So the automakers and all those big banks are getting help from the government. My tax dollars, from income earned as an artist, are helping them out.
Where’s the bailout for the arts?
I’d been thinking about this ever since the banking industry began receiving some $700 billion in bailout money—and promptly started giving it away as multimillion-dollar bonuses to the guys who brought the industry to its knees in the first place. (And to think that the NEA was once upset over the "obscenity" of smeared chocolate on a naked body? Ha!)
So you can imagine my pleasure when I clicked on to Geoff Edgers’ Exhibitionist blog the other day and found this post: Secretary of the Arts? It seems the ever-inventive Quincy Jones has proposed that his friend, the soon-to-be President Obama, create just such a position. (You can sign the petition here.)
I love this idea! Because unlike a bailout for the arts, a cabinet position that acknowledges the creative economy is plausible, even possible. And I love that the importance of the creative community is being acknowledged.
The importance of the creative community
Acknowledging our work is the first step to actually supporting it. It’s not just autoworkers who are the backbone of this society. Perhaps because artists have usually worked for rock-bottom wages or for free—or because what we do has often gone unappreciated by the society at large—our contribution is overlooked. The uplifting effect of arts aside (as if that could ever be put “aside”) supporting the arts supports the economy. You see it in the Theater District, in the full restaurtants before and after a show. You see it during Fashion Week, or during Armory Time, when hordes of creative folks descend on Bryant Park or Pier 92 and the ancillary venues. Actually, in New York City you see it everywhere all the time.
I know I’m preaching to the choir, but let’s look at our situation. Galleries are closing down or tightening up. Broadway shows are closing, 15 in the next weeks alone. Museums are hurting. And the non-profits are persevering valiantly in the face of ever-dwindling financial support. It's not only in New York City that the arts sustain the economy; it's true in every major metropolis and large city in this country.
What happens when the arts are not supported? It's happening now. This is not a journalistically researched post. It's emotional, based on observation and anecdotal information. Still I don't think I'm overstating when I say:
Museums, Galleries and Art Fairs Bring People into the City
Without them attendance is down. And without attendance, hours get cut back, employees get laid off, some venues shutter their doors.
Immediate damage: Fewer opportunities to see art, to show art. Artists and art-educated folks who work in those venues, sometimes in directorial jobs, other times behind the desk as assistants or associates, or as registrars or installers lose their jobs. It's happening already. Let’s not put the curators and dealers in a separate category. Many curators work for artist wages. And some dealers are hanging on just as tenuously as artists. Dealers have mortgaged their homes or apartments to keep their galleries running; some dealers don’t own homes. We’re all in the same boat.
Collateral damage: Art supply stores, framers, art handlers, printers, art consultants. These are traditional jobs for artists, many of whom are barely hanging on with two part-time jobs and no health benefits. And exhibiting artists!! More artists than ever have found representation in recent years. What happens when their galleries close down?
Theater and Dance
Equus, The Seagull, Grease, Young Frankenstein, Hairspray, Spamalot, Spring Awakening and other shows have recently closed or are about it. A theater district with dark theaters is, well, it's no longer a theater district.
Immediate damage: Actors and directors are out of a job. There’s the stage crew, the dressers, makeup and wardrobe people, and many more whose jobs I’m not aware of. And what’s going to sustain playwrights if there are no venues, producers if there are no audiences?
Collateral damage: The costume houses, the companies that supply clothing and shoes for dancers, musicians who play at those gigs. Add to this list the significant losses sustained by tax-paying restaurants, bars and parking garages in the theater district.
From big concert halls to intimate jazz clubs, if people aren’t coming, the performance schedule gets cut back.
Immediate damage: Musicians, musical directors; the chefs, bartenders and waitstaff, many of whom are artists and performers earning enough to pay the rent. The unseen custodial staff will lose jobs, too.
Collateral damage: Need a reed in a hurry? A drum skin? Sheet music? You can find them all in a couple of instrument stores in New York City. When they’re gone, where ya gonna go? Add sound equipment and lighting companies, the drivers and movers of the equipment, many of them musicians moonlighting to make ends meet.
Now add the fashion industry
Fashion is the largest single manufacturer in New York City.
The spring and fall collections in Bryant Park and elsewhere around the city bring in thousands of fashionistas and reporters twice a year from all over the world. Laugh all you want at those guys with the Pee Wee Herman suits, and the Manolo-wearing women who all wear the same "in" clothes, but they’re eating and drinking and shopping and taking taxis and staying in hotels, often on expense accounts.
Immediate damage: The designers and manufacturers and their collective staffs. (Do you know there are companies off Seventh Avenue in the 20s and 30s that still make felt hats by hand? That pleat fabric? That make gloves? That do hand beading?) It’s not all made in China.
Collateral damage: The production companies, publicists, and army of professionals who promote and run the events. Plus the modest creative businesses that you might have overlooked: the fabric and notions shops (you've glimpsed them on Project Runway), the ever-shrinking floral market, the caterers and small shops that feed the fashion industry at lunch and special events.
Let's add small retail shops and boutiques, as well as larger stores. You don't have to cry over the profits of Federated or other megaretailers, but consider the fashion directors, visual merchandisers, sales staffers whose jobs will be shaved away. And let's not forget the garment workers.
Architecture and Design
I don’t know much about these industries, but I know that the construction industry wouldn’t have anything to build without this group of creative people who conceive the buildings and then fill their rooms with the furniture and objects that make those spaces inviting, from hotel rooms to restaurants to conference centers to apartment buildings and homes. Life as we know it would be visually lifeless.
Immediate damage: Architects, interior designers, product designers; the builders and manufacturers of all the products of these imaginations
Collateral damage: Artists and galleries; art consultants; fabric and furniture companies
When the New York Times is in trouble, the fecal matter, my friends, has made contact with the fan. What keeps the publishing industry alive? Advertising. Cars, cosmetics, fashion, travel. When ads are down, the magazines get thinner than a 14-year-old model with bulimia. (January issues are traditionally undernourished; check them out this year.) The book publishers aren’t doing any better; companies are cutting back on the number of novels they acquire. At least one company that I know of has put a moratorium on acquiring anything new.
Immediate damage: Anna Wintour may still be livin large, but there’s a raft of editors and writers, of art directors, designers, photographers, stylists about to drop off the cliff. Art critics are being cut from the mastheads, and freelancers are getting less than chump change. Book editors and designers, novelists, agents are all affected.
Collateral damage: Publishing employs a raft of freelancers in all areas, often artists who use their talents and skills to support their own art. When they can’t get work, where exactly are they going to go?
I know I'm missing a lot of other creative industries: Cosmetics and beauty, for instance. And hospitality, which includes hotels and restaurants and the creative army of workers--from chefs and to publicists to food critics--who labor in it. Anyone want to add to my list?
The creative community is resourceful, inventive and hard working. We've always found ways to support ourselves. But prospects are looking bleak.