Artists squeezed by recession cutbacks


David Daniels has, for well over a decade, bucked the odds as a devoutly daring and resourceful individual. As a writer-performer, The Rasta Bard has defied convention with his social protest, holding no cows sacred on either the political left or right.

David Daniels with The Talkin’ Roots Farewell Show is Sunday, April 19, 8 pm, at Acadia Café in Minneapolis’ West Bank, corner of Cedar and Riverside. No cover.

He’s remained a cult icon, selling out shows despite a lack of mainstream media coverage and steadfast adherence to Rastafarian principles, which, of course, include smoking herb — often enough, right up there on stage. Somehow, after being banned from place after place, he keeps finding another venue.

His plays (I, Edgar Hoover, Malcolm X Meet Peter Tosh) and spoken word scripts (Kolorada…A Western Tale, Black Hippie Chronicles) pack in SRO crowd after crowd. On top of which it’s a wonder he hasn’t been arrested on-stage. Yet.

Turns out, what being ignored by media and denied by performing outlets hasn’t been able to do, the economy just may yet accomplish. Twin-Cities theater and arts may lose one of its most uniquely gifted artists.

Like plenty of others, Daniels works a day job to keep it all together and resorts to a healthy amount of ingenuity. About five years past, he had an arrangement with his landlord: Daniels overlooked a certain lack of maintenance and the landlord kept the building open (and the rent within Daniels’ reach).

Then some shortsighted folk moved into the building and, instead of making do with the situation, raised three different kinds of hell about this, that, and the other thing being wrong, and if the landlord didn’t fix it they were going to report him to the City of Minneapolis and have the place condemned.

Since the landlord really didn’t need the property and basically was just playing ball with Daniels, he invited them to report their butts off and simply boarded up the house.

Well, even five years ago, affordable housing was as abundant as left-handed aardvarks, if not quite as hard to find. This guy, however, called on a network of friends and, holding down his job, spent a month on this couch, six months rooming with that guy, and so on.

For a good three to four years he was homeless and sometimes in-between jobs until he landed a crib in St. Paul. Daniels has been in St. Paul the last two years, but thriving as a performer and enjoying the comparative luxury of having a roof overhead — not to mention being able to catch his beloved Denver Broncos and New York Mets on cable.

Now the handwriting is on the wall. After all he’s been through fighting the good fight, David Daniels’ hours at the job have been cut back — and cut back — to the point where he’s looking at Denver as a backup plan if things don’t turn around.

“My full-time job”, he reflects, “has been reduced to part-time hours, and I have been forced to use my sick days to cover the costs of my health benefits. Sooner or later I will have used them up and, unless I find another part-time or full-time job, will have to drop them.”

It is no longer a matter of being determinedly resourceful. No matter how smart or flexible you are, no matter how many friends you’ve got, you cannot make a living out of whole cloth. “Like most everyone who has been laid off or has had hours cut, I’m applying for new work,” says Daniels. “One has to realize, though, that because of the recession, competition is stiff for even the most entry-level position.”

He’s got a few thoughts on how he wound up in this position, and they’re not about those knuckleheads who lost him his apartment those years ago. “Democrats and Republicans share equal responsibility [for the failed economy]. After all, it was on Bill Clinton’s watch where NAFTA passed, serving corporate interests, and led to a lowering of wages. Bush was just a logical extension of Clinton policies.”

He adds, “Both major parties are in the pockets of Wall Street. The same corporate contributors who supported Bush support Obama. Both parties work to marginalize third-party and independent voices through ballot access restrictions and by barring participation in debates.”

Daniels concludes, “I’m afraid that despite the flowery rhetoric, Obama’s economic policies are just a continuation of the policies that got us into this mess in the first place. Outside of a massive reform of our economic and monetary systems, I think things are going to get a whole lot worse.”

Daniels is not by himself in that opinion. You can’t turn to a Face the Nation or a Meet the Press on the television and find even the slightest hope that the worst is over.

So, David Daniels is taking a good, hard look at relocating to Denver, where he started out in theater (and, for that matter, used to be a political gadfly). He’s got a strong personal network still intact there, places to perform (and narrowly avoid arrest), and a grown daughter whom he madly loves.

On top of which, “Reports have it that Colorado has not been affected by the recession as much as other states. In addition, I have family there. Denver also, despite not being a theater town, has been more receptive to my work, both in box office and mainstream media recognition, than the Twin Cities.”

It looks like our loss is about to be Denver’s gain.

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