What it is ain’t exactly clear, but there seems to be a growing questioning of the status quo, or rather the stati quos. Perhaps it’s a response to shrinking arts funding, declining audience numbers, exponentially growing means of distribution, or all of the above and more, but the ground is shifting. I could list the many blogs postings I’ve read (and a few I’ve written) that address, for example, the concentration of “wealth” in large institutionalized predominantly white nonprofit arts organizations or the democratization of creative production and criticism or the need for artists to be more entrepreneurial and arts organizations to develop new business models, and on and on, but I will refrain from doing so and point instead to a blog conversation going on this week on Arlene Goldbard’s site.
Arlene and Barry Hessenius are having a conversation about the political clout of the arts sector and they’ve invited several other interesting writers/thinkers/bloggers to join in. (The beautiful thing about the blogosphere is that I can jump into this conversation on my own initiative, no invitation needed.)
I’ll start with the first prompt that Arlene and Barry provide, and perhaps over the next several days I’ll pick up some of the other threads: “The way we’ve been doing arts advocacy for the past thirty years isn’t working.” True that, or at least for the last ten years since I’ve been consciously paying close attention. Barry suggests that artists and advocates be more truly active in election politics, in organizing into PACs, in campaign finance specifically targeted at the arts. Arlene argues for cultural equity that is trumpeted not only by the grassroots in small communities but also by the heads of large nonprofit arts institutions. These are, of course, excellent suggestions from people who have more knowledge and experience than I. But in addition I would say that the arguments we’ve been making are just all wrong – we have to change the discourse. We have to break out of the classic iron triangle of agency/legislature/ advocacy group and find a new way to communicate what is important about the arts directly to people. The arts sector needs to do so cooperatively, not competitively; not as one voice, but as the rich fabric of American culture.
We need to look at the whole of the arts ecology. The lack of stability in the world economy affects the arts. The disparity of wealth in the US affects the arts. When there is a lack of access to affordable healthcare it affects the arts. What is so amazing to me about the arts is the power art itself has to communicate the interconnectedness of these issues. Perhaps what we need to do to have more clout is to make more art and to make art that matters, that communicates, that screams, “Hey, the arts are our culture.” Without it, all we have is football.