Home / Articles / News / News / Arts are the main course, not dessert
Print this Article
Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011 08:50 am

Arts are the main course, not dessert


Peter Sellars.
The arts are infinite and inexhaustible. Every artistic production sustains each hungry member of its audience for years, not just for a moment. That’s how Peter Sellars sees it.

Sellars, an international director and producer, has lived and worked in France, Africa and Australia, directed Los Angeles festivals in the 1990s and created opera and concert staged productions of classical works, such as his recent production of Handel’s Hercules at the Civic Opera House in Chicago.

The arts are typically digested as a side item or a “decorative dessert” on society’s dinner plate, when instead the arts should be consumed as the “protein,” the main course, he says.

“What I’m trying to do is everything that’s not on television,” Sellars says lightheartedly to a room filled with many sets of captivated eyes, all concentrated on him, at the Aquinas Center at Sacred Heart Convent in Springfield, hosted by the Dominican Institute for the Arts.

The projects he has worked on in cities across the globe are established in order to create a space for individuals who cannot find their own space in their day-to-day lives. That is what the arts are all about, he says.

For one Los Angeles festival he directed, he and his colleagues chose the infamous neighborhood of Crenshaw, which was feared by L.A. residents, as the location for the festival, he says. The area, with its broken streetlights and piles of trash, desperately needed maintenance before opening day. He and his colleagues approached the city council on the issues and resolved them in time for the festival. This later improved the area’s reputation to outsiders, he says.

“I do think the arts can introduce new things and can create a space for things that can be said in a way that politics can’t dare to even attempt these days,” he says.

In addition to being a producer, Sellars was also a professor at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and taught two art classes, one on art as a social action and the other on art as a moral action, reiterating the idea that an artist is someone who makes something out of nothing, he says.

Even as a professor, Sellars recognizes that teachers aren’t always in a classroom. He says he learned to recognize his “teachers” in life, who were sometimes those people who had caused him the most pain.

It’s the poorest of people who give Sellars his finest, deepest inspiration, he says. During a theater project in Australia, Sellars was fired for creating working groups for indigenous peoples of Australia and New Zealand that allowed them to discuss personal issues they had been suppressing. A composed character, Sellars says this is one of many firings he has faced, but he wears his firings with pride.

When it comes to finding finances for his productions, Sellars says he finds fundraising to be the “most important part of the artistic process.” It’s pivotal to spend as much time getting to know and understand the audience as it is to create what will go on the stage, he says.

“I don’t understand the exaggerated importance of money,” he says. “I understand its important, but it’s not the only thing going on and I don’t want to be tempted to think that it is.”

The non-cash economy is what keeps the world going and it always has, he says.

Sr. Mary Frances Gorman, O.P., presented Sellars as an honorary associate with the Dominican Institute for the Arts, after his speech in Springfield. She says Sellars’ non-materialistic viewpoint is invaluable.

“If the money comes, that’s good and we can use it for good things, but if we do it because of money, it has no value at all,” Gorman says.

She says she found Sellars to be one of the most honest people she’s come across in a long time and found the event to be a great success.

For the future, Sellars says he hopes that in his lifetime the middle-class artist will emerge, as opposed to the two current extremes, the rich and famous artist and the starving artist.

“I’m not saying anything that makes money is not worth doing,” Sellars says. “I’m saying the most valuable things in your life will never make money. And so to confuse value and money is to get really confused,” Sellars says.   

Contact Hannah Douglas at hdouglas@illinoistimes.com

Log in to use your Facebook account with

Login With Facebook Account

Recent Activity on IllinoisTimes


  • Mon
  • Tue
  • Wed
  • Thu
  • Fri
  • Sat
  • Sun