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January 31, 2011


Stephanie Kulke

Good post Adam! I like the example of your high-tech gadgets to illustrate how demand follows quickly on the heels of something innovative and exciting. I read another post on this subject reminding us that artists, like scientists and electronic engineers need time to experiment. That you can't merely use immediate ROI sales to measure an arts organization's worth. We need to be able to afford an R&D period - and grants can help provide this.

Seems like innovation and past track record of world premieres, new approaches to staging and the like, should stay front and center in the guidelines of who qualifies for grant, rather than being subsumed by the question of who sells the most tickets.

And certainly the enlightenment of the human soul and heart that comes from great art is at least as important as the conveniences that technological toys provide.

Paul Botts

The facts around us appear actually to suggest that regarding demand for the arts in America, Rocco is correct in detail and incorrect overall.

Demand for the specific experience of sitting in the seats watching professional artists do what they do onstage is indeed flat or declining. That appears simply to be less of what Americans want to do with their time and that decline appears to be long-term.

Demand for the personal experience of being artistic, however, has been steadily rising for at least a generation now and there is no flattening in sight. There are two basic ways that demand is expressed: attempting to become a working professional artist, or making creative activity part of one's daily life.

The former just keeps rising without regard to facts on the ground such as competition for arts jobs. The National Arts Index reported some really startling data on this: the number of young people seeking college arts degrees, the number of American high school students choosing to take four years of art or music, etc. Music and theater conservatories are just booming, literally cannot build capacity fast enough to meet the demand for enrollment. And of course the steady ongoing boom in young artists starting new arts organizations, recession be hanged, is the entry-level-professional expression of this same demand.

The latter form of arts demand -- adding creative pursuits to daily life outside of seeking to be a professional artist -- is also booming. We've all seen the various statistics about the "rise of creative participation" that's going on in this society and the obvious signs of it are all around us. The steady rise in the numbers of Americans signing up to take dance or music or art lessons, the proliferation of reality-TV shows about singing or dancing, and so forth. The Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago literally cannot build new classrooms fast enough to meet the demand and that story is being told in every city now. Etc.

So if we want to discuss demand for the arts and what potentially to do about it, we need to be clear about _which_ demand for the arts we're talking about. Or do we mean some sort of overall sum total? It's not clear that either Rocco or any of those responding to him have yet reckoned with this critical distinction.


"I have my own theory about life about building an arts organization or a career as an individual artist. It's the presumption of failure theory. It's about embracing, from the very beginning, the strong odds against your success."

This is the strategy of all people of color in the United States. We assume the odds are against us because they are. As a black woman I can speak with a small amount of authority on this. I like statistics because depending on your methodology they can say whatever you want them to say and depending on your interpretation they can mean whatever you want them to mean. But at least we are talking about it with passion. So here’s a lay artists perspective. My only economic training is growing up poor and hustling to get by. Producing theater on a shoestring and serving audiences that don’t get live performing arts on a regular basis. Some don’t know they need the arts because they have no access. But we got singing in church, we got pretending on the playground, we got dancing on pieces of cardboard on the streets, we got poets writing in notebook pages that will never see the light of day. We got an industry built on the backs of workers doing it for the love. Doing it for free. Doing too many jobs at once. When I had my own theater company I was not just the artistic director, I was the graphic designer, the marketing and communications department, the grant writer. These jobs are important and it’s easier when the person making the art has help. I have no answers. I’m just in it every day. The demand is there. The people want, need, demand art. Poetry, Music, dance, Theater all of it. Good Luck y’all. May the conversation continue.

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