Saturday, January 26, 2013

ARTS POLICY: What Are Artists Even Complaining About?

Dave Malloy, in Culturebot:
There is a difference between what is nice and what is deserved. I don’t think that art deserves money. Again, I take it when it is offered to me, I’ll ask for a cut if it is being made by others, and if I’m working for someone else I’ll insist on it. But to make my own work is a private necessity and spiritual gift, and not something I feel entitled to payment for.
That's a very brief snippet of a very involved looked at the question of whether there really is a "problem" in the theater world, or if it's a bad set of expectations.

I'm wholly torn between the two sides; on the one hand, I went into theater having been told, time and time again, by many many people, that Theater is not a way to Make a Living. It's a Hard Road, and very few people make a living off of it. I also have always taken pride in my day jobs, and put real workmanship or effort into it.

On the other hand, I see people who work not necessarily harder or less hard, but for things I don't particularly agree with, who make 3x, 5x, 10x, 100x the money that people who I work with in theater make. We live in an age where every industry expects and receives some level of handouts. I mean, our government gives money to Oil companies, tax breaks to people who make solar panels, construct our foreign policy in favor of fruit companies. Some of the most successful theater people I know face evictions, work long hours, and can be cripplingly set back by a minor illness.

In the comments, Aaron Landsman makes a similar related point:
I think artists should be complaining a lot more about the lack of a social safety net for everyone in America – the lack of a dignified old age for those who aren’t rich, the lack of health care, the lack of great and accessible education for everyone. Because if I imagine myself living in an America where I don’t have to worry about those things so much, i imagine myself being an artist who takes bigger risks and makes better work. And I imagine myself finding solidarity with other working people, rather than feeling exceptional from them. So complaint, in and of itself, isn’t a problem for me. It’s complaining as if our own concerns and necessities were somehow separate from those of other people who need to make a living.
I think there's also a difference between the complaints about "we need more funding" (i.e. the government should create more grants), which are inefficient ways of asking for help, and "we need to improve the infrastructure of the arts." I agree that handing fists of cash to particular artists are not going to particularly remedy any of the issues -- the local/national issue (e.g. Gwydion's call for theatrical biodiversity), the social safety net issues, etc. But I do think that there are simple ways that the government can step in to help make it easier for all artists to do what they need to.