Arcosanti and Performance

In a recent ARCHITECTURE magazine, Aaron Betsky described a series of magnificent new performing arts centers in Europe and in the US, each one built out on the edge of a metropolis. Their location means, of course, that these things pull civic life right out of the city, and also, they are not for poor people, i.e. not for anyone who cannot drive a nice car to a performance.

Meantime, at Arcosanti (where, we know, you have to drive a car to get to the place) our East Crescent amphitheatre, right in the middle of a residential neighborhood, has been busy! A couple years ago, someone attending a concert here said this: “The level of immersion of the performing arts in this community surpasses anything else in America.” He was correct, and at our annual FORM Arcosanti festival of music, art and ideas, we demonstrated just what that immersion means.

Here’s how we introduced the wonderful Hundred Waters at FORM Arcosanti a couple Sunday evenings ago, right in the middle of our community…


“I want to be ready
I want to be ready
I want to be ready
To put on in heaven those long white robes…”

“I’m Jeff Stein, a president of the Cosanti Foundation, the urban research institution that – with its founder the late architect Paolo Soleri – invented this place, Arcosanti. I live right over there. So, Welcome to my neighborhood.

“I’m here, onstage for just a minute tonight, to give an introduction to Hundred Waters, so I thought I’d sing. That’s quite a song too, looking ahead to the next life. I want to get that sentiment out of the way, cuz while a lot of people feel like that these days, that’s not what we’re doing here.

“We are getting ready for something, alright, all of us gathered round this amphitheatre; but were not getting ready for heaven. We are not getting ready for the next life; Instead, what we’re doing everyday here at Arcosanti, that Hundred Waters is doing everyday all ‘round the world, we’re trying to make things happen…in the present…in this life. Our lives.

“This is our time, not some far-off future. Right here. Right now. And we want to make the most of it, to do the best work we can. Work as my colleague Mary Hoadley said on a panel discussion yesterday morning, work is LOVE MADE VISIBLE. That is what Arcosanti is. That is what FORM Arcosanti is right here in this amphitheatre tonight: we are LOVE MADE VISIBLE.

“That love needs to connect us, profoundly, the way this architecture has connected us all these past three days. The way Gregory Bateson has described it. Yes, anthropologist Gregory Bateson. Syllogistic Reasoning. You know, Aristotle: A Major premise;  Minor premise;  Conclusion

“Each subject is the object of the next statement. That’s how, historically, we have divided our world: into subjects and objects. Actors (us) and acted upon (everything else!). Life and not life. Man and environment.  Separate.
Here’s Aristotle:

Men Die.
Socrates is a man.
Socrates will die.

“No word about the tens of millions of other species – besides men — on the planet; and this is the very basis of Western Civilization: men DIS-connected from anything else. A way of thinking that has led to science, cars, tall buildings made out of completely dead materials….

But what if we reasoned this way? Still the syllogism, but not Aristotle, instead, the way Gregory Bateson suggests:

Men Die.
Grass Dies.
Men are grass.

“Sounds funny, but on the molecular level, on the level of carbon atoms, this is actually the case. It’s a case made for connection: of people, places, things. There’s no us and them in Bateson’s logic. It’s only us, life. And it is what this place, Arcosanti, and what Zach, Tre, Nicole, Hundred Waters is all about.
“These are people for whom making things – making music –  allows them to connect to something larger than themselves, allows them to connect to us, to these surroundings, to what it means to be fully human. They are doing as much as they can – as we all are at this place – to make this world a more beautiful, a more connected place today.

“And as Gregory Bateson expresses it: Everything is connected.
If you leave here having experienced this, through the universal language of architecture, through the universal language of music, believing it, ready to live your lives as if this is true, some things are going to change in the world.

Let me stop now with a story by Italo Calvino from his book INVISIBLE CITIES.  (It might seem familiar.) “Those who finally arrive can see little of the city, beyond the plank fences, the sackcloth screens, the scaffoldings, the metal armatures, the wooden catwalks hanging from ropes or supported by sawhorses, the ladders, the trestles.  If you ask, “Why is construction taking such a long time?” the inhabitants continue hoisting sacks, lowering leaded strings, moving long brushes up and down, as they answer, “So that its destruction cannot begin.” And if asked whether they fear, once the scaffoldings are removed, the city may begin to crumble and fall to pieces, they add hastily, in a whisper, “Not only the city.”

“If dissatisfied with the answers, someone puts his eye to a crack in a fence, he sees cranes pulling up other cranes, scaffoldings that embrace other scaffoldings, beams that prop up other beams. “What meaning does your construction have?” he asks. “What is the aim of a city under construction unless it is a city? Where is the plan you are following, the blueprint?” “We will show it to you as soon as the working day is over; we cannot interrupt our work now,” they answer.  Work stops at sunset. Darkness falls over the building site. The sky is filled with stars. ‘There is the blueprint,’ they say.”

“So. Ready?
Ladies and Gentlemen, HUNDRED WATERS.”

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