In a world that treasures modernity over substance, ISALTA offers a vision that extends to the spiritual and aesthetic foundations of creative work. Yet, the organization, born out of the momentum of 1981, is in need of renewed vision and energy. ISALTA's website is an impressive articulation of a vital spirit, but now that this sleeping giant has emerged in cyberspace from the collective of artists that spawned world wide research and arts events, it seems to have nowhere to go. Yet, if I Google "living traditions in the arts" I find more than 22,000,000 hits, and ISALTA does not emerge as a prominent player.
ISALTA is aware of its plight. Visiting the website reveals a globe that serves as a link to this message:
ISALTA is changing. Since 1981 Members of the Board of Directors
and members have passed away, retired and moved on to other
interests. It is up to the membership to set the direction for ISALTA,
in this century, and all input will be welcomed at email@example.com.
ISALTA needs more than new ideas. It needs artists from all media with vibrant passions about the past, present, and future. The strength of ISALTA in the past is that its members had strong convictions about the present and the vision to shape the future.
If you examine about 30 pages of the 22,000,000 hits for living traditions, you are struck by the obsession of those websites with the past. This is certainly admirable and consonant with an objective of ISALTA in the 1980s, but ISALTA also was intent on creating tradition and bringing the latest technology and arts practices to bear so that boundaries were broken and crossed and new affiliations and collaborations emerged, sometimes with breath-taking speed. One such artist is Sandro Dernini, a contributing member, whose monumental work Plexus spanned Time and Space in an elaborate ongoing collaboration of artists and performers. Dernini was also an important figure in the initiatives surrounding the 500th year of Columbus' voyage to America which led to the creation of Navigating Global Cultures at NYU. NGC no longer exists, but as Web Arts Collaborative suggests, a new era for interactive creative work has emerged, and ISALTA might seize this opportunity for its own initiatives.
ISALTA needs to extend beyond the visual bias that presently is reflected in its membership, research, and coursework. Perhaps a performance-based conference aimed at attracting thinkers and practitioner's from all media, intermedia, mixed media, and multimedia could provoke a new revolution of thought. ISALTA's phenomenological-based stance is most welcome in this new world of quantitative dominance. Whether David Ecker's work is enough to propel this facet of ISALTA may not be relevant. Ecker's work is important and significant, although lately somewhat overlooked. But there are many others such as Don Ihde, Merleau-Ponty, et al., who philosophically underpin the work of this organization and embrace its raisone d'etre.
Yet, one cannot help but admire the tenacity of ISALTA. After all these years, its efforts and work have coalesced, and it can manage to somewhat defiantly shout in the wilderness of the 21st Century (with apologies to Sondheim):
Good times and bum times,
I’ve seen them all and, my dear,
I’m still here.