[The co-editors of Artivate: A Journal of Entrepreneurship in the Arts invited me to submit some “thoughts on arts entrepreneurship in light of the recent economic and social shifts brought on by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Here is that submission.]
As I work on a series of essays about artists and entrepreneurial action, I had already been considering what a post-capitalist arts economy might look like, one in which artists can connect their work directly with its audience outside of the traditional capitalist economy. Then Covid-19 hit. The current situation has made at least one thing clear to me: the market cannot solve the immediate or long-term effects of the crisis. What we see happening in the short term is a series of emergency actions including: direct payments; expanded unemployment insurance; and paid sick leave. All of these would, at any other time in US history, be branded as “socialism.” Now, however, a broad cross-section of the American public sees these steps not as “socialism” but as “necessary.” Once we get to the other side of this, I am hopeful that enough people (not just in the US, but especially here) will recognize that collective social action is a more effective and efficient way to achieve human well-being than market-based exchanges.
The other thing we see happening in the short term is a reliance on artists and their irreplaceable unique creative products to help humanity through this crisis through music, media streaming, literary arts, and online galleries. We are living without sports, but not without the content available on Netflix or Hulu. If my first hope is fulfilled, my second hope is that people will connect the value they are finding in the arts with the value they are finding in collective social action to build economic and social structures that support the arts and artists. We need to heed Arlene Goldbard’s (and others’) calls for a “Works Progress Administration for the Arts,” but in a way that does not take us back to the 1930s but instead moves us forward to the other side of neoliberal capitalism. I don’t presume to know what that will look like, but I am hopeful that it will look better for artists tomorrow than it did yesterday.