Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Secret World of Business and the Arts

sketch done on retreat in September

The word "debate" comes from the root meaning to beat down. Ouch. I admit I used to get a thrill from it when I was 19, but I've come to realize that the winner of a debate has not necessarily presented the most logical arguments, but may be the best bully with words. I have no desire to be a bully and I have no desire to blog about political opinions. Instead, I'd like to talk about some legitimate questions asked in regards to the recent government cuts to the arts.
Part I
"The taxpayers' investment in me through this tiny $7000 grant is possibly the best investment they ever made. If I'd been penny stock, I'd be written up in every financial journal on the planet." Thinking about this quote from Margaret Atwood in regards to a grant she received in 1969, led me to an article in the Globe and Mail talking about the cuts.
I like the way Brad Reddekopp from Hazelton, British Columbia Canada put it: "Why should art be dependent on my tax dollars? Are the artists not good enough to survive without my being coerced to pay for their efforts?"
A similar question was raised by Ron White from Calgary Canada: "Arts are important, but in my household they are a luxury, after the bills are paid; the same with sports. I expect my government to operate the same way...why don't you?"
Of course Ms. Atwood answered that much better than I ever could and you can read her answers and the full article here. What I'd like to add is that sadly investing is also a luxury for most households. Our focus is on consuming and debt. Generally it's not on making our money work to make more money. However, there are institutions and individuals that have enough resources to invest.
Where can they invest so that they will see an increase? Is it only in a manufacturing company or new computer technology? Surprise, surprise! Welcome to the secret world of big business and the arts. The arts aren't simply a charity, or a luxury product some may not be able to afford, but they are a product that brings in cash.
Quoting the article "the arts generate 84-87 billion for the economy, and 1.1 million jobs. All those job-holders pay taxes." That's a double whammy. First the billions, then the tax money on those profits ends up back in the economy and our community. Good stuff, huh? Start with a little investment, and get a whole lot of cash in return.
Still not sure that the arts make money for investors? Ms. Atwood, who also wrote the book Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, which profiled in the Report on Business said "you'll get the same ratio of success that you do in Venture Capital: support 10, 5 fail, 4 do okay, one does spectacularly and pays for all the rest."
Setting aside the whole political preferences debate, why would any government support the arts? One reason is for prosperity. Governments like to see a little investment getting a whole lot of cash in return.
Part II
Let's go back to Reddekopp's opinion that if artists are good enough, they should be able to survive without help. That's like saying that if a business is good enough, it should be able to survive without help. How many successful businesses survive on the family savings and their own profits? Some, but certainly not the majority. Part of the equation to successful business is having enough starting capital, cash flow to keep going, plus money to expand when the time comes. This is most often met from investors, and yes the government. Start with nothing and you'll usually end with nothing. This is the same for both those we traditionally see as a business people, and for artist entrepreneurs.
Yes, artists are entrepreneurs. Why is this a secret? Cash is an ugly word for some. There is a philosophy that arts and business shouldn't mix. That money taints art and having it fall anywhere in the equation is equivalent to prostitution. My aim isn't to debate. I'm sure my background in sales, and finances color my opinion and I know that there is some validity to the purist approach. So why mention this at all? Just to show that there are different options for artists. Just to show that grants aren't about giving artists a "pat on the back", support, or a handout. Just to show that a grant can be about fueling growth to the economy.


Juggling Jason said...

Artists as entrepreneur. Makes sense.

picciolo said...

great food for thought there, I love some of those quotes too
: )

Jeane said...

well said Shayla - the idea that there is a 'blanket' idea of how an artist should conduct themselves in the artworld is completely limiting and art should be so varied that it can feed a world of palettes!

Shayla said...

Wow! You guys get an award for all time best listeners for making it through my lengthy post. Thanks!

Heh, heh. I guess sometimes I do get enamoured with the sound of my own typing ;)

Robyn said...

Yes, well said Shayla.Lots of food for thought.
I'm one of those who hates to talk about the cash which is why I prefer to hand my work over to a gallery and let them do all the talking.Talking about payment makes me squirm.

Shayla said...

Robyn, it's working well for you too and I agree. Having great gallery representation sure simplifies things a lot. One less role we have to play means for more studio production time and less craziness. Now that makes sense! :)

In much of the higher Canadian art scene, it's popular to alienate the public. The stranger, more incomprehensible or disturbing a work is the more it's accepted as intelligent, so now we're in a bit of a pickle. The greater public doesn't get how art benefits them. The "improved quality of life argument" isn't working. So I wrote about the "money talks" route, but that doesn't mean I think everyone should get involved in sales and that doesn't mean I think that there's not room for that kind of art. I just want the general public to understand why it makes sense to support the arts.

I bet if they saw one of your incredible sculptures, they'd be on board in a heartbeat.

Tracy said...

Wow, put this so well, and I couldn't agree more with your thoughts and ideas...SO much to read and take in here, I think I have to go back and read again! Happy Weekend ((HUGS))

Gwen Buchanan said...

wonderful post, Shayla.. I agree 100%!!!

I was a very lucky soul who received a $5,000.00 Creation Grant from the New Brunswick Arts Board back in '92 or '93.. (they called it small... I called it a million dollars) .. we were so hungry at that time.. we had $10.00 and we had to decide whether to buy gas for our beater car or milk for our 4 children... We walked the mile to the store and bought milk.. I remember those days so well... That money went directly into our art work, every penny and we persevered to come out the other side ... we have made our own living and supported ourselves since then and never burdened the system for another penny..... we started our own business and made jobs for ourselves and even hired the kids when we needed extra help.. and still the youngest son works for us on a part time basis... although there is never a time to stand on your laurels.. it is still difficult to maintain it.. but to live the life of an artist is worth the effort...

I was listening to a Margaret Atwood interview on CBC radio just the other morning on her new book... she is a wise cookie ... glad we have her...

Most often gov't never recognizes what they have till it is gone???

Shayla said...

Thanks, Gwen. So glad you persevered and made it through the especially difficult times. Very happy too that you were able to establish your business!

I wonder if people think when an artist gets a grant, they get to waste it on whimsy and sillyness... Your story proves how dedicated artists are to their art and their careers.

Or maybe do they resent it? If so, most middle income families get the same amount. A couple where both contribute to RRSP's gets about this much back from the government every year. They don't see the check. It comes right off their taxes so it may be easy to forget.

Gwen Buchanan said...

You are a very wise girl...very observant and knowledgeable...

Good luck to you in your work.. although I know you won't need luck when you have have your talent and desire to create...