Thursday, March 25, 2010

Focusing Too Much on Arts Funding May Just be the Reason Arts Funding is Drying Up

Here is a post by someone with Americans for the Arts. It is a good post, and what it says is not untrue for the most part. (It talks about the need for Arts organizations to partner up with non-arts organizations in order to increase funding, given the decline of funding for arts-only initiatives.)

The problem I have with it, (and many other similar blog posts that can be found over at the Americans for the Arts website) is that it isn't addressing the underlying problem. That problem is that the arts are losing funding for their own sake, and are having to piggy back on the funding efforts of other institutions that would be secure standing on their own right.

If funding, both public and private for the arts has been decreasing over the last 20 or 30 years while funding and donations for other non-profits has not been, doesn't it stand to reason that there is something intrinsically missing in the message that the arts world is sending out? We have known and proved for years that a strong arts presence in a community is a benefit to non-arts essentials such as education, employment, and tourism, but that doesn't seem to be enough.

If all people at Americans for the Arts and other similar organizations are concerned about is being able to say they pulled in X amount of donations per year, then perhaps this piggy back approach is all we need. Cash, after all is important. Yet isn't the concept of the arts important enough in its own right to put in the effort to get it to stand on it's own? Do the arts really want to tie their financial success directly to the stern of somebody else's ship? Even if it works? Shouldn't arts organizations be projecting their mission in such a way that people want to continue to fund them for their own sake? Or is the mission primarily about funding as opposed to educating people about and seeking to preserve the glories of the arts themselves?

If it is simply about fighting the war for better funding, that may be one reason why the arts are losing that very funding for which they are fighting so hard. I am not naive enough to think that any organization can run without funds, but there comes a time in any institution where you have to stop talking about the need for money, and start producing something with that money which reaches the people. Or in the very least the most relevant demographic of same. This requires more than fundraisers and more than the important work of lobbying legislators. It requires putting the arts out there, to be consumed. To be understood. To be loved.

Perhaps it is time to increase the amount of communication having nothing to do with the funding aspects of the arts. If we do a better job at that, maybe, just maybe, more money will follow.

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