We have got to get it together

For those of you who don’t know, Culturebot is not a paying gig. (Yet.) I do it as a side project – one of many – while for my day job I work at a foundation in the Jewish world. It is less exciting than being at P.S.122 but it is a pretty fun job, I work with cool people and I get to meet lots of great artists and academics.

The other piece of what I get to do at work is meeting big time philanthropists and family foundation types. It has given me enormous insight not only to the philanthropic world but into the business world and the ways that people with access to capital approach their giving. The Jewish world is incredibly sophisticated when it comes to philanthropy, so I’ve been given a wonderful opportunity to learn a lot – not only about giving but about the theories and strategies that grow up around this sector.

At the same time, in other parts of my life I have friends that work in Hollywood and at major ad agencies, people who regularly work on projects that cost in excess of $20 million for, say, developing a single video game based on a movie. They have a very interesting approach to capital and content development. And more and more I’m realizing that content – whether art or entertainment – is rapidly converging. And more than that, for them innovation is a way of life. In that biz you have to constantly be willing to scrap everything and do it in a new way, you must evolve or die. Not so in the arts.

And let me tell you something: people in the arts + culture sector need to wake the heck up if they don’t want to go the way of print media, vinyl LPs and land lines. Not that there’s anything wrong with those things – they’re wonderful. But nobody is investing in them.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I see so many arts organizations – and artist “service” organizations focusing on educating artists to “be more entrepreneurial” when they are not innovating their own behavior in any meaningful way. Artists don’t need to become more entrepreneurial, most of the ones I know already are. No, the institutions that support, develop and present them need to change. Significantly.

In terms of philanthropy, most foundations see philanthropy as a tool to strategically direct capital towards creating social change. The entire philanthropic infrastructure is predicated on funding initiatives and ideas that might languish in a purely market-driven environment. So whether it is social services or social justice to social studies- somebody somewhere has prioritized this field of inquiry and made capital available to move the conversation forward and influence the social reality.

The difference between the business sector and the non-profit/philanthropic sector is that business is for personal gain whereas philanthropy is for social good and the support of a civil society (however you choose to define it). As such, developing strategic giving structures and impact criteria is much more challenging and much more important. Very, very few philanthropists are going to fund artists to make art for arts sake. While the big arts organizations that present work of dead composers, playwrights, choreographers, etc. will probably not be significantly affected, those organizations that support living artists – the ones that actually require money to live on – are going to continue to get hit, big time.

Visual artists are more protected because they create a tangible product that can be made to increase in value; they create objects which become commodities & capital and as such are insulated from the sort of existential challenges to the living artist making non-tangible stuff.

So I’m reiterating something I’ve said frequently before – the arts has to come up with tangible, identifiable, strategic, outcomes-based justifications for funding. Whether issues-based, ideas-based or innovation-based, there has to be engagement with the world at large and a demonstrable link between the work being created and society. That doesn’t have to be overt like the WPA funding people’s theaters that reinforced leftist ideology, etc. It can take any number of forms. That’s the challenge.

But in a world where everything is adjusting to new realities, it is not about finding new justifications for art, its about changing art & art-making to engage the public in new ways.

To be continued….

Advertisements
Comments
9 Responses to “We have got to get it together”
  1. Isn’t it just about making work that’s really good?

  2. Andy says:

    Long story short – NO. if you can’t afford to make the work or there’s nowhere to show it, that’s a problem. And the definition of “good” is so fungible as to be meaningless. I’m not currently addressing issues of quality. That is a misdirected conflation. The relative merits of the work exist independently of the financial and societal ecologies on which the work resides. Artists and presenters and everyone else need to start paying attention to the circumstances beyond their own – and their internal, largely circular and self-referential debates over “good” and engage with a wider cultural frame. I thin you were doing this with OPEN HOUSE to a large extent. I assume the work will be good – it is more a question of how the work will speak to the world beyond it’s scope.

  3. David Marcus says:

    Speaking in terms of theater, I really don’t think that new ideas on how to attract to funding can help us avoid the dustbin of history. The not for profit movement, though well intentioned when it bloomed in the 40s and 50s has made theater basically irrelevant to the society at large. In order to justify the government and private (a large portion of which is government money, through tax breaks) dollars invested in theater we all have to pretend that our shows have some important effect in society, its nonsense. If there is a dollar to spent on helping society and the choice is putting it towards a new computer in a school, or giving it to the Atlantic to produce a play about how we should treat eachother, I’ll take the computer every time.

    Not for Profit theater assumes that our art form is “too vital to fail”, so important to our culture that is must be supported with tax dollars, what evidence do we have to support that? Your friends making video games reach larger audiences through market competition, I truly long for a day when theater works the same way. I would cut all NFP funding for theater tomorrow if I could, and gladly compete in an open theater market. Theater won’t die without the largesse of charity, it will rather be able to actually entertain people, instead of having to preach at them constantly, and without the safety blanket of NFP dollars, companies will actually be forced to innovate, to draw larger audiences, and to control its own artistic destinies.

  4. Andy says:

    quick comment as I head out the door.

    you say;

    “Speaking in terms of theater, I really don’t think that new ideas on how to attract to funding can help us avoid the dustbin of history. The not for profit movement, though well intentioned when it bloomed in the 40s and 50s has made theater basically irrelevant to the society at large. ”

    I agree entirely. But moving art – and not necessarily “theater” as most people conceive it – back into the center of the civic dialogue would help justify funding. I’m not talking about how to attract funding, I’m talking about restructuring the model beyond “not-for-profit” but not into open-market capitalism.

    And I’m not talking about “theater” in the form of staged television, 4th wall, modern drama. As far as I’m concerned that – and the regional theater movement – can die. Its boring and mostly pointless. Subsidizing it is a horrible waste of money.

    But live performance that engages with the world around it, that uses the vocabularies of modernity and modern technology, experiential performance that enlightens and reveals, that is a different story.

    Wish we could chat live, comments are so inefficient!

  5. Anon E. Mouse says:

    This:

    “Visual artists are more protected because they create a tangible product that can be made to increase in value; they create objects which become commodities & capital and as such are insulated from the sort of existential challenges to the living artist making non-tangible stuff.”

    is a gross overstatement. It’s like saying “all choreographers use catchy music, therefore, they’re protected.”

    and this:
    “The Jewish world is incredibly sophisticated when it comes to philanthropy,”

    made my jewish side squirm.

  6. Andy says:

    @ Anon E. Mouse – that’s fine to disagree. But why comment anonymously?

  7. Anon E. Mouse says:

    @ Andy: I usually do. Just my thing. Fear, maybe? Insecurity? Or the freedom of anonymity?

    I had to get those 2 point off my chest.

    And now…more productive discussion:

    I think artists have gotten used to being required to spend more money. Suddenly in the last 15 years (or so it seems) a MFA is de rigeur. It didn’t used to be. With the exception of a few programs, this saddles artists with a lot of debt. Combine that with the fact that grant money awarded to artists has remained about the same. For example, I don’t think the NYFA fellowship $ amount has gone up at all in 15, maybe 20, YEARS. Nor has fees/commissions/general amount that an artist can expect from a downtown presenting venue (PS122, kitchen, dtw, etc), in part because those institutions rely heavily on NYSCA funding, etc, which I doubt has increased significantly or even with the rate of inflation. So, we have gotten used to not asking for raises.

    re your comment about these new programs encouraging artists to be entrepreneurial – yeah, I also find these programs laughable and a money drain as they seem to require a lot of institutional labor hours and overhead. I think the Field offered something like this that seemed bogged down in procedure.

  8. ebwally says:

    Hey Andy,

    I would love to talk with you about what you are looking for. I may know where it is.

    And it sounds like you may be a perfect candidate to help find it.

    Sincerely,

    Eric Wallach

Trackbacks
Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] and Cultural Capital Posted on May 11, 2009 by Andy Apropos of the comment discussion going on below some good reading on innovation and cultural capital is this report from Lord Cultural […]



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: