Saturday, May 1, 2010

Arts Funding Up-side-down

I attended the local art show here in the valley and was struck by the odd approach that arts funding users have taken. I think that if money from the government is being assigned to the "arts" whatever that means, that the general public thinks that the artists might be getting at least a portion of it. In fact, that is not happening.

Money comes in as a grant from the government (insert your name here) and the arts council uses it to pay rent on a building and staff costs to open the doors and answer phone and email. Now, as an idea this makes sense, a place for artists to set up a show and rotate through a whole community giving time for every artist to show their work to the public. What is missing here is any money going to the artist as VERY FEW items are sold from these installed shows and the commission paid out on a sale is between 30 and 60 percent off the top.

Lets say a $200 item is sold and the price was based on the artist's time and supplies (too numerous to list here) not to mention the talent, skills and education already invested. There would be a tiny cushion of money to buy more time (literally and figuratively) and more raw materials. With the $100 taken from the artist to pay for the building rental (etc) that doesn't leave any money to start the next work. The same work of art at $300 (just mark the price up to reflect the gallery cut you might suggest) would not sell, as we all know the market drives the price of the art, and that would leave the artist working two or three shitty jobs to pay their own rent. We haven't even touched on the fact that art needs to sell for a profit (read "retail" here) to keep anyone doing it.

I don't think that you, the government, wants the arts funding money to end up in the pocket of fat cat property owners but that's exactly where it ends up! One tiny wage is paid out to an office assistant and the rest goes to the very rich who can afford to own buildings in the downtown core where a gallery might survive, and the rest goes to (also painfully well off.....conrad black....need I say more) advertisers. Around here we have wonderful small papers that incite riot in the letters to the editor section and have biting criticism of really crumby local issues, but still, was that where the money was said to be going?

Arts funding should be spent having a large show or two a year, like the Ladysmith Arts Council puts on every year. A small fee is charged to cover the costs of the tent/hall rentals and the artists happily pay that. A small army of rugby players/band students who are fund raising for a trip somewhere or other, move all the tables and get a nice donation. The beauty of this type of show is that the artist is standing out there IN PERSON and meeting the public and when you select the perfect mug/carving/painting/basket you hand the bills to the person who desperately needs them to buy food and keep a roof over their head!

This type of event is exciting for the public. There is lead up and stories about the artists that you can meet if you attend the show and it is like a special trip to another world where people do what they want all day, a far away place from where the customer lives working 9-5 slinging hashbrowns at A&W.

I have had about a million people walk over to my stall and gaze over the pots only to have their eyes settle on me frantically knitting a warmer garment as the leaves fall around me, and say...'it must be such a wonderful life to be a know... full time'. I smile and put down the knitting and decide if I think they have any intention of buying anything before mentioning that I personally squeeze thousands of dollars out of the skin on my finger tips to pay the mortgage.

I also almost never start the bitter diatribe about how nowadays all houses require two incomes and a rentor, to stay afloat (not to mention $2000/year in property taxes) and that almost every artist I know has a full time job to support their habit, or as I call it: my life affirming work.

I understand the drive of a local small arts group to have a tiny gallery of rotating shows from the obscure to the grotesque on a monthly basis but this thinking is quite flawed. All of the money goes into building rental and trying desperately to create interest in the gallery, it also tires out each and every volounteer artist who sits in the window and waves to anyone passing by to come in and see the show. If anyone does enter the gallery, they politely walk around and try not to react to what they see and then drop a quarter into the large, truly oversized, donation jar by the door and leave, never to return.

A big, sexy show a couple times a year when everyone pulls together and works hard to make it into an event is a much better way to go. So the next time you consider the systems of thinking that surround you and SPEND YOUR/GOVERNMENT money, try to turn it upside down and look up a local artist who would really appreciate that money to buy a loaf of bread or some seeds to plant veggies to eat. After all, we may not have any money but we do have the early morning all to ourselves to weed the garden and watch the sun dance accross the grass towards our humble ambitions.

1 comment:

  1. Hear hear. I am in on the twice a year sexy show!!!! My serious comment is: I have been in this art/craft business for about 35 years off and on and I have to say nothing has changed - Why? This is the same discussion I've had 30 years ago with fellow artists. Something is amiss - yes the government is still not funding the arts as they should, but are we the artists depending too much on arts councils? Shouldn't we be more proactive in showing our arts in perhaps a more interactive way - galleries are great, but whyyyyyyyy - there is too much put on the gallery show as far as I am concerned...we (a circle of artists) had this discussion at MISSA at Pearson in January and I guess I am of the opinion that in order to show our art and have people buy our art and have people understand our art - we must get more physical with it - show in alternate space whether it be laundromats, bingo halls or other strange and funky places - I don't know, but my theatre background begs for alternate ways of showcasing. now you have be ranting....I better stop while I am relatively ahead. Great to see you and your teapot looks splendid in my garden....