Many have a sort of bi-polar view of the life of an artist. On the one hand, they think they are starting in foreign garrets, serving tables, doing menial jobs, yet, on the other hand, they believe they live a jet-set glamourous life. People also have a bi-polar view of the arts as a sector. On the one side, we shouldn’t pay for it form tax dollars and on the other that it’s nice to have around. There is then the bi-polar view of those that attend the arts. On the one hand, they’re rich, snobby one-percenters on the other weird druggies dancing to thumping music at 4 in the morning. None of these descriptions is accurate. None of them tells a story of being an artist, being an arts supporter, or the benefits we get as a country when we invest in it.
To be a professional artist, you have had to study with the intensity of an engineering student while allowing yourself and your work to be criticized in class and in public daily. When you’ve finished studying, formally or informally, then you have to be an entrepreneur and sell a commission or land a gig. Landing the gig will often mean surveying a series of predatory, humiliating, and distracting people who know what’s best for your career but will lead you down a path of pain and woe.
In order to make a professional arts organization work, you have to be continually applying for funding, engaging the public, trying not to offend the politicians, competing against the other acts orgs in your own, and keeping the lights with an overhead cost of less than 6%. Not something a so-called “real business”. could do. And then you will always be facing the kinds of questions from funders that many other non-profits don’t have to face. So you’re expected to have answered to a faceless bureaucracy to a level of detail most non-profits never have to.
Then there is the funding itself and the views of the politicians and their woefully uninformed opinions. Using there limited understand they then engage in decisions that have life-changing consequences on individuals and an industry they have not even the remotest understanding of. As opposed to what many politicians say, that the arts are a luxury, The Ontario Arts Council shares that “Ontario’s arts and culture sector represents $26.7 billion or 3.5% of the province’s GDP and almost 300,378 jobs. This “industry perspective” measures all of the culture sector’s output – including both culture and non-culture products (e.g. a theatre company may generate GDP from both ticket sales – a culture activity – and food and beverage services – a non-culture activity).”
Further, they do us the favour of comparing this to other major industries and, in what will be a surprise to many, the Arts outperforms numerous Ontario economic sectors. For example “Ontario’s culture GDP is larger than that of the accommodation and food services industry ($16.2 billion), the utilities industry ($14.6 billion), the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting industries combined ($7.4 billion) and mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction ($6.9 billion).”. In my home town, our local Arts Council created a report and shared that culture generates “$540 million per annum”. So lets put to rest the ridiculous notion that the arts are a luxury but is, in fact, an economic engine in Ontario.
Yet during this pandemic where is the support for the Arts and its vital economic and community contribution to Ontario. Our government gave some money to the most significant arts org in our town, one by the way that has its own foundation, but there was not a penny for the small and medium orgs. Not a penny from a Federal Government for the ongoing support of artists who will not qualify for unemployment benefits. Nor supports for all those professional Arts teachers at the post-secondary and community level who do not qualify for EI. No support from any level of government anywhere I can see that steps into the breach and supports the cultural industry during this time of pandemic in the same way other economic sectors are.
No, there is a double standard for to the arts; be it from politicians or arts funders or you the public. Artists add more than so many other parts of our economy in terms of real dollar for dollar impact, but that doesn’t matter does it?
After all the Arts is a nice to have not a need to have.