I’ve been reading and writing about Canada’s ongoing national back-turning on its artists of late, which apparently is a huge subject up there because it keeps coming up of late. This most recent story, from the Oct. 11 Globe and Mail, is interesting because it discusses an arts event that was highly praised in Canada—the recent triumphant visit of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to a sold-out Carnegie Hall—and describes how impossible it is, in our modern business-oriented economy, for an arts org to be deemed a success. “…the tour was an artistic and critical success,” writes Simon Houpt, “[but] those viewing it simply through a prism of profit and loss would call it a failure: The performance fee paid by Carnegie Hall didn’t come close to covering even half of the orchestra’s $466,000-plus costs.”

The author then looks closely at the upcoming budget for Volcano, a Toronto-based theatre company, which took the unusual step of opening its books to The Globe and Mail, and examines point-by-point how what people are willing to pay for art is vastly outstripped by the expenses incurred in mounting arts programming. The problem with art has long been noted by economists: The cost for the products of our economy become ever more based on the efficiencies associated with mechanization and mass production, so that a product like art that is impossible to make more efficiently (a painting will always take so long to make, a symphony always will involve so many producers) are regarded as too expensive to support in relation to cheaply reproduced good and entertainment (crappy cable TV, for instance). The arguments that people make against arts funding fail to take into account the simple human costs for art.

It’s interesting too to have read this story from the past weekend, from my own formerly artistically “enlightened” northern home state of Minnesota, just south of Canada’s southern border, about the impending doom facing pretty much all of our former artistic treasures. Art funders here, according to the story’s author Mary Abbe, are “bracing for rocky times.” Major arts orgs like the “Minnesota Orchestra, Guthrie Theater, Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Institute of Arts,” who are seeing their endowments rapidly shrink, are “braced for the worst.” At the end she quotes Jacques Brunswick, chief administrative officer of the Guthrie Theater, as he makes an (unconvincing) appeal: “It’s a rough time. I think the arts need people’s money now more than ever.”

And in response (in the Strib’s comments)?

Time to get back to the basics

When many are faced with homelessness, hunger and a lack of health care, it is time to get back to the basics. We have to pay off massive governmental and consumer debt that is strangling the country before we can make much progress. Also, we need to ensure our kids and even adults are getting adequate scientific and technical training so we can compete again in the global market. Given all this, the upcoming decides need to focus on basics rather than arts.

posted by rebeccalhoover on Oct 11, 08 at 7:29 pm |

5 Responses to “The Great Northern Art Bust”

  1. bob schulz says:

    Not wishing to refer to myself, however, in normal and rough economic times that ebb and flow with the predicament of life, I never live beyond my means.

    Whether observing the current bogus mortage lending debacle or the now international crisis of lending created by that mess, the funding of arts again suffers or prospers in direct relation to positive or negative economic trends. There is little mystery that when times look bad, economy is in correction, financial disaster looms, art should immediately pull in its budgets, shepard its resources, batten its hatches, lower its head, and muddle through until the markets turn and pockets open.

    I can’t imagine anyone being so stupid as to have allowed this recent lending crisis to have ever developed except by design. This seems designed for a purpose, dare I say, political in nature. And yes, the arts will take it in the shorts.

    The Conservative government in Canada just won control of Parliament with a pathetic 37 percent of the vote yesterday because there is a plethera of splinter parties and special interests running against each other. I suspect more pullback in the government’s funding of art in Canada which may be a good thing. The only thing worse than free markets, as we all know by now, is a command economy, which would produce, dare I say it, command art.

  2. admin says:

    The only thing worse than free markets, as we all know by now, is a command economy, which would produce, dare I say it, command art.

    You mean like during the Depression, when the WPA helped support and establish the careers of such soon-to-be renowned artists as Thomas Hart Benton, John Marin, Stuart Davis, Grant Wood, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Philip Guston, Arshile Gorky, Marsden Hartley, Ben Shahn, and on and on and on…?

    Or perhaps you mean like during the Cold War, when (semi-covert) government support helped foster the careers of artists like Barnett Newman, Pollock, Rothko, Willem De Kooning, Romare Bearden, Arthur Dove, John Marin, Ben Shahn, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jacob Lawrence, and on and on…?

  3. bob schulz says:

    No, I was thinking of top down economic central planning, the interferrence of the type that spurred the foolish lending policies that have producing the current crisis. Lenin called it in his speech in 1922 before the 4th Congress of the International, taking the Commanding Heights. Now our government has to fiddle with this mess.

    As for The New Deal and the several programs therein formed to give artists something to do, there has been much written and little read. The most valuable project of which, IMO, was the Federal Writers Project that gave us invaluable insight of the era and collections of historic data neve before collected.

    Certainly public statues needed cleaning and public buildings may or may not have needed murals. However, artists then, as today, likely wouldn’t have starved and if serious would have continued the production of their work. The great Triumph of American Painting came after The New Deal programs had long expired, and the great leap of American Moderism may have occurred sooner if what many historians today believe true, that FDR’s New Deal delayed economic recovery.

    As for the CIA promoting the WEstern Ideal, it’s sad that so little was done so late for so many to have been murdered under such an obscene system of political ideology erswhile known to so few today as Communism.

    Whether examining the promotion of Futurism, the banning of Jewish Expressionists, promoting Russian Social Realism, or the great Nazi Entartete Kunst exhibition, governments should stick to allocating funding. And considering the level of our GDP today, I would agree that Endowment is much too low. Our economy is really incredibly resilient despite the fiddling done by politicians.

  4. Gabe Combs says:

    i’d take some of that wpa such n such. i’m one decent grant away from jumping up a couple rungs. i do wonder how far back and how well this was all planned though, the economic bs. i think its a pretty big plan they have, but i don’t spend too much time wondering.

    i don’t know how much you pay attention to stats, small scale. but from my promoting in canada compared to anywhere, i recieve more hits on my site, more return hits, and more actual buyers going by the percentage of posts linking to me i put on canada sites. my impression, is that canadians actually check things out if they bother to click on it, and they click more, at least in arts related things. but of course, its really really small numbers i’m dealing with so who really knows…

  5. bob schulz says:

    Hi Gabe, just back from Winnipeg and the Loonie has dropped to less than .80 of US dollar. Last spring I paid more than a dollar for a Loonie. The markets are unstable and will remain so until after the election. The reason more Canadians are drawn to art IMO is they don’t have the weight of being American and as such are into travel and entertainment. Keep on keepin on, you’re doing what most artists only wish they could do, sell art!

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