Culture and Art, Karmic Economics, Life of Carmen, Uncategorized

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.

7 Comments on “The end of the arts

  1. it may be time
    that art will become an even purer form of giving
    and the lines between “professional” and amateur will blur
    and people will make it because the passion in their heart beats so loud
    that they can not help it

  2. tyranny of the talented no more,
    participatory gifting of beautiful art, dance, music, play
    trading of energy, to explore inter-relationship…
    and we see, eventually, that we are all struggling artists
    trying to express the divine spark
    that creatively ignites
    in through spirits
    of human masterpieces

  3. Next year is Chinese year of the rabbit/cat. These years often see intellectual activity and a focus on arts. Perhaps there will be a resurgence. We will see, I guess.

  4. Yes, i think there will be a resurgence – I think the year of the rabbit may prove to be right. Look around, it is happening! The crowds at last night’s Solstice Lantern Festival are an example – people are so hungry, so desperate, for authentic art and culture of genuine heartfelt quality – and there was tons of it. Much of it participatory and self-created, and most produced by local people for each other, with no corporate sponsorship and an ever-shrinking modicum of institutional funding. We will do it I believe, and we will always keep doing it, because we cannot possibly not do it.

  5. I’m not so pessimistic, C. What’s happening is change, not a fading away of the arts. People hate change, and resist it and lament it, but we never seem to be able to stop it. (I’m telling YOU this?!) The gravy days of “industrial” art may be ending, but art itself has been around since the cave paintings and is a perhaps indefinable expression of the human soul (whatever that is), so it will keep on resurrecting itself.

    A few visionaries’ll come up with alternate business models — there’s more money than ever floating around the world today, and if money is what’s required, by gosh a way will be found to access it. One tiny indicator i’ve noticed recently, via YouTube, is that corporations are sponsoring large flashmobs as a kind of tangential advertising ploy.

    And movies aren’t exactly in decline; maybe it’s mostly artistic mediums that are evolving. Gregorian chants aren’t around much anymore, but StumbleUpon springs up many a surprising and delightful art reference on my browser screen whenever i get the urge to kill an hour in exploration.

  6. “tyranny of the talented..” … ??

    Me, i will continue to hone my talents.
    i will continue to work hard to tune my instrument, so that i may more freely and deeply share my edition of irrational universal knowing
    i will do what i can to ensure that my willingness to be buffeted by the extremes of emotion and carnal spirit continues – my sense doors open – cognizant – aware – conscientious
    i will train my eye and coordinate my hand so that i may render in palatable, readable, inspiring, catalyzing form some of the glorious soup which is the we/me of the universe…

    i will continue to request recognition for that work – most always done alone, in isolation, in deep questioning.

    just as i recognize the good work of the farmer and do not pretend that just because i grow a few rows of lettuce and care about food security i know how to practice sustainable farming at any scale – no. full respect to those who have put in the hours of blood sweat and tears in the fields.

    please – some respect for those who have put in the hours of blood sweat and tears in the studio.


    that being said. YES to participatory and community art. YES. … it is that work that, in my thinking, means i can trade my work for carrots and a place to sleep as well as a little inner/outer space within which to play. It is the awakening of creativity at all levels that allows for the return on my investment to not need to come with a $100 price tag.

    I am not a struggling artist. I am a human who said yes to the voices when they called.

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