Songs for the Struggling Artist

We Support the Arts
July 25, 2011, 10:36 pm
Filed under: art, business, theatre | Tags: ,

I met an artist’s parents yesterday. They told me about all the Broadway shows they’d seen that week (one a day, for a week) and how they see 25 shows a year. They proudly said, “We’re big supporters of the Arts.”
Meanwhile, their artist son has been making himself sick trying to make ends meet in the middle of several big demands on his art. The last time I was on the phone with him, he had to hang up because he was hiding from his landlord. I have suggested to this artist that rather than throwing up every morning from the anxiety about how to get the $700 necessary to get him through the month, he get some help from someone. How about his family? “They’re the last people I’d ask for help.” He says. At first I thought that was pride, but I came to understand that it was some family value of self-sufficiency that if he broke, he’d be in big trouble. He’d rather make himself sick.
The easiest arts for this family to support are being made right in front of them but instead they think they’re supporting the arts by consuming them. They have this ennobled sense of helping something from spending lots of money on Broadway tickets for an experience that they want to consume. Meanwhile, a week of Broadway tickets would pay my friend’s rent and give him the mental space he needs to create. Do they think they’re helping their son in some way by vaguely engaging in his field? That’s not support. Broadway theatres are a business. Buying those tickets just makes the producers more profit.
Consuming a cultural event is, yes, a kind of support – but it’s the same sort of support one gives to one’s favorite brand of coffee. I’m still buying it and that does help encourage the production of more of my favorite brand of coffee or gasoline or clothes or whatever but I don’t think consuming stuff gives one supporting bragging rights. I think supporting the arts means supporting the artists who make it – small scale, that could be buying an artist a meal or covering someone’s rent in a difficult dry spell – or on a larger scale, it can mean providing space for an artist to work, or structures to work within. Support means support. Buying stuff you like is a half ass form of support – especially when brilliant artists like my friend are struggling so profoundly.

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I totally agree with your thoughts on supporting artists on a small scale. I consider myself an artist as well (recent college grad) and one of the reasons I’ve avoided doing it professionally is because of the difficulty in making ends meet. I have friends going through that right this moment and its a tough life.

Comment by streetdiscrete

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