This is what I wrote in response to a question WNYC journalist Claudia LaRocco asked me - to see the full article she published go to WNYC Performance Club Monday Scramble
A Response to some of the “new” economic models popping up in the arts lately
Bi-products come out of the making of art – bi-products like CDs, or DVDs, or books, or art objects, or food, or education, or political action, or services for other low-income and under-served communities, or even party/benefit events.
Bi-products can generate revenue because they have some kind of inherent value.
I have no problem with these two facts.
My problem is that right now it seems as if we are all focusing on making and selling bi-products, and not focusing on making and presenting art.
We are focused on making bi-products, because we believe and have been told that they are the things with inherent use, social and exchange value.
Whereas, live art, we are often either directly or indirectly told, has little/no inherent measurable use, social, or exchange value.
Based on these misunderstandings, we are in the midst of creating a system where the art is a bi-product of the making of bi-products.
And because our focus is in the wrong place, art is suffering, artistic discourse is suffering, and cultural engagement in art is suffering.
Instead we should contrive a system in which an artist’s primary function is making art.
Artists should spend all day and night making art, showing art, and engaging critically in art.
Artists should demonstrate that art has an inherent value of its own, that making art has real costs, and that just because a patron walks away without some supplemental objector service does not mean they walk away with nothing.
Artists should be reminded daily that what they do for the rest of us is immensely valuable, by among other things, being compensated for their labor such that they can put a roof over their heads, feed themselves and their children, and access the tools they need to succeed at their craft.
Thinking that the bi-products will ever cover the cost of making the art, is a delusional pipe-dream that diverts artists from their mission, limits the possibilities of artistic production, and deprives the rest of us of quality cultural experiences.
The bi-products might cover the cost of making the bi-product, but never the art.
The art, when produced well, is too valuable, too labor intensive, and too expensive for any bi-product to be able to cover the costs.
Furthermore, these bi-product endeavors seem like more of the same band-aid tactics to me that are never going to solve three fundamental issues:
1. The supply of art that wants to be considered "professional" is too high. It is time the foundations and presenters take responsibility for encouraging that over-supply. They should raise the bar, condense their resources into a smaller pool of artists who are really making art worth its weight, and begin thinking more seriously about long-term structures of support for artists from early-career high-risk to established to retirement. Or they should stop supporting “professional” art altogether and simply begin backing the proliferation of loosely clustered, neighborhood-based, public art/social-clubs, which like the local gardens are open for anyone to participate.
2. The citizens/tax payers need to understand the cost of making "professional" art, as well as its inherent values. They need to decide if it is a vital part of their nation-state's cultural identity. If it is, then they need to put their money where their mouth is and support taxes that pay for cultural institutions and artists to do their jobs and allow for ALL citizens no matter their income level to have access to those artists and institutions (YES, $20 is prohibitive for many people). Or if it is not, then the artists who want to be “professional artists” should move to a nation-state where they will be considered an integral part of the cultural fabric and financed as such.
3. "Professional" artists need to take themselves seriously as professionals. They must drop the myths of entitlement, of being “discovered”, or of romantically starving. They must search out and demand access to the knowledge, tools and resources they need to be professional artists, i.e. employees, contractors and small businesses within the arts sector of our economy, - many do, or try to, but many also don't. Or they should become professionals in a different sector, be encouraged to continue making art as an extra-curricular daily practice, and be given public outlets for their creative energy through loosely clustered, community-based arts-clubs.
Instead of wasting all our energy on trying to find ways around these issues, I believe we would all be better served by facing them head on and trying to actually solve them.