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Why art/culture subsidy cuts could be a Good Thing part II

October 23, 2010

So why, then, could the destruction of cultural bodies like orchestras and libraries ultimately be good? Well the artists getting up in arms now are right, of course at one level this is all a disaster.  But I want to look deeper.

Art just isn’t thriving. It isn’t reaching a broad audience, it subsists in the margins, it is generally trivialized and undervalued. I heard recently that only 1% of the of the visual artists in Holland can live from the income generated by their work. The establishment then tries to redress this by trying to make entrepreneurs out of artists which, as you know, I feel is not even close to being a solution.

There are no short-term solutions to this crisis, but there is hope.  Just suppose the worst scenarios come true and many main artistic and cultural institutions here crumble because of lack of government support.

Why this could be positive is that first, the issue of art’s worth will be much more visible, it already is. Artists and cultural supporters are already planning public actions. One recent commentator said, though,  that the whole existence of art is being questioned and that the art world is not providing any good arguments. Well, obviously, those are going to have to start to come. People are going to have to start thinking more deeply and go beyond economic arguments. They will have to come up with impassioned arguments for art’s intrinsic value to a society.

Another good thing, is because the dependence on heavy subsidising has not made the arts healthy, other more grass-roots ways will have to be found to create and maintain a rich and varied cultural life. 

A reason for hope is that these movements are already widespread and growing. Like a mat of roots under the earth, they are thriving and the delicate looking grass blades poking up onto the surface are strong and resistant to damage.  People everywhere are reclaiming their right to be creative. Creativity and inspiration is no longer the exclusive domain of ‘artists’. Just look on the web at the huge popularity of journaling, crafting ,and drawing sites to name a few.

This indicates a tendency to the major shift that I see needed to once again have a cultural heritage and tradition that is central to life, every person’s life, and not somewhere removed from it (in museums, auction houses, and concert halls).

Little by little as Art loses the capital A it will become a natural part of every home, school and hospital. The healing and bridge building qualities of all the arts will be recognised and used to promote understanding between individuals, groups and cultures. Small neighborhood orchestras and art exhibits will spring up. And even large cultural bodies will thrive, but they will have a solid base in the community, and will therefore be self sustaining.

Money will not have to be a central need to maintain culture. Many of the best moments of connection catalysed by art are free.

Granted, our present society has strong roots in the ground and the beliefs and institutions which dominate our lives will not be dismantled easily, but the new values are already present. There is a huge ground swell of people choosing for more humane society. Art will be part of this quiet revolution, creativity is an enormous and irresistible force for growth, and it will break apart old rigid structures so that new, more flexible and alive ones can take their place.

This is what I think is happening now. And that is why I think that the collapse of subsidised art may be a good thing.

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2 Responses to “Why art/culture subsidy cuts could be a Good Thing part II”

  1. Grace TeSelle Says:

    I have just stumbled on your blog and am very interested in your writing about government subsidies to art. I am a citizen of the US and a conservative (right leaning) and have been astonished at the funds going to “art” etc. here. It seems the more outlandish the art the more money is given. I agree that the support of the arts should come from the grass roots up. Presently, I volunteer at our church as Coordinator of 3 art shows a year. One supports a local art organization, one is restricted to church members, families and friends. It has been fun to seek and to encourage members to display their art work, fine crafts, fiber art etc. I will try to find your book and learn more about you. Oh, by the way, I am not an artist, but have 2 daughters who are. When my husband was alive we started a framing business – but that’s a whole other story.

    • szoutewelle Says:

      Grace, thank you for your thoughtful comment. I am also a US citizen, though living in Holland.

      I’m glad the local arts have a friend like you, to volunteer to coordinate all those shows, it is a lot of work.

      I agree with everything you say about the money that’s going to so called’art’. Things are way out of kilter in the art and subsidy worlds, I feel. I no longer feel that anything an artist calls art is art.

      Yet it is also the fault of people and the society that all of us (except creative people in all fields) are so out of touch with our own creativity that we let others dictate what is and is not art.

      I think artists have a responsibility to communicate well with their art, and if they aren’t making something relevant to people outside the art world, then they shouldn’t get subsidy money for it.

      A lot needs to change in the way people see the function of art in society and everyday life. That is most of what I write about in this blog.

      Nice that you are interested in my book- though it focuses on dementia care, it does have a lot of useful stuff about how to develop your personal creativity. It can be ordered from the publisher or from Amazon in the UK. I will put both links on the last entry about the book if they aren’t on there already.
      Wishing you and your artist daughters the best of luck, Sarah


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