eastwood (Economics and Statistics, NAU);  David McIntire (Permanent Affordability Administrator, Housing Program, City of Flagstaff);  Jason Matteson (Dept. of Philosophy, NAU); and moderated by Constance DeVereaux, (Dept. of Humanities and coordinator of the Program in Arts and Cultural Management, NAU.)

  My friend and I liked the fact that they had a community member who works with low income housing present- especially since he could speak about living impoverished himself for a while.  I really liked the fact that one of the panelists was a single mom who practically raised her kids in the library while she was getting her PhD.  She talked about how being a mom is one of the biggest impacts on your earning potential.

  One of the most informative issues raised, however, was thinking about the ways in which we are institutionalized in poverty or in wealth.  For instance, my friend and I had an education and support from families.  We had a knowledge base of experience and parental wisdom, and general know-how that taught us how to make our clothes presentable for job interviews, pursue a degree to further our economic advantage, and invest our meager amounts of money in things that helped us get ahead.  We may be cash-poor, but we have resources.  A lot of people who are classified at the "extreme poverty" level don't know how to apply to college, get scholarships, or network.

  This whole conversation started me thinking about making culture more accessible in general.  This is a guess, but I would venture to say that a lot of people classified at the "extreme poverty" level are probably intimidated by "culture" and don't feel comfortable or welcome at art exhibits and museums,  classical music performances, or even a play.  Which probably means that many people that are affected by the issues of "Nickel and Dimed" won't be there to see it!  What a shame!  Art should be available to everyone--it's an essential part of the human experience.

  It's a vicious cycle and a huge cultural issue--and I am grateful that NAU Theatre is trying address the issue of poverty and bring attention to the problem.

"I hope that talking about what we can do as a community, dealing with working class issues, will bring better awareness to social issues of poverty that we're dealing with now," said Season Ellison, director of "Nickel and Dimed."

  By the way, there's still time to catch the play.  "Nickel and Dimed" will stage Nov. 30- Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 4 at 2 p.m. at the Studio Theatre.  (Call 928-523-5661 for tickets.)

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