Where's The Bailout for the Arts?

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.

Musical Events
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?

And more
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.


Anonymous said...

Do you really think that Obama is the savior of the arts? I get so tired of people calling him the "champion of arts and culture".If Obama cared about our rights he would not give so much support to copyright infringers.

I think Obama cares about art but he does not care if your art is protected. If he did he would have answered the artists who have demanded to know his stance on orphan works legislation since 2007. I know because I supported him and begged for an answer. Instead of was hit with replies asking for me to donate $5 for one Obama cause or the other.

I don't think Obama will save the arts. I think he is all talk. I think those in the arts community who gave him total support will probably close their gallery doors by mid 2009. I think we are all being fooled and I fear that we will loose what little rights we have as creative professionals.

Look up info on the orphan works legislation and you will discover that several companies supporting the policy were huge backers of Obama's campaign. We are in for some rough times.

McCain was a spaz but at least he had a history of fighting for copyright and patent protections. Obama not only wants to spread the wealth he wants to spread the art. Spread it to the point that you will only get pennies on the dollar if someone prints images of your work without permission. Just wait and see.

Joanne Mattera said...

I hear you, Will, but that was not the topic of this post.

Steph G said...

well three cheers for Quincy Jones! This is the first I've read of it so thank you for spreading the word. I just signed the petition and am going to link to it on the group blog I write for, D'Arte Board.

ASME - UWM said...

I agree with most of your points in that the arts need to be supported as they catalyze local business, create wealth, but what does the government have to do with art?! This falls well outside the role of government. The only reason the government bailed out the banks was to ease the credit crisis so we didn't spin into another great depression. Large companies couldn't borrow. If the 'evil' oil companies couldn't borrow money to buy a sizable chunk of oil for q2 fiscal 2009 you would be stealing your own corn and wheat from a farmer (Whole Foods does ship its food via train/truck you know). I didn't support the auto bailout but one could justify it as saving three of the largest companies in the U.S., all of which export, all of which are manufacturing based, all of which keep thousands of Americans employed, all of which create wealth for our country on a grand scale. If there was no auto industry the advertising and marketing industries would be a fraction of their size, without even touching on the service industries and, hell, the art industry. We'd see an unemployment rate our country's never seen before.

Back to my main point: why would the government give money to the arts? They have conflicting interests. Art is supposed to be rebellious, make a statement, hold anarchist ideals. As soon as the government starts funding art what will it be? State run media: think communism. It's just hilarious that the liberals (I don't hold party affiliation but ideally am closest to libertarian) in this country don't mind jumping on board the socialist->communist bandwagon as soon as a "good guy" gets on board. You know, it's good to be critical of the government, even when a young attractive guy who's never heard the words "speak softly and carry a big stick" is the president.

The arts should be privately funded and uninhibited by the government. I'm a lover and monetary supporter of the arts, but would certainly stop supporting them if the government started. Please don't support this. It's taking something beautiful and making it a part of something ugly.