Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Articles, Resources, Links on the Arts and the Economy
I've been tracking the effect of the economy on the arts community locally and nationally, using delicious*. One silver lining of this disaster is that there is some great writing and thinking happening about the arts, nonprofit structure, etc. You can see the bookmarks at delicious.com/springboardlaura or you can use these links to view them by category:
items related to individual artists
items related to nonprofits
and finally... Good News!
*thanks to Noah for introducing me to delicious - it's a great tool and one we're using at Springboard in lots of different ways. Interested in learning more about delicious and other Web 2.0 goodies? You might want to sign up for Springboard's new Web 2.0 for Artists workshop!
Making the Case
I think that many in the arts community, myself included, were complacent about making the case for the arts and for artists, thinking that our society at large could see the obvious economic, social and emotional impact that the arts have on their lives.
This crisis has really exposed the reality that we haven’t made the case for the arts as well as we thought we did. The recent controversy over the inclusion of the NEA in the stimulus package really highlighted for me the fact that we are having the same argument about the value of art and artists to our society that we were having during the culture wars of the 80s & 90s.
All the Richard Florida “creative class” research and economic impact studies that so many of us in the arts feel are old hat clearly didn’t have the impact or weren’t heard as well as we thought they were. Something isn’t working.
So, how do we go back and learn and understand how to really make the case? I think the answer is:
First make sure there is a case.
As organizations and as individual artists we need to recommit to our missions, figure out what is vital and needed about our purpose. What makes us different? What do we do best? Often for organizations this means connecting to the original values and purpose your organization was founded on. The mission, not necessarily the mission statement. For individual artists, it can be about connecting to the reasons you became an artist in the first place. What is the change we are trying to effect? Who do we serve and what do they really need and want? It's time to ask the hard questions like, “So, what?” and “To what end?” and “Who cares?”
It’s a lot easier to make the case for something that we understand deeply and can articulate the impact of.
Next I think it’s about identifying as artists, speaking up and engaging in our communities. I believe many people just don’t realize or consider the number of ways in which art and artists impact their lives. We need to remind people that artists aren’t just dead, European painters, or alive, but very distant, movie stars.
The person who teaches your child’s community education ballet class is an artist; the person who leads your church choir is an artist, the person who covers your neighborhood graffiti with murals is an artist. And there are scores of people with thriving artistic lives who also practice some other vocation – the president of Springboard's Board of Directors is an lawyer, who also plays in a rock band; we're working with a physician who keeps a studio for his painting … even my exterminator is a hip-hop artist. As a community I think we should be doing more to remind people of these tangible connections to art and artists. Artists are the people in your neighborhood.
In addition to making the case for what we do, we need to use this crisis as an opportunity to rethink the way we work. How can we collaborate and share resources? This is about strengthening the arts community but also reaching outside the arts community to share and use models from other fields – both for-profit and nonprofit. How can we bring the arts to bear in every conversation we are having right now – both locally and nationally? I really believe that art and artists should be a part of the conversation about healthcare, security, and war. Goodness knows, these are topics that could use some creative thought.
When I say that we should be a part of the conversation, in part that means a national level conversation and advocacy. But it mostly means that we should look right under our chair and find the tools we have at our disposal right now and figure out how to use them in a new way and how to expand them to be more useful. To take healthcare as an example – there’s a national level conversation to be a part of to try to fix a very broken system. But we’ve found that right here in our own community there are incredible community clinics, physicians and, yes, even insurance brokers who all have partial solutions and ways to work around that system to share.
There are two fronts to this crisis – there are the very real, urgent needs of organizations and individuals – people and institutions in need of triage – and we must help them. But we also have the opportunity to use this crisis to create a new way of thinking and being– in the arts community and beyond – I like to think of that as preventative care. So that as a community we can emerge from this crisis, stronger, more effective and more creative.