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.
"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.
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.