Adventures In Saving Our Democracy

CREATE CULTURE

“Lifelong Vegetarian. Cultural Carnivore.” That’s been my life’s subtitle since I was 10 years old.

“Culture. Creation. Community. Connection.” Those have been my four core values since I was 20.

In high school, I remember asking my World History teacher why armies at war destroyed cultural centers first. He kneeled down, looked me dead in the eye and said, “Culture is civilization, Michael. Culture is humanity. When you attack a nation’s cultural centers – libraries, theatres, museums – you attack their humanity. Without our humanity, who are we? What are we? Like the rubble, we are dust.”

Now I *may* have given this memory a sprinkle of Dead Poets Society heft, but the sentiment landed, and it’s stuck with me to this day.

The history buffs out there know that following the destruction of cultural sites in WWII, the UN put together “The 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.” For the most part, this international treaty made destroying another country’s cultural centers a war crime. However, there are still no protocols in place for when countries destroy their culture from within.

We must not give up on our culture. We must continue to create and commune and connect. Your efforts do not go unnoticed. I see your perseverance, your artistry, your grit. Keep going.

I love how the government of Ontario defines culture on their website: “Culture is the lifeblood of a vibrant society, expressed in the many ways we tell our stories, celebrate, remember the past, entertain ourselves, and imagine the future. Our creative expression helps define who we are, and helps us see the world through the eyes of others.”

No matter the medium, I live to tell stories. I live to connect humans. I live to build culture. Better Work Week was my small attempt to help build a better culture. Thank you to everyone who participated and helped make it a reality. I’m thrilled that it was free and open to the public. I’m thrilled by the assembled talent’s diversity and expertise. I’m thrilled that it brought a little joy, a little ease, a little connection to people scattered across the globe. (And to keep the goodwill going, I’m giving away free SunBasket meals to anyone who reads this. E-mail me and I’ll send you a link.)

Let’s collaborate and build back our culture together. A culture of empathy and wonder. Let’s reclaim our humanity. I know sincerity can feel retro. Sue me. Call me old fashioned. We all could use a little sincerity these days. Chins up, my friends. We have work to do.

MAKE ART

E​ight years ago today, as Hurricane Sandy prepared to batter New York City, I stuffed my soaked limbs into the last train out of the city. I traveled back to New Haven, where I was directing and choreographing The Drowsy Chaperone at Yale.​ (Ah, theatre. <clutches heart> Remember theatre?​) ​We were scheduled to start a weekend of tech less than a week before opening. The weekend of tech was cancelled.​

Despair was not an option for this incredible group of theatre makers. (Kudos always to this amazing creative team.) Everyone pushed through – theatre makers are experts in pushing through – and a few days later, we managed to open one of my favorite productions I’ve ever directed. While mounds of snow encased the gothic arches of Yale University, I watched friends and strangers huddle in a theatre to watch a man in a chair, alone and lonely in his dark apartment, find joy and meaning in his favorite piece of art.

Do you like theatre? Or ​maybe ​film? ​Perhaps ​you like music or dance or museums or literature or TV? ​Over the last 7 months, have you turned to a book, a show on television, or even a song to bring you a moment’s comfort?​

The Arts are essential. Our culture, our humanities are essential. ​​I’ve already shared the staggering data around arts employment and economic output. The Arts are one of our country’s biggest foundational industries. So here’s a different bit of context:​

The United States government spends less money supporting the Arts than EVERY OTHER country tracked by The Arts Council of England​.​ (As an example, Germany, a country comparable to the U.S. in terms of per capita gross domestic product (GDP), spends more than 14 times greater than per capita U.S. spending, and even Ireland, with less than half the per capita GDP of the United States, has higher public spending on the Arts than the U.S.)​

Right now, workers​ in the U.K.​ who cannot do their jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic have up to 80% of their wages covered by the government. On top of that, the U.K.’s public funding body for the arts announced a $190 million emergency relief package for artists and arts organizations affected by the ongoing public health situation, specifically earmarking $23 million in emergency relief to freelancers in creative industries who were not sufficiently covered by the government’s existing bailout package.

With all this in mind, did you know that every year for the last four years, our current administration has tried to significantly cut or eliminate altogether the federal funding allocated for our arts and humanities? In their budget proposal for 2021, these cuts can be found under the header, “Stopping Wasteful and Unnecessary Spending.”

I’ll tell you again. The Arts that you enjoy, that relax you, that thrill you, that comfort you, that serve your communities, that create millions of jobs, that withstand plagues and wars, that give your life ​pleasure, connection and ​meaning, they are not unnecessary. The Arts are essential.​

We’ve done it before. ​During the Great Depression, the U.S. government invested $27 million​ with The New Deal​, a huge sum in those days, to employ artists, musicians, actors and writers via the Works Progress Administration.​

The Arts are essential. ​Dear reader, I hope you’ll vote for candidates that feel the same way. I know, this simple bout of nostalgia turned left real quick. But so be it. So much is at stake. Now excuse me. I’m ​gonna turn up some music real loud in my apartment and dance ​with joy around my living room.

AND VOTE

Fun Fact: I’m smiling because I have my kippah from Jared and Ivanka’s wedding stashed in my pocket and I’m willing to perform a hex if necessary.

No, no, no. I’m smiling because I voted!

Okay, false promises of ancient Kabbalistic witchcraft aside, there are a thousand reasons I proudly voted for Joe Biden. As we near the finish line, I’ll share with you just one. (And it has nothing to do with policy.) Joe is a healer. He has endured the most painful personal tragedies imaginable and instead of retreating or growing hard, he continues to model his life with dignity, compassion, and a drive for national unity. It’s easy to forget we are The United States of America. It’s easy to choose cynicism, to believe our wounds can’t ever heal. They can. We can unite. We can heal. In fact we must if we’re ever going to survive.

I would never rely on Joe to heal our nation’s wounds. That’s on us, as individuals, as interconnected communities. But with Joe as our President, we’d have a leader who leads with empathy, not division. Who believes in science and equality. Who champions working families, not with empty words, but with action plans. He’d be an advocate for all US citizens, not just his followers. With Joe, we all can start to thrive. With Joe, we all can start to heal.

You could call my words unbridled optimism. Not sorry. Optimists get shit done. They imagine and work towards that “more perfect union.” Republicans are going to do everything they can this next week to steal the election. They can’t win if we make it a landslide.

Every day for the last month, I have written personal, non-partisan letters to swing state voters through Vote Forward. It’s been a heart-stirring experience to spend time with each name. To imagine what life might be like on their street, or how they’ll react upon reading my words.

Big ups to all y’all waiting in long lines, phone banking, texting, writing letters, volunteering, and donating. Big ups to all y’all having hard and painful conversations with loved ones. I am so inspired by you all. Your efforts to save our democracy and our planet do not go unvalued.

See you on the other side. Godspeed and love to you all.

PS. Thank you New York Magazine and I Am A Voter for these artist-designed stickers! Stickers really do make democracy saving more fun. #BlueWave #IfYourWaveIsRed #SomethingIsWrong #LikePlagueWrong #TheOceanIsBlue #TheMoreYouKnow

Adventures In Sharing Your Art

A small story of joy at the end of a dark week in our country.

As some of you know, I build experiences across unused, Class A commercial spaces for one of my clients. My job is to essentially engage, strengthen and connect disparate communities in any given building.

One of the ways we recently achieved this for a particular building in Midtown was by inviting all tenants who had side passions as creators, makers, and artists to exhibit their work in our common space. So an HR manager at a hedge fund brought in her homemade greeting cards, an executive assistant at a law firm brought in his 3D paintings, a front desk associate at a beverage distributor brought in her photographs, and so on. Once we collected and proudly displayed all their work on the walls of our common space, we threw everyone a big Art Party. They could invite their colleagues, friends and family to attend in celebration (and hopefully sell some of that side hustle work too.)

I was particularly struck by a series of prints that appeared to be images of microscopic specimens, so I tracked down the artist. She was unbelievably sweet. Her name is Stephanie, and she’s been a secretary at the same company for nearly 30 years.

I asked her about her work. It turns out they were prints of various recyclable objects found around her desk. For the last three decades, whenever she’d get bored at work, she’d collect discarded staples, trashed packaging straps, and wayward hole punches, and make beautiful pieces of art out of them.

I asked her if she had ever shown her art before. She laughed. These prints had been accumulating under her bed, collecting dust for thirty years. No one had ever seen them before. In fact, she had hundreds and hundreds more where these came from.

I then asked her why she hadn’t shown her art before. She said she didn’t think she was a “real artist.” She said she didn’t think people would like her art. She said she didn’t think she had permission.

So I told her I wanted to buy a piece. Her mouth dropped and stayed open. I changed my mind. I told her I wanted to buy three pieces. She fell to the floor and sobbed. What seemed like a small gesture on my part felt like a tidal wave to her. Later that day, she submitted a few of her pieces online to a contest. And this weekend, her work will be shown publicly for the first time in her life at an art show in Red Hook.

I share this story as a reminder, friends. Please don’t hide your art under your beds. I say that both literally and figuratively. Show your colors to the world. If you’re angry, share your anger. If you’re happy, share your happiness. Enjoy your process. Share your work. Share your passions. Share your story.

This world could afford a little more of your light.

And if you’re interested in purchasing a piece of Stephanie’s, I’ll gladly put you in touch.

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Adventures In 2018

2018 HIGHLIGHTS

FILM

Gempler Art 1.9 MBOur short film, Montana, based on my Sundance finalist TV pilot of the same name, played film festivals across the country this year, including
The Brooklyn Film Festival in New York, SeriesFest in Denver, and
The Awareness Film Festival in Los Angeles.

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Montana will continue to play the festival circuit in the new year, and be available to watch online late Spring 2019. In a surprising but worthwhile development, I’m now hard at work writing the novel adaptation,
the manuscript of which has a target finish of mid Summer 2019.

Montana Poster

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EVENTS

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Some of our annual projects continued in 2018 with event directing
The 72nd Annual Tony Awards Events 
at The Rainbow Room, The Sofitel, and The Plaza Hotel in NYC
The 5th Annual All Star Code Summer Benefit 
at a private estate in East Hampton
Some of our new events this year included
The Phantom Of The Opera 30th Anniversary Celebration,
events for Art Basel Miami and
U.S. News & World Report.

EXPERIENTIAL

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Since February, I’ve additionally been Experiential Creative Director
of Better Spaces, a leader in tenant engagement. We’re creating and operating experiential amenity spaces in top commercial real estate portfolios across the country. It’s been an exciting opportunity to bring programming, design and a bit of theatricality to commercial spaces nationwide.

ONWARDS

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2018 was unequivocally Boat Ashore Productions’ most successful year yet.
I am most proud of the fact that we employed a record 75 different people on various film and event projects, and are on track to continue growing in 2019 with new experiences and TV projects in development. 

On a personal note, this year included a number of new travels,
from Tulum, Mexico to the Cotswolds of England
to Calivigny Island off the coast of Grenada.
2018 will likely be remembered as the year
I officiated my first wedding, moved to Brooklyn, and became an uncle!

Let’s continue to spread joy and make great things together in the new year.
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xx
Michael / The Adventure Addict / Boat Ashore Productions

CLICK HERE TO WATCH 2018 IN 60 SECONDS

 

Adventures In Combating Complacency

And now for something completely different.

I’m going to swear online for the first time today.

Racist Nazi fucks don’t scare me.

You wanna fuck with black people and Jewish people? Good luck with that.

Here’s what does scare me: Complacency. I was out at a bar last night for a birthday party. I was talking to friends about Charlottesville. I then struck up a conversation with a stranger – a finance bro. (Now I don’t mean to belittle “finance bros” at all. But I said it, and now I bet you can visualize him better. I mean he probably dressed up as Patrick Bateman once for Halloween because he thought he was being “ironic.” I digress.)

The guy said he didn’t know what happened yesterday because he doesn’t watch or read the news. When I began to tell him what happened – Yes, Michael, by all means initiate a conversation about politics and Nazism with a stranger in a bar – he said he didn’t want to know.

Now I don’t post much on Facebook these days other than random questions and photos with vague song lyrics from the 90’s as captions. It’s just not a productive place for me. I never post news links and rarely write political posts. People who know me know this is not for lack of political or social engagement in the slightest. I simply prefer to focus my time on taking action offline, every day, with intention, engaging with people face to face.

But this conversation followed last night, which I quickly wrote down after it ended because it scared me so much. I felt the need to share it on social media because I believe there’s an even greater terror on our hands than this small population of racist Nazi fucks (many of whom, fascinatingly, if you check their Twitter handles, claim to be anti-Nazi, but we’ll get into that another time).

The greater terror, to me, is the complacency and apathy of every day Americans.

Our conversation continued:

So you don’t read the news either?

No.

Never catch it on a screen somewhere? Talk to friends about it?

Nope. I don’t want to know about it. I’ve never voted either. (He said PROUDLY.)

Why not?

One vote doesn’t mean anything. My vote can’t do anything. Let me tell you something – most people are scum.

Do tell me. Tell me more.

Most people are scum! And I don’t want anything to do with scum.

These men and women were marching with swastikas yesterday. These are the people who make death threats to synagogues and raid Jewish cemeteries. These are the people killing our black brothers and sisters in the streets.

See, I told you! Scum! But I’m never going to cross paths with any of them. So. They’re not my problem.

What about other people’s problems? What about empathy?

There’s nothing I can do.

There’s so much you can do! Volunteer, donate, call, e-mail, tweet at your representatives, raise your voice, engage, dialogue, march, protest…

Protests don’t do anything. Protests have never accomplished a damn thing. You’re wasting your time. Like I told you, most people are scum. It’s the way of the world.

…….

What kind of work do you do?

Investment banking.

Do you enjoy your work?

Naw. I hate it, honestly.

What would you rather be doing?

I don’t know. So long as I never have to go above 14th Street, I’m good.

—–

I smiled and walked away.

He’s wrong. Most people aren’t scum.

Yes, some people light the world up with their tiki torches from Home Depot while shouting “White Lives Matter,” completely devoid of the true irony that their weapon of choice is an American bastardization of a non-white symbol. (Let’s face it: Their hats were made in China too.)

No, most people aren’t scum. But some are. Some are willing to just standby and watch the world burn.

The amount of pain and wrongs done in the world every day is immeasurable and overwhelming. And yes, people have no legal or even human obligation to look after or take care of their fellow human beings. But that is not who I choose to be.

I choose to be someone who doesn’t turn the world off because it’s painful and overwhelming. I choose to be someone who strives every day to do what they can to learn, listen, and make a positive impact. And I’d say the people I tend to surround myself with have the same viewpoint. Of course, we can’t consume the 24 hour news media. We can’t desensitize ourselves to the point of no return. We have to take care of ourselves and our well-being first. But as someone who dedicates their life to storytelling, to building empathy in individuals and strength in communities, I won’t ever stop trying to get people to open up their hearts and minds and pay attention to the world around them. That’s not just how we’ll grow. It’s how we’ll survive.

Friends, instead of railing against Trump every day from your private Facebook accounts and posting another “But her e-mails” meme, please help me talk to these kinds of people face to face every day as respectfully as possible. Lord knows I’m trying. Listen to them. Challenge them. Engage them. I know it’s difficult. But try. You have to try. Our democracy, our world, our future is at stake.