Jun 18, 2009

Drop! in Trinidad this weekend

If I weren't throwing a yard/bake sale this weekend, followed by a BBQ and a futuristic farewell party, I'd most certainly be in Trinidad, CO for an event celebrating the history of Drop City. My friend Tom McCourt and his film-making partner, Joan Grossman, have received a Graham Foundation grant to finish shooting interviews for their documentary film about Drop City an d an event sponsored by History Colorado and HessArts (a local art space) welcomes their initiative to Trinidad.

Drop City was an extraordinary place built by artists in 1965. It sat on the outskirts of Trinidad, just off I-25, for nearly seven years. The community was made of salvaged junk and countercultural intentions and was stimulus for one of the largest communal movements in the US. While this event seems (from the press release I dug up online) to be rather celebratory and warm, it's worth noting that many people remember Drop City as shaded by failure. The commune ended in kaleidescopic ruin -- meth labs and a murder -- and became a sign-post for the downward spiral of Sixties idealism.

The event is on Sunday, June 21 and will involve a screening of Tom and Joan's trailer and an appearance by former Dropper artist, Clark Richert. The event is called Drop! and promises to draw a good crowd, especially given the fact that Trinidad Brewing Company will be serving up their Drop City beer at the event. I wish I could be there to see what promises to be a complicated and lively debate. I'd hate to for Drop City to be framed as anything less than a cantankerous, colorful experiment that was impetus for Robin-Hood-style-thievery, ruined friendships, unprecedented openness, and amplified art practice. Drop City has undoubtedly inspired countless commune and art projects -- it should certainly be documented and celebrated -- but deserves also to be remembered in all its ruinous glory. I believe this documentary may do justice by presenting Drop City in all its complexity.

Tom was recently asked by a reporter from the Denver Post the following question:
Where do you see counterculture in America today? Could a place like Drop City exist in 2009?

Tom answers:
Counterculture is a lot tougher these days. The ability to live off the fat of the land has diminished significantly. It's harder to drift from job to job until you figure out what you want to do. The biggest change in the last 40 years is the ascendance of marketplace fundamentalism, in which society serves the needs of the marketplace rather than vice versa. This seems to be changing somewhat in the last few months, but there's still a long way to go. People involved in counterculture seem a lot more realistic these days, which may be a good thing. Counterculture today operates more off the radar -- there's no central organizing point, as there was with the draft in the '60s. But counterculture continues to thrive in myriad ways. Kids today are much more media-savvy and aware of the dangers of cooptation. Important work is being done; it's just not getting as much attention, due to the fractal nature of media as well as concerns about exploitation.

There's a long chain of resistance to the established order in America, and Drop City is a major link in that chain. Yet what could be more American than striking out for the West and trying to build a civilization from scratch? Drop City had no leaders and no dogma. The early residents were artists, trying to live their lives as art. They wanted to create their work, have adventures and not get stuck in menial, laboring jobs -- but they lived in utter poverty. I think they saw their community as an existential adventure.

One of the most important things the Droppers have taught me is how to remain true to one's ideals over time. All of the Droppers I've met continue to produce films, paintings, novels and poems that are vital and engaging. I hope this film will show that what the Droppers created is an ongoing project, not a brief period enveloped in an elegaic haze of nostalgia. It is a process that will continue as long as there is hope for possibility in America. We tend to think of the "American Dream" as attaining wealth, but the real American Dream is the possibility of rejecting the slots that are created for us in favor of a productive and meaningful life that we create ourselves.

Go Tom!
Check out the Drop City documentary here. Learn more about the event, Drop!, here.

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