One of our clients reminded me the other day that while support for the arts may be struggling now, there will likely be an upturn again in the future — perhaps even when we’re all beyond the beyond.
The truth is, most things in life are cyclical, whether it be fashion or economics or foodie trends or politics or even whether people live in cities or suburbs. With global technology speeding up the pace of thought trends and spending patterns, wishful thinking hints that we should only have to wait a few months or maybe a couple of seasons before funding is flush and talent is again in high demand.
But in reality, many “real” things don’t work at cyberspeed. Arts organizations still budget and plan years ahead at a time, and it takes time for orgs, independent artists and their audiences to adapt to new tools: you can set up an Instagram feed, for instance, but it will take a while for people to find you. Build a new company, but it still takes time to settle in and develop a following, even if you have a knockout debut like The Industry‘s Crescent City in 2012. (Remember – they’d been working on it for nearly two years!) What feels like overnight revolution still takes time to build.
Take the recent labor talks at the Met, for instance. Management has been innovating relatively rapidly over several years, trying to build a new business model, but must still juggle deals with 16 different unions in order to get the job done. Union members have fought hard over many years to get deals that allow them a decent living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. The cumulative effect of those deals has resulted a lifestyle they’re committed to, and unwilling to give up easily, as any of us would be. It’s a complex problem (particularly with probable exaggerations on the management side), and it’s not over yet — although enough headway has been made to get the season going, the battle is still likely to be long and bitterly fought. From afar, it seems all we can do is wish them well and hope that cool heads prevail as the process goes on.
From the perspective of the career artist, it all means that we must be smart. We must be patient. And we must do whatever we can to plan for the future. We have bought stock in the arts, and must now ride out the trends. Salaries, jobs and budgets get cut. The markets are saturated: we have far more qualified singers, for instance, than there are jobs, and colleges continue to churn out new candidates who may or may not be viable. For a variety of reasons, companies and arts programs fold. It’s all just part of the cycle.
But art lives, and can thrive, even under financial strain. The goal cannot be only to be rich, famous or even have a music-only income. All three are irrelevant to the possibility of relevant art. An artist continues to produce, perform and create out of a drive to give back to the world. That is the greatest role of all, and one worth fighting for.
Be smart, so you can continue to contribute. An artistic life is a marathon, not a sprint. When life is good, save all you can. Make friends with your piggy bank, and respect her space. Then when the pressure is high, get creative about your sources of income and activity, and remember that it won’t always be so frantic. Our job is to survive, keep the faith, and keep producing, all with an eye to the future.
But of course, I’m the hopeful type. If you are, too, we’ll see you on the other side.