Songs for the Struggling Artist

American Arts Funding
October 5, 2011, 12:05 am
Filed under: art, theatre | Tags: , , ,

From earlier this year:

This week in the Puppet Lab, we discussed funding. One of our members is a recent arrival in the U.S. and he’d asked about who to apply for for funding for his show. The short answer? No one.  There is no funding. The long answer? Well, there’s this grant and its deadline has passed or this one, for which you’d have to apply after the fact and here are all the Sort-Of-Resources you might be able to draw on.

In that discussion, one of the members brought up something called the 80/20 rule. He said that someone told him that you have to spend 80% of your time looking for funding and 20% of your time on the Art. This rule of thumb (while likely the reality of the current system) made me want to throw up. The idea that this is the recommended way of making theatre in this country is horrifying. It means that the work of an artist is really to find money and that the Art is a hobby.

All signs point to a hobbyist sense of theatre making. We do it in our spare time, not with the bulk of it. We have to fund it ourselves. (Most of the participants in the Lab are buying their materials and rehearsal space with their own money. We might as well be building model train sets. It would probably be cheaper.)

Now this program is one of the few supports for puppetry in the city. It’s at a prestigious theatre and comes with a little basket of status. However, there’s no money for it. Every single hobbyist puppeteer has to find his/her own way to fund the project – to fund this 20% – to fund the model train convention, to speak metaphorically. Watching a room full of people explain to a new arrival to the country that this is how it is, made “how it is” seem all the stupider to me. I was embarrassed for us – embarrassed for a culture that turns artists into hobbyists – that believes in this 80/20 rule  and that instructs the artists arriving to our shores to expect less than they were used to in less privileged cultures.

Most career/self-help books will instruct us that whatever we do the most is really our career. If we spend 80% of our lives looking for a way to pay for the other 20%, we’re not doing anything more than funding our expensive and heartbreaking hobby. Those numbers NEED to be reversed. We need a system where artists can spend at least 80% of the time making art, making it better, mastering it. Malcom Gladwell says in his book about genius that people become geniuses by doing something for 10,000 hours. How is anyone ever able to do this with only 20%? It’s time for new rules.


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