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Doug Krizner: Examining our relationship with money may be something few consider doing. An artist from New York City made it her quest, and it meant giving her savings away. Nick van der Kolk has more.
Nick van der Kolk: Like most of us, performance artist Sara Juli is terrified at the thought of living without a regular paycheck every two weeks, and she’s held down a regular 9 to 5 job most of her adult life. She’s used to confronting her fears through her art, but when it came to letting go of her anxiety around money, she realized she would really, really have to let go.
Sara Juli: That’s when I came up with the idea of cashing out my entire savings account, of which I have, or had at the time, $5,000.
It works like this. Over the course of an hour-long dance, Sara hands out her savings to an audience until every last dollar is gone. There’s a box near the exit where people can give it back, but they can just as easily stick it in their pockets. It’s not inheritance, she didn’t win a lottery.
Juli: And every single time I do this last moment, I have the exact same response every time, which is sheer fear.
She also creates these sort of challenges for people. Like, she’ll do this thing where someone has to get the money by reaching into, let’s say, potentially embarrassing places.
Her husband Chris Ajemian, who also happens to be her creative director, remembers one time when she offered a couple hundred dollars in her underwear to a guy in the audience.
Chris Ajemian: And he turns to his wife, who’s like sitting two seats like down, and says, “Do you still have those rubber gloves in the bag?’: She’s like, “Yes I do!” She screams, goes into her bag and she pulls out these rubber surgical gloves!
But ultimately, the show isn’t just about how the audience reacts, or if people can live with themselves if they don’t give back the money.
Juli: It’s all about reassessing my relationship to cash. Of if I lost everything I had to my name. How would I wake up the next day? What I’m trying to get to at the core is that I would survive.
She might not have a choice about getting to that core if she keeps doing the show, though. After performing many times in New York and Holland, she just about broke even, and even gained a bit extra in donations. But after her most recent tour in Australia and New Zealand, she’s down to about 3,000.
But whether or not the audience ends up taking it all, her greatest fear of losing that money has already come true in a way. That’s because it’s no longer really money she can spend, it’s become a prop for a performance — a really expensive one.
In New York, I’m Nick van der Kolk for Marketplace.
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