Sometime last year, we were driving down a back road in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont when we spied a school bus sitting by the side of the road bearing a cardboard sign that said "Cheap Art Inside." Of course, we had to stop! Inside the bus, we discovered an amazing selection of art at reasonable prices. Because the bus wasn't staffed, there was an honor box for payment and donations. You paid the asking price or paid what you could and left it in the box before exiting. This bus is an offering from the Bread & Puppet Theater, one of the oldest, non-profit, self-sustaining theatrical companies in the country. The company was founded in 1963 on New York's Lower East Side, then later moved to a 140-year-old hay barn in Vermont.
But before Bread & Puppet Theater had a home, its founder, Peter Schumann, took to the road for the company's performances. He converted his father-in-law’s small trailer into a mobile puppet stage, and hauling it with a beat-up station wagon, started an improvised solo tour across New England, putting on impromptu shows in random towns and cities along the way.
You might see why we immediately felt such kinship with this organization and their philosophy. "One of the most enduring legacies of Bread and Puppet," the website says, "is its autonomy, receiving no direct government or corporate funding, but instead relying on its own practice of frugality and a huge amount of volunteerism, along with the merged incomes of performance fees, press sales and donations to pay its own way. This model is in itself an art form."
We founded The Creativity Caravan because we, too, believe art should be accessible, and that art making should be free as often as possible. It should be inclusive and expansive. Art should be like green trees, like oxygen. Our goal is to work toward a similar kind of sustainability practice. In addition to our paid classes and workshops, we aim to offer events that are free to the public, giving our participants the option of donating what they can. The sliding-scale model is not easy to explain, especially here in the Tri-State area, where we have encountered confusion and maybe even a little bit of resistance. People are more comfortable when they know the exact cost of something; they are less comfortable when they are the ones to determine that cost.
Obviously, we have rent to pay. Like everyone else, we have to put food on our table and pay our bills. But we offer sliding-scale opportunities between our more formal, ticketed events so that people pay what they can afford. So what if you show up to one of our drop-in days and only have $3 to spare? Put it in the jar. The next person may have a little more in their pocket and be willing to share it freely. No matter how much or how little someone has, we welcome anyone and everyone who wants a seat at the table.
Our Karma Jar, The Creativity Caravan's version of the honor box, is there when you walk in or out the door. Pay what you can and whenever you have the extra means, help a fellow art-loverpay his or her way, too. In this way, art becomes like bread and we can all feed the world!