Innovating Through Artistry

Do arts jobs count as jobs?

In Current Events, Interesting Articles on February 12, 2009 at 12:23 am

Written by Andrew Taylor from the Artful Manager

Oh My God does this article hit home. How can this question even be asked? And yet, the concern over our identity– both to ourselves and to the public– with regards to our economic ability as earners, providers for our families, is at this moment a valid question.

We simply must start standing up for ourselves and requiring, with or without our institutions of higher education assisting us in producing the skills we need to create the employment opportunities only we can imagine within our field, that WE take responsibility for guiding and educating our own futures. We are in charge of our destiny and each choice we make can lead us closer ( or farther away) to our own vision of artistic and economic success. We need to each find the leader within us, and move towards building a future where the question of “if we count,” or not, can never be asked!

Do you recognize your ability to lead? If you don’t already know it, you are already, as an artist, a natural leader. Precisely because it is going to take all of us collectively to think about how to set the “record straight” about the capacity of the arts to earn and contribute to the world economy, each one of us must get to know the leader within us so we can change the way we are perceived in our individual communities! Of course, it would help if we all got on the same page about what that looks like- which is yet another reason why I started ETA.

Let this article below serve as a reminder of why we need to band together and think together about how we can change how we are perceived by others and by society as a whole. The consequences of us not working together to change these perceptions hinders our development and has been hindering our development for centuries. What exactly must we do about it? What do you perceive in your world, your community about the attitudes towards artists and their capacity to lead, earn a great living and reshape the world into a better place? I wrote a post with some musical examples of what I see, but what do you see? I sure would like to know.

By the way, this article made me feel sick to my stomach when I read it and it might leave you feeling the same way- so consider yourself warned. This stuff has got to change…one artist at a time.
Scott Lilly at the Center for American Progress floats a timely reminder to the good folks in Congress currently bristling about the stimulus package: arts jobs are jobs, regardless of your opinion of what they produce. He quotes Rep. Jack Kingston’s (R-GA) remarks when complaining about the NEA funding (now removed) from the bill:

“We have real people out of work right now and putting $50 million in the NEA and pretending that’s going to save jobs as opposed to putting $50 million in a road project is disingenuous.”

Which suggests, of course, that artists, cultural managers, stagehands, gallery staff, technicians, costume designers, and anybody else involved in artistic pursuits aren’t actually working, or earning a paycheck, or supporting their families, or any of the other productive things road workers might do. Or, to put it more bluntly, arts workers are not ”real people.”

It’s perfectly fair to challenge the ”stimulus potential” of any line item in the massive bill. And there are legitimate arguments to be made that one form of spending or incentive works more quickly, more effectively, more efficiently than another. But this particular line of attack, suggesting that the arts don’t involve people doing jobs, is staggering in its ignorance.

Before we go railing off on conservative politicians, however, we might look for the same bias and blindness among ourselves. I was at a conference panel recently, for example, in which an architect from a well-respected firm with extensive cultural facility projects to their credit made an astounding admission: up until their most recent project, that involved direct discussion with a wide range of practitioners, they hadn’t thought of a cultural facility as a workplace. A performance/display space, an audience chamber, and a public venue, to be sure. Even an administrative office tucked away in the back. But the entire building as a daily workplace for professionals and tradespeople? A novel idea.

Perhaps that explains why so many cultural facilities have spaces that can’t be cleaned, lightbulbs that can’t be changed without massive machinery, and offices and common spaces that cramp and confound the folks who come to work there every day.

Somewhere between our lofty rhetoric about the power of the arts, and our mechanical arguments about social and civic benefits, there seems to be a disconnect in our message. The arts are people. They don’t just serve people or help people, they are people. It’s astounding that anyone would understand otherwise.

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