Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Bad Economy = Tough times for ART

I try not to be Mr. Doom and Gloom when it comes to Economic Crisis. I try to find the light at the end of the tunnel, or I have tried to find it for years. However, my 31 year old self just had a talk via memory with my 24 year old self, and I had a realization that in the dark times when folks try to stretch a dollar, cut back on costs and keep a job, the one guaranteed area of our American Society that will suffer is the Arts.

This historically is quite different from earlier points in our nations history. During the Post Depression Era FDR created government subsidized programs for the arts to try and stimulate the collective American pride and morale. However, now we live in an age were Art and (especially performance art) is subsidized by corporate hand outs and big secret benefactors with money to burn.

What can I say? It will be tough out there in the coming six months. The markets are down and reliable investments like real estate are being devalued after spending much of this decade over inflated in price. You know the deal if you keep tabs on your news feed to CNN or Yahoo or DIGG that we're in a huge hole. So, hand outs for the Arts will be slim.

So, when I had a talk with my 24 year old self, I remembered the year 2001. This was BUSH's first year in office. It was my first year out of a nice reliable if not near poverty inducing performance contract with a 'well funded' theater in San Diego. I was struggling to sell a screenplay here in Hollywood that had a lot of interest, but I was struggling to pay bills as well. The economy was in the toilet at that point because the overinflated internet stock market boom had finally popped and people were losing money right and left. Then 911 hit and everything pretty much fell apart for many of my fellow friends in the arts.

When I left the theater in San Diego a fresh crop of faces came in to take my place. My boss was a great guy, and shortly after 911 I had a chance to talk with him when he visited L.A. on a day trip. I asked how life was at the theater, and he said it was the worst year he'd ever had working in theater. He had to let go of almost all of his actors and pretty much shut down any extra programs. General Admin Staff was cut to the bare bones. They were surviving.

Last week, I was in Grand Rapids and I talked with the Producing Director for the Civic Theater in town. Nice Guy, Bruce Tinker. I asked him how things were going, how the houses had been selling or filling out... he said... "We're in an economic resession and we have been since 2001. The rest of the country may just be coming around to it, but we've been in it for a while." His 750 seat gorgeous space is getting by. I could see his nervousness as he was to open a Fall Season knowing he may not have enough ticket sales cash to turn on the lights by December.

It's interesting what we place value on. Art is so far down on the food chain. I recently posted a Blog on Facebook featuring a video of Obama talking about how crucial the Arts were in Education. Several people commented that my posting was trivial. There are more important things in life, like Family, God and Freedom. I thought to myself... Wow it is amazing how much
fear has become a large part of the American Psyche in the last eight years. Hope is so far away to a lot of people.

This, however, is of course the best time to start talking about where we are at as a society and what we value amidst such turmoil. The best way for us to do that is through Art. Photography, Paitings, Gallery Shows, Theater, Books, all of the things that 'mean nothing' compared to Food and Shelter need to be taken to a place where we can truly have discourse of where we are at so we do not repeat our actions as we have for the past 16 years.

Food and Shelter are our most primal needs. However, even cave men, after finding food and shelter drew on the walls of their caves... and they drew stories. It is a storythat give us reference for where we have been and where we are going. Art is not unimportant, perhaps now it is more important than ever. However, it must some how continue to thrive and find an audience despite the shrinking wallets. This will be forever the burden of the artist... find a way to get the message across, despite limitations and boundries.


tyedyep said...

Good thoughts Mick,

It also stinks that Art is the first thing to go in public schools too.

The Cebulskis said...

I liked reading this blog, Mick. Well written, and so true...and obviously REALLY affecting your life right now. Been thinking lots about your new family and all the transitions of the last months...