Arts and cultural institutions have traditionally recieved significant funding both directly from banks and other financial istitutions and indirectly from the well-paid executive employees of those institutions. With so many New Yorkers unsure of what will happen next on Wall Street, but certain that "the Street" will never again be the same high-rollers paradise that it has been in recent years, I wonder how Wall Street's troubles will become our own in the Arts.
Discussions of the current financial crisis are compared to those during the Depression. I can't count the number of times I've heard lately that this is, "the worst financial disaster since the Great Depression". The federal government is stepping in to save Wall Street firms, much as they stepped in to creat jobs in the Depression, but what can we learn from history about what can be done to help preserve arts and culture in times of economic hardship?
I don't claim to be an expert on the economy, or on the history of the arts during economic hardship, but out of curiousity, I set out to learn more.
During the Depression, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) helped to build parks, schools, swimming pools, libraries, and other culturally relevant institutions. Construction of physical spaces and administration of the programs held in those spaces created jobs, stimulating the economy, but what about helping artists, whose skills were not in program administration or construction? Did the government reach out to them? The answer is "yes", they did.
The WPA's Federal Project Number One was a five-division project (music, theater, art, writing, and cultural records) that employed approximately 40,000 artists, writers, thespians, and other cultural workers within a year of its inception. Granted, these programs weren't without controversy; conservatives accused participants of membership in the American Communist Party, and the programs were criticized for being used as propaganda for the New Deal. Ultimately, these programs were not sustained, but they are well-documented, and in some cases the project themselves were documentation projects of the arts and cultural activities of the times. These projects created jobs, including jobs for minority artists, helping keep artists and the arts alive (potentially literally) through tough times.
Private funding for the arts hadn't yet taken the shape we know today. Andrew Carnegie had only begun undertaking major philanthropic activities 25 years or so prior. The first private family and community foundations had been established in 1907 and 1914, respectively, but corporate philanthropy didn't begin in earnest until the mid-1950s with advances by the GE Foundation (General Electric's philanthropic division) and others.
Individual giving for the Arts continued throughout the Depression, however. The advent of the "talkie", the last of the Vaudeville shows, big bands and other live music, radio programming and dance halls all helped to provide distraction. People continued to spend hard-won cash on the Arts, at least those "low arts" that let people forget the day-to-day for a few hours at a time.
With corporate giving, major individual donors, and individual ticket buyers all contributing to the survival of arts and cultural institutions today, it gives my own morale a boost to realize that government, the Arts and culture, and wealthy donors/patrons all adapted to and learned from the Depression. Art did not die, and the economy did bounce back.
As we all face the financial unknowns of the near future, I hope that we'll adapt to the climates we find ourselves in, and that we'll recognize that while these waters rough ones, that they're not completely unknown either.
Links: New Deal Cultural Programs: An Experiment in Cultural Democracy
The History of Philanthropy
Woes of Wall Street's titans worry charities, arts groups
Too early to know how arts will be affected
Monday, September 29, 2008
Monday, September 22, 2008
Galapagos Art Space to Host Creative Conversation on September 25, 2008:
Arts and Culture in the Outer Boroughs
Arts and Culture in the Outer Boroughs
Arts leaders in the Bronx, Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Queens are invited to discuss the outer boroughs’ unique opportunities and distinct challenges, in a Creative Conversation hosted by the Emerging Leaders of New York Arts (ELNYA), to be held at 6:30 p.m. on September 25th, 2008 at Galapagos Art Space in DUMBO, Brooklyn.
Stakeholders in arts and culture, regardless of affiliation with specific arts or cultural institutions, are invited to participate. Come prepared to discuss challenges and opportunities in your own borough, best practices and opportunities in the outer boroughs, and to meet and network with other outer borough leaders and stakeholders. This Brooklyn Creative Conversation will be held at the start of the DUMBO Arts Festival, and will kick off the season of Creative Conversations.
Doors and a cash bar will open at 6 p.m., and a $5 donation is suggested, the proceeds benefiting Emerging Leaders of New York Arts. Event emphasis will be on interactive break‐out sessions, and the evening will open with a panel discussion. Panelists will include Blanka Amezkua, curator of Bronx Blue Bedroom Project; David Strauss, Director of External Affairs at the Queens Museum of Art; and Geoffrey Celis, founder of SIcoLab Arts Collective on Staten Island. The panel will be moderated by Melissa Gilliam, principal of Gilliam Arts Management and Marketing Coordinator at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Creative Conversations, started by Americans for the Arts, are local gatherings of emerging leaders in communities across the country and are part of a grassroots movement to elevate th profile of arts in America during Arts & Humanities Month every October. Emerging Leaders of New York Arts (ELNYA) is the newest link in the Arts & Business Council of New York’s continuum of leadership development. The group aims to bring together local, young arts administrators to discuss challenges specific to their field and generation. Events are designed to help build the contacts, skills, and knowledge of arts professional under the age of 35 or with less than five years experience in the field.
ELNYA hosts a listserv discussing issues relevant to young arts administrators and announcing upcoming opportunities. ELNYA welcomes suggestions for future events and is actively seeking opportunities to partner with arts organizations interesed in areas such as succession planning, new media, emerging art forms, and young patrons. ELNYA is also part of a larger network of Emerging Leader groups across the country facilitated by Americans for the Arts.
For more information on this Creative Conversation, contact Melissa Gilliam at 314‐346‐3868 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To read more about Creative Conversations nationwide, visit www.americansforthearts.org/networks/emerging_leaders/events/creative_conversations.