Artists and the Economy

"American artists, performers and thinkers, representing our values and ideals, can inspire people both at home and all over the world."
- Barack Obama

Recently 65 artists sent postcards to the White House acknowledging their economic concerns. Conceived by Mat Gleason for artists who have 50K or more in student load debt, the project expanded to any artist who was experiencing money troubles. I suspect there would have been more participants, but we were all too busy working.

New York artist Caroline J. Nye created a blogsite to show the work. I pulled one image and its accompanying quote for this post:

Deborah Colleen Martin, New Mexico
"I'm a bronze sculptor, self-empolyed, 57, no health insurance or retirement,still have 20K in student loan debt from grad school. Here's my card, It's polished and engraved sheet metal with patina and applique lettering. Hope they get the message...."

Meanwhile . . .

The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced in a press release just how much the arts can stimulate the economy. I'm reproducing the first few paragraphs: 

(New York, September 12, 2011)—The Metropolitan Museum’s concurrent presentation of four acclaimed and widely attended exhibitions in the summer 2011 season—Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty; Anthony Caro on the Roof; Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective; and Rooms with a View: The Open Window in the 19th Century—generated $908 million in spending by regional, national, and international tourists to New York, according to a visitor survey the Museum released today. Using the industry standard for calculating tax revenue impact, the study found that the direct tax benefit to the City and State from out-of-town visitors to the Museum totaled some $90.8 million. (Results of visitor survey are below.)

The survey found that 68% of the visitors traveled from outside the five boroughs of New York. Of these, 20% were from the Tri-State area, 38% were from other states, and 42% were international visitors. Eighty-two percent of travelers reported staying overnight in the City; of these, 72% stayed in a hotel or motel. The median length of stay in the City was 5 days.

These visitors reported spending an average $927 per person ($599 for lodging, dining, sightseeing, entertainment, admission to museums, and local transportation and another $328 for shopping) during their stay in New York.

Bottom line: Arts enrich a city not only culturally but economically.

And meanwhile still . . .

Let's assume there are plenty of visitors who also come for the art galleries, On-and Off-Broadway shows, the jazz concerts, musical performance and dance.

While many galleries and small commercial institutions are holding their own, some are barely squeaking by. Many not-for-profit institutions have seen their funding cut drastically. As artists in all creative disciplines, we understand the stituation. It is we who are the backbone, the lifeblood, the heart and soul of these venues. Without us there is no there there.

So yet again, I have to wonder: How are artists being funded and supported now? How many studio rents are subsidized? How many grants are being given? How many paintings and sculptures are being acquired--not in the multimillion-dollar stratosphere but at the proponderance of mid-level galleries who represent mid-level artists?  How are all those newly minted artists supporting themselves? And how are senior artists, many of whom have worked a lifetime in their studios, faring if they don't receive retirement benefits of any kind. (You have to pay into a 401K and Social Security to be able to get anything out of it.) 

And that brings us back to the postcard that opened this post.

Added 9.14.11
In 2009, just after the bailout to the banks started, I wrote a piece called Where's the Bailout for the Arts?  in which I noted the kinds of creative-economy jobs that get lost, and the impact those losses have on the economy of New York City. Repeat this scenario in every major city, and you see the scope of the problem.  A commenter on the original post asked why the government should get involved. Because federal money is used to support many kinds of projects from roads to education to healthcare. The arts are no less legitimate or important. 


annell4 said...

Really good article, forwarded it. Thanks

Lisa G. said...

Years ago, the CIA covertly supported modern art, both for economic and cultural-domination reasons. It'd be interesting if they revitalized that program! (Not that we'd know... but a better use of the U.S. budget than what it's currently going for.)

Dana S. Whitney said...

Can I post a link to this on Facebook... Non artists are apparently SO money driven that it's the only thing they understand...And while more and ore of my friends are artists... not all of 'em are!

Joanne Mattera said...

Dana. Sure, you may post it. Just provide a link back to my blog.

Nancy Natale said...

I don't understand why all those big thinkers don't get how much art contributes to the economy. Here's a link to a newspaper in Lowell, Mass. about the funding cuts to the Mass. Cultural Council (MCC) and how disproportionate those cuts were to any other publicly-funded sector. Funding for the MCC was cut 42% since 2002.

As you point out in the report about the Met and the gazillions that the McQueen show brought in, it's not just the direct hits, but all the related expenditures that people make while looking at and enjoying art. Of immeasurable value are the improvements to the spiritual life of people and the decrease in anti-social activities involving people making or enjoying art.

This year I have been uncommonly blessed by the Goddess of Art Increase (as in increased income). It has only taken me a mere 23 years since art school to get to this place. I wouldn't say that I'm actually supporting myself by selling art, but I'm making a good-sized dent in my living/art expenses. Fortunately, I am in good health and able to put in those long studio hours plus hours at the computer for the admin stuff. I also worked enough to collect a modicum of Social Security and Medicare has been a goddess-send. Where I would be without those social programs that the pols now want to cut, I don't want to imagine.

Still, it's all very precarious and one little wrinkle could collapse the whole creaky enterprise of my fabulous art career. I'd like to feel established and valued by society but I don't think that's gonna happen any time soon. That ocean liner of our wonderful American society is heading in the wrong direction - right down to join the Titanic. But don't get me started...

Joanne Mattera said...


In 2009, just after the bailout to the banks started, I wrote a piece called "Where's the Bailout For the Arts?" in which I noted the kinds of creative-ecnomy jobs that get lost, and the impact those losses have on the economy of New York City. Repeat this scenario in every majopr city, and you see the kind of problem we're facing.

The details are out of date--which Broadway shows have closed, for instance--but the essence of the piece remains unchanged. Here's the link: