Umberto Crenca is the founder of AS220, an arts non-profit organization on Downtown Providence, Rhode Island. AS220 started with just a manifesto and $800. The manifesto was written by Steven Emma in 1982, in collaboration with a group of artists, including the other two signatories: Umberto Crenca and Martha Dempster. You could say a lot has changed since those lawless days, but the ideals of this manifesto still ring true. Read on for the complete text:
[The earliest known copy of this manifesto ran in the Providence Eagle on April 14, 1982. It was reprinted or referenced in many other local papers around that time.]
To the editor:
It is time we artists stop harboring false hopes and come to terms with the present deteriorating situation in the arts. We must unite and challenge the entrenched assumptions and premises that now pervade our entire culture. We ourselves must give impetus to solving the problems that confront us today.
After much debate, questioning, and discussion we have put forth this manifesto and a challenge.
We realize that no artist can survive and grow without the support of both his/her peers and the public regardless of the artist’s unyielding belief in himself/herself.
We realize the prevailing order has the power to exercise control over the support systems necessary for artistic survival and growth including the media whose information or propaganda drastically influences public opinion and in turn public support. We challenge this order and the underlying assumptions that rationalize it!
We challenge the assumption that an art degree, education, position, or monetary success, necessarily legitimizes an artist’s endeavors, opinions, judgments, or gives credence to an artist’s work!
We challenge the award systems with their self-congratulatory aggrandizement that fosters the false premise that the winning of awards, prizes, grants, and so on necessarily validates an artist’s work, position, judgment or opinion.
We challenge the pervasive notion that complete, unbridled, uncensored freedom produces mediocrity and that excellence rises out of repression. It does not! Art is stifled and stagnates under repression whether that repression is overtly political or covertly economic, hence the historical exodus of artists and others from repressive states to those more conducive to the free expression of ideas. The relegating of an artist to an arbitrary position of insignificance, anonymity, or poverty by any group is a form of repression and must be challenged.
We challenge the discriminatory practices of the hierarchically interconnected art associations, art clubs, art galleries, art councils, art publications, art schools, and art museums. They reek of favoritism!
We challenge the fairness of the methods of dispersing funds for the arts and we challenge the right or privilege of any art institution, public or private, that receives state support either directly through grants or indirectly through tax write-offs, to discriminate in any way against an artist.
We challenge the over-emphasis on technique and process which has become a limiting and debilitating factor in art and which has also become a primary criteria for judging artistic merit.
Art has been removed from being an integral part of our society and has been relegated to mere processes which had lead to the production of dry, academic, pedantic, superficial, mechanical, and mass produced works of art devoid of all integrity, honesty, and meaning and has stripped art of its physical, psychological, moral, and spiritual impact necessary for the thriving and indeed the very survival of human culture.
Art must be allowed to flourish unhampered because art is one of the last areas of culture where humanity defines his spiritual nature.