The Hail Mary

There were 44 seconds left in the game and the Ravens were on their own 30-yard line, trailing by a touchdown. It was a fraught situation.

The Hail Mary is a Christian prayer seeking the intercession of the Virgin Mary; in football, it means something else. More often referred to as a “Hail Mary pass,” the phrase refers specifically to a long shot pass to receivers way downfield. Attempted in the last moments of a game by a team hoping to avoid a loss, it is a desperation move.

With those last 44 seconds, Joe Flacco happened to have Jacoby Jones downfield, up to then more a standout kick-off and punt returner than wide receiver. But on that particular cold day in Denver, Jones made his mark. Though injured now, he is the Ravens’ top receiver for 2013 after Torrey Smith, not to mention a Dancing with the Stars standout.

Desperation is the mother of invention.

On August 5, 1949, the Mann Gulch fire cost the lives of 15 smokejumpers. Robert Wagner Dodge was one of only three who survived the tragedy. As eloquently told in Norman McLean’s Young Men and Fire, Dodge pulled off what seemed to the other two survivors impossible: while they outran the fire, Dodge did not, and yet he survived. How could that have been?

As the eldest and most experienced of the smokejumpers, Dodge realized sooner than most he could not outrun the fire. His plight powered his mind to a solution. Noting the dryness of the tall grass surrounding him, he lit it on fire. In doing so, it burned a patch of ground in the less-than-a-minute it took the wall of wildfire to reach him… a patch of ground in which he lay, a dimple of space left unscathed enough for him to survive. To the other two survivors, it seemed a miracle; to the United States Forest Service, it became an escape technique to teach all future fire fighters.

Desperation is the mother of invention.

I have been a practicing artist for 25 years, and in that time have participated in and observed various art worlds. From Soho to Chelsea, from Station North to Sandtown-Winchester, I have made my way and seen others do the same. I have yet to meet someone who does not find the climate (the art climate) a challenge.

More than ever before (and I suspect having something to do with the 2008 downturn and increasing inequity in this country), times seem desperate. Be it major institutions such as The Walters or BMA having to lay people off in recent years, or gallery owners coming up with all variations of fee-based teas or salons to offset diminished sales, or those in my line of social justice-oriented art or youth arts chronically remaining unpaid or under-paid, we have it hard. Conventional methods of sustainability are barely getting us by.

So the time seems right for a Hail Mary pass.

In the coming weeks and months (starting with a big announcement just a few days from when this blog post goes public), I will begin approaching funding solutions for the work I do differently. While not entirely giving up on old paradigms, I’ll be trying out some new ones. There is risk involved: my efforts may leave my small public scratching its collective head, wondering what I could possibly be thinking. New ideas are often unsuccessful ideas.

(I am reminded of what Babe Shapiro, who led the MFA Graduate program I attended at MICA in the 1980’s, said to me once in regard to making art: “Better to fail big than succeed small.”)

More often than not, the Hail Mary fails to achieve its desired result. But when it works, it’s a thing of beauty. Just ask any Baltimore Ravens fan.