memorial for a brilliant woman

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

will art survive the economy?

For the first time, I am having serious doubts about the survival of art in Richmond, non-profit art, and in particular, art6, my home base.

In the face of economic downturn, and it's not over yet, the money people have to spend is shrinking, the time, the energy that we can devote to such small endeavors is beginning to chafe at all of us. We struggle to pay our personal bills, forget the rent and utilities at public spaces.

Where do we go to spend our entertainment dollars? First Fridays are not as popular as they were when we were having 4,000-5,000 visitors- we now have more like 2500 on a given night, most of those beer swilling students, not folks who will purchase a piece of art. The meetings for the governing groups occur on weekday mornings most of the time, fine for restaurant owners and for-profit galleries with paid staff. Where does that leave the all-volunteer, artist-run gallery?

Out in the cold, that's where. Everything we do is done by folks who have other job to support their art habits. We have families, we have obligations, we're tired at the end of the day, we're broke.

(There are those predators who will eke out a living, unwilling to think of anything but promoting themselves, they seem to crawl around the edges sucking money out of the system- they work for awhile, then move on, done with the big picture. It happens in poetry, too.)

In the meantime, the 'important' artist exhibits ridiculous work that is academic and (often) ugly and the rest of us walk by and shake our heads trying to figure out why in the world it matters- where is the heart of the work, or as we sometimes hear in a sermon- where am *I* in this?? Like some current poetry, it doesn't speak to anyone, it only rambles a self-centered inner monologue. Go to the galleries on First Friday- you'll know what I mean. The expensive art far outweighs the affordable- the ridiculous is heads up over what might fit in your house.

I can hear you saying- Go get Grants!! As if that's easy- it's very complicated, even torturous to assemble all the paperwork needed and it all has to be done just right- by volunteers- who are stretched this and aching with the effort of living and being artists themselves.

I'm tired of trying, of pushing, of begging people to come see, come buy, bring your children. It's easier to stay home and burrow, I guess.

I can't do that- I won't. I'm the fool who continues to drop the brick on my foot, hit my head with the hammer- I don't expect other people to clear the way- I'm a fucking saint-

no I'm not. But I won't let this go that easily- that's all I'm saying.

Join art6- help out, come join the fight with us. You get to work with crazy people like me.

To the 15 people who usually read my blog- thanks


Scott said...

Unfortunately, I think a lot of galleries, nonprofits, and entities in general will need to find the right state between 'caretaker' and 'shark'.

What do I mean by 'shark'? Something that keeps moving to survive. If you study the older nonprofits, ones that have been around 30 years and have experienced 'downturns' before, they survived by constantly challenging themselves and changing their missions in order to go after the money, be it grants or sales or whatever.

And make no mistake about it, this 'downturn' may become the worst in history. It makes me angry that certain entities like the VaPAF/Center Stage waste millions of dollars in public subsidy and continue to angle for more, while smaller, more sustainable nonprofits like Art 6 fret.

Jim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim said...

Hey Shann, sorry to remove my earlier comment. It seemed trite and missed the point.

I see it as month-to-month for art6. Looking at old notes from 2006, the gallery was in the same position then, with almost no money in the bank and members dropping left and right.

For whatever their reasons for leaving--hurt feelings, family problems, back to school-- I don't intend to quit either. art6 offers a tremendous service to the community and to arts in general, and I'm happy to be a part of it.

I completely agree with the poster above. It makes me sick to think of all the money the city's wasted on failed projects over the years, when just a little money would keep art6 open for months.

Tom Sanchez Prunier said...

You know I feel your pain. For two years, I led and stood underneath a poetry venue, going into my own pocket to keep it afloat.

Even before the economic crash, the predators had at it and tore it to shreds. A great showing on a national stage - heck, three great showings - are going to go all for naught because too many involved were thinking only of their own (short-sighted) interests.

It takes strong knees to bear the weight of big goals and, like Jim noted, art6 has seen its share of lean times. Hopefully, this new exhibit is a step closer to slightly marketable stuff in the future, as I have seen a lot of ludicrous pieces of "art" there in recent months/years. The poetry has been the most interesting part of what art6 has had in my opinion.

It is unfortunate that the shrewd often outlive the talented. I don't think art6 will go under, but it will need a new direction soon.

I know you care for this a great deal, and I know how the horizon must look for you. Just know, if we hide in this metaphor a little longer, that those clouds might just blow away by the time you get there; not every corner hides an ambush.

Ron Slate said...

I share your concern. An economic slump underscores the vulnerability of places of performance, lit mags, community art centers -- and also suggests that art funding policy, whether national or state, perhaps should favor the outlet over the individual artist. Well, that's a long debate. Bad times also force many non-profits to confront what may be feckless marketing techniques. (Our economy is based on the rise and fall and rise of new businesses -- but non-profits often seem to operate as if they have a charter to last forever.) Out of bad times, new ventures grow. I'm involved with one now, in fact -- a literary venture, in planning stages. In short, I believe art will survive the economy (and much else). But some art-based orgs will dissolve and be replaced by others.