The Intersection of Economics and the Arts

February 3, 2013 — Leave a comment

To be financially selfsustaining, painters, dancers, actors, and all other artists need to straddle the many different social spheres and funding sources that comprise the “art world.” That is, the role of the artist in the twentyfirst century is to create not only art but the market for art as well.

For artists, that means they must be attuned to market forces, know how to navigate the frenetic nonprofit sector, and be able to fulfill a wide array of roles in their communities while creating meaningful and enduring works of art. Most working artists split their time among the various sectors fairly evenly, according to a report from University of Minnesota. Roughly 39% spend most of their arts time in the commercial sector, and 42% engage in part-time commercial work. Only 19% of the artists surveyed did no commercial work at all. Surprisingly, many of the artists reported that if money were not an issue they would continue to create commercial art at least part of the time, though they would devote more time to community arts activities as well. While the trends offer encouragement, the report’s authors suggest that barriers to crossover persist.

One arts organization working to overcome these barriers is the New York-based Juilliard School. In partnership with Carnegie Hall and the Weill Music Institute, Juilliard has launched a new fellowship program called “The Academy,” intended to help talented graduates balance the cultivation of their craft with teaching and community outreach.

“The so-called reclusive artist of fifty or sixty years ago, the Horowitzes who showed up, played their concert and then left, although extraordinary artists, are gone. The world has changed a great deal, especially in America,” says Joseph W. Polisi, president of the Juilliard School. “We need musicians, actors and dancers who can be good and effective representatives for their art or community and take advantage of various funding sources. That’s what the goal of this is, to provide an environment for the fellows of The Academy to really hear what their colleagues have to say, to provide the tools for them to be articulate spokespersons for the arts in schools and with school boards, etc., and to really give them a sense of their own entrepreneurial abilities.”

Young artists fresh from graduate school probably won’t have the support systems many of their predecessors enjoyed. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand in the arts is expected to grow as fast as for all other occupations through 2014, but the competition for both salaried and freelance jobs will intensify as talented aspiring artists with master of fine arts degrees will vastly outnumber lucrative openings for painters, dancers, and musicians.

“These musicians have to have a sense of their own future, of their own ability to create their own environment, not only gainful employment but the possibility of showing communities why the arts are important to that specific community. We want the artists in these orchestras to become so important to the people in these communities that it becomes unthinkable to the members of the community to get rid of the orchestra,” Polisi says. “Right now, the orchestra may be perceived in certain communities as elitist, and only servicing a tiny percentage of the community.”

Ensuring the long-term survivability of the arts will require more than teaching musicians, painters, or writers how to adapt to difficult economic realities. Communities, private employers, and governmental officials need to recognize the important role that creative professionals play in public life. Failure to do so would have not only cultural but also economic consequences.

“Artistic creativity generates public value far beyond the modest sums spent on it by government, nonprofits, or markets,” the University of Minnesota report states. “A generation of arts impact studies, public value of the arts research, findings on the relationship between the arts and intelligence, and work on the artistic dividend has documented these contributions time and again.”

-Patrick Tucker

Originally published in THE FUTURIST, March-April 2007.

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