The sunny and warm weather overwhelming Vancouver in these early November days has been a boon to Vancouverites generally accustomed to the dreariness and sogginess that accompanies an average fall day. However, on this bright, and unseasonably warm November afternoon I am meeting up with Jonathan Bessette, co-founder and editor of the Non-Profit Organization to Destroy the World publishing society. The society recently commemorated the release of its second publication, hosting a party at the Interurban gallery in Vancouver’s Gastown. The society, a grass roots organization, has adopted a quirky organizational model in the name of artistic freedom. I sat down with Jonathan over a cup of tea in typical Vancouver fashion to discuss what the Non-Profit Organization to Destroy the World is.
Zouch: What is the Non-Profit Organization to Destroy the World?
Jonathan: The idea that we seem to be getting closer to cementing is that the Non-Profit Organization to Destroy the World is a group of people who are separating themselves from the concept of assimilation, specifically, separating ourselves from a concept of assimilation that seems to have been present in our culture and that prescribes certain kinds of rules or ways of being and living. We want to rid ourselves of all these pre-conceived notions of what it means to be an individual based on any specific culture.
Our idea is that by becoming a group of people who do not have any boundaries, who don’t prescribe to any limitations, and who don’t hide behind any pre-conceived notions about what art is, we will be better able to work against such prejudiced ideas in culture.
Zouch: It sounds like there is, in a sense, an ironic connotation to the moniker, “Non-Profit Organization to Destroy the World” however.
Jonathan: It’s totally paradoxical right? It was not intended. “Non-profit organization”, has this connotation of people who are helping others and who are doing good things. When you couple it with “destroying the world” it seems a little absurd of course. Why would a non-profit organization destroy the world? This would be an apparently mean spirited thing to do.
Zouch: So you are actually a non-profit organization?
Jonathan: Yeah! It has the certificate in the book. It’s real. We actually got incorporated.
Zouch: I thought it was a corporation not a non-profit organization.
Jonathan: Well you have to apply under a bunch of different types of corporations. We’re actually a society, specifically a publishing society, which is what we have been incorporated under and that includes the non-profit status. We individually don’t gain from the creation of our own art unless indirectly through some other avenue. I think that’s really important to us. We believe that when people start doing things just for the money you start to alienate yourself from your surroundings.
Zouch: Why the focus on artists though? Why not scientists? Why not grammarians? There are so many different fields of culture why are the arts and artists important in bringing people together?
Jonathan: One reason why I think it starts with art is because the core of art, whether its music, or writing, visual arts or fine arts, is that there is this level of trying to communicate something that’s inside of you, and the process of learning how to communicate that well, is an extremely difficult and long process. Moreover, I think it starts with art because art is also about learning to take this communication skill and to do it well. The better you get at communicating the more you can understand how you are influencing someone. I think that in this way we can hope to have, for example, athletes, amateur athletes, coming and having something worthwhile to say. I think athletics is as much an art as anything else.
Zouch: I’m interested the organization’s manifesto and manifestos often have political connotations. How is the organization not political?
Jonathan: (laughs) I think that our organization would be not political in the sense that it’s not trying to create a regime or some kind of absolute doctrine. Having said that there are some sort of underlying concepts or symbols that I think are present within the organization and I think those could be interpreted as political. Like I said before, the world at large that wants to assimilate people and distract them from actually interacting with each other, we want to destroy that world by creating a new space for people to exist in. And so that seems to be a totally political thing.
Our idea is that each issue will have a manifesto, written by a different member, and each manifesto will slowly build on the work of the prior. In this way we hope it will capture the organic process of change that we go through from year to year and from publication to publication.
Zouch: I’m also interested in the manifesto because, like you say, the group is in opposition to something but at the same time you claim that the group is inclusive of many different ideas. Can the group claim to be both inclusive of all ideas, all effective ways of communicating, while excluding others?
Jonathan: In the group itself, there are people with completely different opinions as to what exactly we’re doing. Ultimately, we are a non-profit organization and we have a general meeting every year and anyone can become a member and it’s a completely open board, we’re not exclusive at all. Anyone who wants to be a part of the group can be a part of the group. They can actually guide the future of the group in a certain direction.
We’re definitely in opposition to something but these oppositions are a product, I believe, of our initial and fundamental inclusiveness.
Zouch: How does incorporating allow for the promotion and safeguarding of artistic freedom?
Jonathan: It definitely seems like a contradictory thing to do. But there is this fact that a corporation is a real thing, it’s a person.
When we incorporated the Non-Profit Organization to Destroy the World, every single artist that’s involved with us, who produces work through us, and that we associate with the NPODW, none of those artists can be attacked directly. They can say whatever they want about whomever they want. Political figures, corporations, anything, and the only legal action that can be taken is against the NPODW and not the individual artist.
So literally we can publish the most scathing satire, the most disturbing material, that would really raise honest and actual questions about what’s going on today and no matter how offended someone is, the only thing this person could ever attack is the organization. A lot of our members feel that, paradoxically, in order to completely free ourselves artistically we have to submit ourselves to a group dynamic in a certain sense…
Jonathan: But become a corporation. A corporation is not necessarily about money either. In the past corporations were quite noble groups, where, say, a group of people in a small community wanted to build a bridge to get across a river, these people would form a corporation in order to do so. It was not about money in the sense of profit. And so in this way, hopefully we will be able to stay away from the kind of corruption that affects most corporations today.
Zouch: It says here in the publication that, “the complete works of this book are distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial Sharealike 3.0 License”. Does this mean anyone can manipulate the works as long as that person lets others modify it as well? Does this also help take the focus off of money?
Jonathan: Yeah, that’s what this is all about. The idea of having a publication which is totally free, in regards to artistic freedoms. Go back, for instance, a hundred and fifty years to the 1800’s there were no copyright laws. Alexandre Dumas was stealing ideas from Nathaniel Hawthorne. All these different writers were stealing ideas from each other because there was no such thing as copyright law. On one level it kind of sucks because you are a writer and you have this idea and some other guy rips it off. But the question is “why are you writing it in the first place”? Is it about communicating something? Is it about getting an idea out there? Is it important that you get that idea out there? Or that the idea just gets out there?
Zouch: So if you had one more thing to say about the Non-Profit Organization to Destroy the World what would you say?
Jonathan: I think, if I may add to my previous answer, that artists in general need to move more towards this idea that it’s more important to get an idea out there then just get an idea out there to get money, or get fame. I think this could greatly help ensure artistic freedom while also giving artists a stronger voice.
Zouch: On that note thank you very much.
Jonathan: Thank you!
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