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It isn’t easy to be an artist in Sedona right now. It’s never really been a cakewalk — artists spend more time waiting tables or serving coffee than recording great albums or painting masterpieces — but the art scene seems to be languishing in the doldrums.

Over my seven years and five months in West Sedona, I’ve seen the comings and goings of hundreds of artists, from painters and sculptors to poets and musicians, but the city is hovering at a nadir. The Great Recession is partly to blame but so is the general malaise that comes with uncertain political and economic times.

Some artists tell me they are merely “hibernating” at home due to personal or economic factors, but many others have left town for “greener” pastures, in both senses of the word.

An easy measure of an art scene’s vitality, a musician friend once told me, is karaoke. Live bands cost money, karaoke doesn’t. In Sedona, the going rate for a band is $100 per musician per night whether a solo guitarist plays background cover songs or an original six-piece band rocks a bar. Renting a karaoke machine and paying a host costs $60 to $80. Cutting the entertainment budget is understandable when a venue is struggling to pay rent, overhead and staff.

While it’s hysterical to watch a tone-deaf tourist three sheets to the wind belt out Queen’s 35-year-old “Bohemian Rhapsody,” seeing a singer/songwriter mournfully recount a recent break-up in a 10-day-old song while holding her guitar like the lover who left her is indescribably profound. No one goes to karaoke to listen; they go to wait their turn.

Sedona advertises itself as a “city animated by the arts.” Sometimes, however, that seems just a catchy motto, like calling this the “The Grand Canyon State” when many Arizona residents have never seen the big hole. The canyon is so large, you can fit the world’s 7 billion people in it 5,100 times over — go pack a lunch and see it now if you never have.

There seems to be a disconnect between the concept of an artistic city and the reality on the ground. Both a linguist and poet, I am uncertain of the city’s definition of “animated.” Sculptures dot Uptown and we’ll soon be placing two more in the roundabouts at the ‘Y’ intersection, but a roundabout isn’t a community gathering place, despite the illusion of sidewalks.

Arts groups are supportive cliques, helping members in tremendous ways, but often struggle to find ways to share with each other.

A busker who plops down an open guitar case on a busy street corner is more likely to be asked to move on than thanked for playing moving tunes.

Venues supporting Sedona’s original art and music scene soldier on, but could always use more bodies in the seats and at the shows.

In discussing the art scene at my weekly Wednesday night art house powwow, my friend Brian Walker said selling art is great but not his motivation — he paints because he loves everything about the creative process. Without art, I believe he would go crazy, or more crazy than he already is.

For those who remain in Sedona’s art trenches, a little support is all we need. Painters, performance poets and musicians could always use another body at the show, gig, poetry slam or exhibit. Encouraging city leaders and venues to support original, local art is our obligation as residents of an arts destination city.

If we believe “animated” is living verb, then join the dance and share the words. Otherwise, we’re just wasting our breath.

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People in this conversation

  • Jim & Sandra Sulliva

    We moved to Hot Springs Ark because of the lack of support in Sedona. However its no better here. People have changed and not for the better. Jim S

  • Nathalie MG

    In today's world an artist must be more then just good at his/her craft, but you must have charisma and excellent people skills. The one's who succeed know how to talk and connect to all types of people. We no longer live in the days were rich sponsors see only our craft and are willing to market us and be the personality that closes the deal. This is what the music industry did for a lot of people, as well as the philanthropists of the last century.

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