The end of the arts
I’ve been holding the hands of my friends as they try to absorb the funding cuts to the arts, and the steady decline of sales of concert tickets and cd’s. I see the grief in their eyes – who will get laid off, what will be cancelled? – and I don’t usually have the courage or the insensitivity to say this to their faces. But I don’t believe people are going to get paid to make art for much longer.
Its not that I think that artists don’t deserve to get paid – I know how much of their souls they invest in their craft, how much money, how much time, how much sacrifice. And those of us who have made a decent living in the infrastructure of The Arts – the administrators, the festival coordinators, agents and technicians – have also done it mostly for love, and sometimes at great sacrifice. We never did this to get rich, but we’ve gotten used to doing it to get by. Day by day, cut by cut, around the world – I see this livelihood ending.
We have made an industry out of art, and we have made a good living off the commodification of art, depending on government grants and on philanthropic foundations. Writing grants and busking on corners. But omygod that is all teetering on the brink of collapse. Along with socialized health and education. Along with the corporations and the banks and all the rest of the massive institutions that we thought would last forever.
People are in shock as their living goes town the tubes, as art consumption is discarded as middle-class indulgence – which it is not, of course; it is medicine for our spirits. But the day gradually dawns when the middle class will no longer buy $100 show tickets, and the government has speculated and gone broke. As have the multinationals who used to sponsor the opera company. And so there is no longer money to pay the orchestra, or the people who work at the box office.
I’m sorry if I seem glib – I’m not saying that this is a “good” thing. It is surely a very crushing, confusing and painful thing. But it is, and it will be. Does anyone seriously believe that a new Minister of Culture is going to make a difference, in the long run? It won’t. The end of the fossil fuel economy will take down globalized everything – because everything, including the corporations and the government and the private ticket-buyers, depends on resource extraction and the global stock market to fund their cultural patronage. When people’s mortgages collapse and gas hits $2 a litre, the first thing they stop buying is concert tickets. Ask anyone – sales are down and they’re not going up. Plus, once people get their heads around the idea that they actually do have the capacity to have fun without standing in line or racking up the credit cards – they tend to like it, and it gets harder and harder to lure them back to the box office.
Sure, there may always be a few Medicis and Rockefellers left to patronize the arts, and people might still toss coins into a hat to pay for our rehearsal spaces and our bread – but I wouldn’t count on it. As the world slowly (or not so slowly) reverts to a sustainable village model, we will go back to playing our own music for each other.
Me, well – I will still pay money to see local and international artists, I love them, I support them and I buy their products. But the truth is that some of the most memorable performances I’ve seen have been in friends’ living rooms – and they were all the more memorable for having been freely given and freely received. Funding or not, I know that people will not stop dancing.