Monday, August 24, 2009

Rough times...

I know that I've ranted before about artists having to donate time, artwork and money to keep arts organizations afloat. This post isn't really a rant so much as some thoughts on the topic, though, in response to the fact that a well-established arts organization and anchor in the arts community that I am involved with is struggling to make ends meet after grant funding has been cut and their main fundraiser didn't go as well as in past years, and so after deliberation sent out a letter to the membership asking for money to keep the doors open. It saddened me greatly to learn of this, and it really hit home as to how badly the economy is affecting all of us. (I knew this already, but every time it manifests itself the effects become yet more apparent and widespread.)

Art is considered a luxury. There's no getting around that. We don't culturally value free expression and even if we did, we don't need it for our physical survival like we need water, food, medical attention and shelter. In rough times, such luxuries often fall by the wayside with more people focusing solely on the bare necessities, those things that they need to get by. So sales go down and funding drops away from things that aren't seen as absolute necessities. This takes the form of fundraisers that don't raise much money towards the causes they support, grants that are cut, people who may otherwise make a purchase looking instead of buying...

I was really bummed out about this last week. It is frustrating knowing that my career path is considered an indulgence or extravagance, deemed unnecessary by so many people outside of the arts who don't understand why modern art should be supported at all. I wondered, how am I going to make it when even one of the leading art community resources is struggling so? And a depressing conversation about the leveling of the playing field wherein only those organizations that the city will support would survive (even if that should amount to only one or nothing) only made the outlook seem bleaker.

But there are multiple ways to look at things, and though it is easy to be depressed these situations also offer the opportunity to reassess, to look at things differently and to really come together in solidarity and support across disciplines. In our own art careers, we can adapt to what we are successfully selling, perhaps offering more smaller, lower ticket items in place of larger, more expensive ones, or we can look at the decline in sales as an opportunity to explore new means of expression. We can support other artists by buying their art and attending their shows with genuine enthusiasm about what they are doing and not just to network and hobnob with whoever is there.

In regards to those art organizations we support, we can help out by volunteering our time and money and by bringing new people into the organizations. (I know that giving more freely of time and money isn't something I'd normally condone, but right now many organizations are struggling just to scrape by after funding cuts and so there are fewer opportunities for them to become self-sufficient. If we want to continue to be able to be a part of these organizations and to see them into the future, we may have to be more involved in keeping them afloat, at least for awhile.)

Above all else, we should keep our minds open to new ways of doing things and new approaches that could develop into better business practices in the long run.

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