While I’m discussing the potential to take new directions in the arts and technology worldwide, and about ways in which creative technology can help repair the global economy, I’d be remiss if I didn’t make one sobering concession:
To many policy makers, the “arts” don’t count as the economy. If you’re employed as an artist, (and by extension in creative fields), you’re not a worker. Um… thanks?
Never mind that in the US alone, nearly 6 million people are employed in the arts – or that that figure itself is probably wildly conservative, compared to the many more creative freelancers and the economies around them. (Ask companies like Yamaha, Roland, Korg, Avid, and Apple, who then sell products to musicians, many of them pros.)
It’s not just a US problem, either. The Dutch government – just the kind of liberal European government decried by American conservatives – had to be convinced of the value of its music technology research center in 2008.
To me, this shouldn’t be an issue that pits liberals versus conservatives. In fact, important issues around the economy have always been solved by cooperation between people of different political persuasions and parties. Unfortunately, conservatives have decided to declare the arts “liberal.”
The Heritage Foundation claims funding for the arts amounts to “pork.” Leading Republican Jeff Flake, when asked for an example of pork in the current proposed economic stimulus bill, replies:
"For example, $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts," Flake says. "There’s no better example than that. How that stimulates the economy, I don’t know."
Now, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some pork in there – but the NEA funding is all Rep. Flake can come up with? This seems to be less about policy and more about reigniting culture wars.
Specifically, the conservative talking point is to focus on “productivity” and producing goods. The implication: if your job involves the arts, you’re not a “productive” member of society. (I’ll have to scratch my head to work out just what “goods” the financiers buying up bundled debt were producing. I’ll get back to you on that one.)
Of course, the way in which arts funding would stimulate the economy is obviously the way any other part of a stimulus package would – by providing support to people doing work in a field during rough times, support that in this case provides an educational and cultural resource shared by everyone. Ironically, part of the reason these aren’t arts jobs for individuals is that the US long ago eliminated direct funding for individual artists, a move designed to placate conservatives opposed to arts funding.
Yet for some conservatives, the arts have been used as a key talking point, even though it’s $50 million out of an $875 billion bill. That’s a tiny fraction of one percent of the funding, like arguing over the number of pennies in the tip on a $1500 steak dinner. Now, I’m all for some genuine fiscal conservatism – it’s badly needed in these economic times. And likewise, I would hope the opposition party in Washington is tough on the Administration plan. But where are those conservatives? Why are they beating up on a tiny line item over philosophical reasons? In the past, conservatives and Republicans had long been patrons and supporters of the arts. We could use some old-fashioned conservatism right now if we’re going to save the planet and its economy.
If you want to stimulate the economy, you invest in jobs, in making actual goods. In 2008, the US taxpayer funded hundreds of billions of dollars in handouts to the failed finance sector that singlehandedly created the economic crisis. Billions of those dollars wound up ending up as executive bonuses.
But, guess what? If you’re an artist, if you’re a creative person, you don’t even count as a person with a job.
I bring this up because if you do live in the US, you can call your Representative tomorrow and tell them what you think about this issue. It’s especially important if you’re a Republican or a conservative, because I think there are more important points to be made – and this can distract from them. This could be a bipartisan issue again. And for everyone else, we clearly – as an artistic community – have some messaging to work on. We can’t allow this to be a political issue, a wedge issue. And as former NEA chair Bill Ivey puts it:
"Once we move away from a consumerist view of a high quality of life — once we’re forced away from it — arts and culture, creativity, homemade art, those things can begin to come to the fore."