On the Couch with Steve Lambert

Steve Lambert AAR On the CouchWho is Steve Lambert?
I was raised in a struggling family furniture business in Northern California by a former Franciscan Monk and a Dominican Nun who quit out of idealism and love. Trained in the arts, I use those skills to imagine better ways the world can work, and then take steps to bring those worlds closer to ours. In my art practice I do this with large scale, public projects that engage new audiences on difficult topics through the social science of comedy, games, theater, and democracy. I’m also the co-founder of the Center for Artistic Activism (C4AA.org) and have worked alongside over 900 artists and activists in 15 countries on 4 continents leading trainings to help them to effect power through creativity and culture.

What would you do di?erently to what you do now? 
Sometimes I fantasize about getting paid massive amounts of money for my ideas, approach, and skills by going to work for “brands” in the top floors of some major advertising firm. Then my stomach tightens and the vomit taste starts to surface in the back of my throat. And then I remember all the advertising people I do know who are my age and trying to find meaning in their lives through wearing feather boas on trips to fucking Burning Man in their Porsche with a partner half their age they’ve been with for 8 months. I imagine them in their tents in the desert as the man smolders outside, the sun just beginning to lighten the sky, crying because they hate their lives minus this one weekend and they have to go back to work in Los Gatos on Monday. Then the yearning for that stupid paycheck dissipates.

Who inspires you and why? 
I’ve been able to work with some incredible people in the past few years in fighting for human rights and legal reform for sex workers in South Africa, and for safe injection facilities for IV drug users in the United States. The organizers who take on improving the lives for the most vulnerable populations are some of the most caring, funny, supportive, and fun people to work with. And the sex workers and drug users themselves are the most generous and committed people you’ll meet. Everyone I’ve met that’s survived an opioid or meth addiction – they have stories of such pain and loss, and were often written off by everyone around them, but all they want to do with the life they have is to help other people. Working with these people, coming up with wild projects, and winning campaigns… it’s all I want to do.

What would you do to make a di?erence in the world? 
Well… wait, are you trying to make me feel guilty?  Ok, first few things would be to decriminalize sex work and drug use, and treat drug use as a public health problem. Then move on to solve some of the larger problems through some sort of global economic revolution that’s not quite socialist, communist, or anarchist but was envisioned by people unafraid to consider those ideas as we remake the world. Next I’d launch a low orbit solar array that could collect energy as well as block the sun and help reverse some of the effects of global warming.  Somehow settle all global conflict through a permutation of what we know today as professional wrestling. The premise here is that there’s no limits imposed by cost, public will, politics, or physics, right? Am I answering what you’re asking? I could go on…

Favourite holiday destination and why? 
I dunno, Hamilton Island? You know, for the first 30 years of my life I barely left California. In the past 10 years I’ve accumulated enough frequent flyer miles that when I call the airline they answer, “Hello Mr. Lambert.” In fact, I’ve been thinking about this lately because I have enough miles that I could go literally anywhere in the world.  But after all this travel a weird thing has happened where I’ve come to really value a slow day in a decent hotel room more than hustling around to see sites. A real holiday for me would be several weeks at home with my partner, with some good food and no obligations,  and to have everyone think we’re doing research in the Arctic or something.

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why? 
I live in a small town on the Hudson River about 90 minutes north of New York City. There’s not a lot to see – there’s an art museum, you can look at the river, and some places we like to eat on Main Street. If you’re visiting, the attraction better be us or you’re probably going to be disappointed.

What are you currently reading? 
I’m reading Lenin Lives! Reimagining the Russian Revolution 1917-2017 by Philip Cunliffe. You ever notice how people like to indulge these sadistic  experiments of the imagination and speculate what the world would be like if the Nazi’s won World War II? This book is a much more optimistic version of that genre. Most reasonable people would admit that, the communist revolutions of the last century didn’t work out the way they were originally envisioned. What this author does is imagine a few key events went differently and what the world would be like in a best case scenario where that revolution was successful on a global scale. Because it moves through one hundred years of history, I’m learning a lot about our timeline along the way, but his descriptions of the communist 2017 are mind-bending and exciting. In fact, I stole that solar array thing I mentioned earlier straight from him. I found this one through after reading Leigh Phillips’ Austerity Ecology and the Collapse Port Addicts which is great, and has brilliant criticism of environmentalism from a further left perspective.

What are you currently listening to? 
Most of the day I listen to podcasts, but I just had boxes of my old records finally shipped out from California. When I was a teenager I used to say I liked music, except for Country and Reggae. Within a few years I was obsessed, almost exclusively, with Country and Reggae. I played upright bass in a Country and Western band and know more about the history of Jamaican music than anyone would ever expect. Lately I’ve been listening to old Treasure Island Records and loving Slim Smith and the Techniques.

Happiness is? 
Fleeting? Good food. Making my partner laugh out loud. Riding my bike in a new city, but not having to be anywhere.

What does the future hold for you?
Doing more work on the Opioid Crisis in New York and Ohio. Working with activists in Europe to fight pharmaceutical companies from extorting profit from patients. Finishing illustrations for a book I’ve written with the other founder of the Center for Artistic Activism, Stephen Duncombe and getting that to a publisher. I’ve earned a sabbatical from teaching next year, so I have more time to work on these kinds of things. I’m also hoping to get some support for an upcoming project, the follow up to Capitalism Works For Me! True/False – a public game show for difficult subject matter built into a shipping container. Fingers crossed.

Steve is the creator of Capitalism Works For Me! True/False – currently being presented by Arts House at various locations throughout Melbourne as part of the 2018 Festival of Live Art. For more information, visit: www.artshouse.com.au for details.

Image: Steve Lambert (supplied)