Dancing on Ice Floes

Dancing on Ice Floes

Dancing on Ice Floes

Survival strategies for artists in the Atlas Shrugged era of public arts funding.

IN MAY, 2011, by direction of Republican Governor Sam Brownback, the State of Kansas eliminated its state Arts commission. Eliminated totally and completely. The first state ever to refuse to allocate a single cent of its taxpayers’ revenue to supporting its taxpayers’ desire for having Arts in their state.           

That same month, South Carolina Republican Governor Nikki Haley similarly tried to eliminate her state’s Arts commission, but the legislature restored the commission’s funding — $1.9 million in taxpayer funds to an agency that supports an arts sector of more than 78,000 jobs contributing $9.2 billion annually to the South Carolina economy.

 Throughout 2011 the dismal Dump-State-Arts-Funding parade dragged on across the nation. The Republican-led Pennsylvania House of Representatives proposed a 70% reduction to the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.  In Wisconsin, Republican Governor Scott Walker moved to cut state arts funding by 73 percent and eliminate the state’s Percent for Art program. Arizona Republican Governor Jan Brewer eliminated general fund appropriations for the Arizona Commission for the Arts. Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott proposed no funding for his state’s Division of Cultural Affairs.

 It would appear to be an indisputable fact of Arts Life in These United States:  Republican-dominated state houses across the U.S. are diligently working to eliminate all public funding for Arts, mirroring the decades-long effort by “conservatives” to systematically cut Arts programs from public and even private schools throughout America … despite thousands of classroom studies demonstrating the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of Arts in helping students excel in character development and in every academic field.

And it won’t be long before Democratic governors throughout the country find themselves faced with the same choice of throwing out the Arts to save some budget bathwater.

Clearly, our role as professional Artists and Arts educators, Arts producers and Arts administrators in the second decade of the 21st century is changing. Has changed irreversibly. WILL change further still.

Observe the Bear. While You Can.

You’ve probably seen any of the now-iconic photographs of a bewildered polar bear stranded on a small, shrinking patch of sea ice, a collateral casualty of Arctic ice cap melt.

Take a closer look, Artists, cause that’s us. We’re that polar bear, metaphorically.

Which almost certainly drowned or starved to death (non-metaphorically) a few hours or days after the photo was snapped.

We don’t have to share the same fate. Unlike the bear, we know what’s happening to our disintegrating cultural ecosystem. The question is, can the Arts in America transition to and survive in the new Atlas Shrugged world order of vanishing public Arts funding?    

Who Gets Public Arts Money Now? And Why?

The current competitive Arts funding process is an outdated paradigm. It is skewed to reward the best-organized and best-represented Artists, not necessarily the most talented or inspired or socially relevant or useful.

Examine the last few years of funding allotments from the NEA, state and county arts councils. Aside from a few big grants to established, name-brand institutions, the majority of federal/state/local arts council money goes to fund small grants to small groups for small projects. And those small group/small grant projects are concentrated in three areas of activity:

  1. commissioning/presenting Art innovation (new compositions, plays, dances, films, writing,  visual work)

  2. delivering Art to “underserved audiences”  (youth, seniors, disabled, rural, poor)

  3. preserving and propagating individual Art forms through teaching

Innovation … Service … Teaching. That’s the core of what the Arts do. Aren’t those also the core functions of Business in a capitalist economic system? 

Ponder this Output-Core Function chart:

In the mercantile milieu, Innovation creates product … Service supplies product to customers … Teaching (linked with Research) develops new product applications that generate new Innovation and reaffirm the glorious Circle of Artistic and Business Life.

With that parallel foundation, what might happen if non-profit Arts and for-profit Business were to become true partners?

True partners — not the historic exploitive partnership whereby Business uses Arts to disguise or downplay unethical corporate behavior, i.e. a tobacco company sponsoring a teen opera singer camp, a water-fouling polluter underwriting museum exhibits on marine life and hundreds of other egregious examples of cynical (and to be truthful, ineffective) Arts-washing.

No, this is a different support model altogether. Arts and Business should be equal partners in the mission to solve Social Needs.

Why? Because it makes solid economic sense for both Arts and Business. The creative resources of Arts and the logistical resources of Business should buttress each other’s Innovation-Service-Teaching matrix by undertaking artistic and entrepreneurial collaborations larger than the sum of their individual parts.

Here’s a New Equation:

(Arts Benefit + Business Benefit) x (Arts Resources + Business Resources) = Societal Benefit

Let’s clarify this “Societal Benefit” result.

 At base, we’re talking about Individual Human Benefits that impact the larger society of which we are all a connected part. Considered as a whole, these individual benefits elevate to the status of Societal Benefits affecting us all. Societal Benefits such as fewer people starving or suffering from disease, ignorance, violence, pollution or other destructive social pathologies afflicting so many of the seven billion human lives on our planet.

Click Here to read the rest of Dancing on Ice Floes:  Survival Strategies for Artists in the Atlas Shrugged Era of Public Arts Funding — an unsparing, insightful look at the seemingly insurmountable challenges facing today’s creative community. 

  • Another Example. More Corporate.
  • Of Course, We Understand Not Every Business Will Be Able to Utilize the Arts 
  • The “Yeh, but I’m an Artist Response. 
  • In the Post-Melt Paradigm, Arts = Service. 
  • Feed Your Kids the Arts!
  • Temples of Art Getting Legs.
  • Wanted:  Matchmakers & Dealshapers
  • Rewind to the Bear. 
  • #U-B-Ur-Own-Arts (LOL)
  • The Arts Workforce is Standing By.
  • Is the New Post-Melt Arts Paradigm Impractical?

  • While the Bear Is Still Dancing…

  • Sidebar 1:  It's Not So Great in Europe, Either, Anymore.
  • Sidebar 2:  The Muse Living in Your Smartphone … There’s an App for That.

“In the Post-Melt funding universe, Arts Institutions are going to have expand their outreach. Arts Councils are going to have to re-tool and re-focus their mission…"

“Arts Education has to be seen by Business and Philanthropy as the critical investment in the nation’s future that it is…"

“Artists and Business have to find ways to work more closely together to utilize the creative benefits of Art in fashioning a more productive and humanly beneficial economy.”

Article Featured Image: Photo Credit:  Kathy Crane, NOAA Arctic Rsearch Program

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