One of the more interesting discussion sessions at the Arts Presenters conference I attended was related to a study/discussion conducted by the Brooklyn Commune Project that was released last month. Andy Horowitz of Culturebot and Risa Shoup of Invisible Dog Art Center reviewed the results.
The report discusses a lot of the factors impacting the arts from Baumol and Bowen’s Cost Disease (which I guess I have been writing about for so long, I couldn’t believe was news to anyone), the idea of public good and a review of how arts funding in America got to the place it is.
In addressing funding by foundations, they noted that it is generally recognized that the best return on investments is realized when you balance investment in “safe” entities as well as entities that are prone to take more risk. However, 90%+ arts funding goes to the safer bets resulting in an environment which hampers innovation.
This is the part of the reports summary which I thought said it best:
We uncovered a treasure trove of lost documents, publications and reports, discovering that chief among the problems of the performing arts is a lack of meaningful documentation and knowledge management, as well as a disastrous lack of intergenerational dialogue and mentorship, not to mention peer-to-peer knowledge sharing.
Most significantly, we learned that we, as artists, are not the problem. We have heretofore accepted the received assumptions about artists—that we are bad with money, that we are unprofessional and insufficiently entrepreneurial. We have heretofore accepted the notion that our labor is not “work”, and as such we should be grateful to labor without compensation, to provide our services for free to institutions who are funded expressly to produce and present our art to the public, for the public good. We have heretofore accepted the notion that the system desires to be equitable and just, that it is self-critical and working to improve itself. Now we know differently.
The issue of artists undervaluing their work and heavily self-subsidizing it came up in the conference presentation. According to the 526 respondents to their survey,
75.00% claimed to make between 0-10% of their income from their art practice.
50% of those polled spend at least $2000-5000/year out of pocket on their art practice.
81% of those polled spend $2000 or more per year out of pocket.
$75,000 was the median annual income to be considered “successful”
$45,000 was the median annual income to be considered adequate for “stability.”
20% is the amount of total current income artists claim to receive from their art practice
95% is the amount of total current income artists hope to receive from their art practice in five years.
The speaker oriented in on the income levels deemed to be a sign of success and stability and the fact that artists hoped that 95% of their income would be derived by their practice within five years.
Since all those surveyed lived in the boroughs of New York City, the speakers cited:
“a February 2013 report released by the office of former NYC City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and titled The Middle Class Squeeze, “middle class” in NYC means a household income between $66,400 and $199,200. Lower Middle Class would be $53,120 to $66,400 and Low Income would be anything below $53,120.
What people deemed stable was actually classified as low income and successful fell on the lower end of the middle class income bracket for NYC.
The report goes on to ask, “Why do artists think there even is an “enough”? Maybe it is because we do not work in a sector where extreme wealth is likely.”
Both the report and the speakers at the conference conceded that artists aren’t in it for the money and often view the “psychic income” derived from creating art to be more rewarding than earning cash.
The end of the report contains separate recommendation sections for presenters/producers, funders and artists. Among the suggestions for artists are to redefine the vocabulary and sense of an artist’s value, skills and products both for themselves and others. Part of that requires learning basic business skills like budgeting and finance so you get a better sense of your value.
“At the same time develop practical skills for the knowledge and creative industries (such as graphic and web design, video and audio editing, programming, copywriting) that will support the financial demands and flexible time requirements of your artistic practice.”
My overall impression was that the report was attempting to strike a tenuous balance. While the writers claimed that the problem isn’t the artists’ fault in the introduction, the recommendations say they have to contribute to rectifying the diminished view of their value by being better communicators and actively seeking productive partnerships.
While artists may be misperceived as not being business minded enough, they are enjoined to gain 21st century skills. That might be one of the toughest recommendations to make. They outright say to get a real job to support your artistic pursuits as a practical matter because it is difficult to support yourself otherwise. They note Philip Glass (who received an award at the APAP conference) drove a taxi for three years after Eisenstein on the Beach premiered at the Met.
Perhaps the biggest irony about the report is that even as they end with recommendations against undervaluing your work and discussions about how artists overly subsidize their own products, the report started by talking about the fact they applied for a grant, didn’t get it and went ahead with the effort of putting the report together anyway. (Though admitted they didn’t do a good job on the application.)
This document suggesting that artists motivated by the psychic income will often become involved in a project uncompensated wouldn’t exist if the artists hadn’t done just that.
I am sure they realized there was a conflict between what they said and did because they worked up a budget (see page 6) for what it “would have” cost, estimating the project at $131,000 of which $8,400 was actually contributed (probably by the participants), the rest was contributed in-kind. Their total contributed hours tallied up to 3165.