Choral Music Never Had It So GoodThe Official Blog of Octarium

0 Economic Dignity

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I have written many posts about arts funding and even created a couple of extremely popular xtra-normal videos expressing the woes, and inherent humor, of raising money for the arts.

What I haven’t done is make it personal; make it about the individual artists.  In this blog entry I dipped my toe into the personal but chose not to go very far with the idea.

But when Ben Cameron spoke at the Americans for the Arts National Convention, he uttered the phrase, “we need to give our artists economic dignity.”  And a light went on.

One chooses a life in the arts because one is driven by a desire to create beauty, or poke fun, or make philosophical points through art.  But should one be financially punished for this choice?  I am a wife and a mother.  I’m also an artist.  I should be able to create my art AND feed my family.  Right?

Well, too often, I cannot do both.  The term “starving artist” is almost a badge of honor in many circles.  Thinking of artists as bohemians who care nothing for those basic needs on Maslow’s pyramid may be romantic but it’s also highly inaccurate.  We need to eat.  We need homes.  We need to feel safe.  And if we can’t fulfill those basic needs through the creation of our art, eventually we burn out and abandon it, and then the world misses what could have been created because we’re now working in cubicles doing data entry so we can afford insurance and swimming lessons for our children.

So we artists cast about for ways to make art “valuable.”  We play the pie graph game and talk big about how the arts are economic drivers, and throw about terms like “return on investment” and “job creation.”

That’s all well and good but don’t make us spend more time justifying our art using economic variables than we spend actually making our art.  Octarium isn’t about numbers;  it’s about music.  The overall effect of good music on our society and culture is something that cannot be drawn on a pie graph.  It’s like trying to measure why we love someone using formulas on an Excel spreadsheet.  Art, like love, cannot really be measured.  And if we can’t measure something, we can’t put a price on it.

But does that mean it doesn’t have value?

Heavens, I hope not.  So what it really comes down to is deciding to value artists enough to truly value them; to give them economic dignity.  Ben Cameron works for the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, an institution founded with the mission to devote all its energies to the “care of actors, singers, dancers and musicians in the presentation and performance of their work.”  For most people this translates to “make sure the art is financed.”  But it should translate to “make sure the PEOPLE are financed.”  Because people make art.  And people won’t make art if they don’t have anything to eat.

posted by Krista Lang Blackwood, artistic director

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