Sunday, July 12, 2009

July 12, 2009


Hello everybody.

“And the beat goes on.................”


I came across an interesting blog discussion last week that centered on the problem that artists aren’t paid enough for their work. The blogger thought part of the problem stemmed from “the close collaboration artists have with nonprofit organizations.” The author goes on to ask: “Do NPOs perpetuate the undervaluing of art by expecting to have artists’ collaboration without paying them What They Are Worth?” This author is sympathetic to the plight of nonprofits and doesn’t set out to necessarily criticize NPOs for a situation beyond their control, yet ends the blog post with the plea that artists must simply demand realistic and fair compensation.

But everyone is for paying artists better. And while we're at it, we should pay arts administrators better too. But there aren't enough funds to do either one, anymore than there are enough funds to put arts teachers in every school. The money has to come from somewhere and unfortunately this discussion, including the very interesting comments to the blog, never really come to grips with this reality - or more importantly what might be done about it - and I find that somewhat disappointing and continually frustrating.

I did find the comments to the blog very interesting nonetheless. Those comments ranged from:
  • the frequent suggestion that artists must break out of the nonprofit mentality and stop being beggars and demand decent pay, to 
  • urging artists to become more entrepreneurial, to
  • a demand / supply observation (and ensuing debate) that there are so many people who want to be artists that (even with the high demand for art) the pie simply isn’t big enough, but that the reason there are so many artists is that being an artist has rewards beyond money, to
  • criticism that there is too little training available to working artists so that they might be better business managers of their own careers.
A couple of nonprofit staffers defend the arts organizations that lack the funding streams to offer artists decent compensation for their work, and even question the role of artists in all this.

You can read this original blog and the comments by clicking here:

All of this got me wondering about a couple of things. First, to what extent do working artists really understand how the nonprofit arts & culture ecosystem is set up and how it works (or doesn’t work depending, I suppose, on one’s perspective)? Is there real appreciation for what arts organizations are designed to do, and the obstacles and barriers in doing what they are suppose to do? From the artist’s point of view is it their expectation that the primary purpose of nonprofit arts organizations should be to support, facilitate and in other ways encourage and enable the creation of art and to address the needs of artists? But isn’t part of the nonprofit arts system designed not just to facilitate the creation of art, but also to expand and enable public access to that art? And isn’t that particularly true with local, state and federal taxpayer funds?

I understand the frustration of artists over the marginalization and undervaluation of what they do in this culture and that it is so difficult for all but a few to earn a living wage being an artist. I understand too the frustration of nonprofit arts administrators over the marginalization and undervaluation of what they do in this culture, and that it is so difficult for so many of them (particularly at the entry and lower levels) to earn a living wage being an arts administrator. I understand that both of these groups of people feel passionate about art and its role in our culture, and that both put up with less than ideal situations and realities because of that passion and belief and the non-monetary rewards associated with both careers.

I agree with the comments in the blog that suggested artists (and arts administrators) need to demand more for what they do. And though I also recognize and accept the reality of economics, I have for a long time said out loud that we have to stop behaving like Oliver Twist, holding our little bowl with outstretched hands, begging “Please sir, may I have some more.” I have argued that one way to get more is to organize and play the political clout game with the same intensity and sophistication other interests successfully play that game. That of course, involves raising serious funds to achieve clout and that the field has been unwilling, or unable, to do -- at least on the state and local levels.

I think working artists and working arts administrators need to talk a whole lot more about these common issues, about how things work, how we interface and intersect with each other, and how we can more closely collaborate for our mutual gains. Recent efforts of funders and grassroots new organizations – from Creative funds, to the Center for Cultural Innovation to LINC are all encouraging efforts in the direction of providing for artist's needs and for expanding understanding by both segments of our sector as to who we are, how we work, what we face and where we are going.

But a disconnect does exist I think, and so we need to continue to try to explain ourselves better to each other, and we need to ask where we fail to fully understand each other. Maybe someday we will figure out how both artists and arts administrators can be better paid, and how, at the same time, more of the public can have access to more art.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit