We are all arts consumers.
Whether we realize it or not, our lives are enriched by art every day. And most of us rely on art to keep us going through the tough times. That beautiful song that provides inspiration? The book you turn to when feeling blue? The classic movie that always lifts your spirits, or, conversely, gives you an excuse to cry your eyes out? Yes, many of these experiences come to you via the vast American Entertainment Complex, but don't be fooled. They could not have been packaged and marketed to you unless someone in the beginning had an original vision. And the training to nurture that vision into something tangible. Sometimes, when the final product reaches us, it has watered down so much of the original creative spark that we have to look hard to find it. But other times, even in a wildly popular sit-coms like Modern Family, my favorite TV drama The Good Wife, or the music of Adele, the unmistakable whiff of art lingers.
But the pipeline that brings us popular works of art isn't an option for the vast majority of artists. How long can we keep growing artists in a country that persistently under-funds them?
According to a 2010 study from the National Assembly of State Arts agencies: "Legislative appropriations
to all state arts agencies currently total $297 million, or $0.96 per capita. This
represents only 0.042%—less than one tenth of one percent—of state general fund
expenditures. Yet the return on this investment is tremendous. State arts
agencies support about 18,000 organizations, schools and artists, making the economic,
educational, civic and cultural benefits
of the arts available to 5,100 communities across the United States." Think what we could do if we spent $1 per person on arts in this country!
But there is an upside: if the government and politicians are not generous to the arts, individual patrons are! Because the U.S. has always had a tradition of philanthropy (we can thank Andrew Carnegie for our unsurpassed public library system), we have a culture of arts support from private citizens. That support was stretched to the limit by the recent recession, but there are signs it is recovering.
In my own case, I have been the happy beneficiary of individual largesse. After a little over 2 years of fundraising and grant-writing (during a terrible economy), my play Becoming Calvin has gained enough financial support to have its premiere in September 2012! I am busily jumping through hoops as I fill out contracts for the actors and performance space and try to find more members to join my creative team. Lots to do but very exciting! And done mostly through individual contributions: 78% of the money I have raised so far has come from many people writing small checks. I cannot imagine a greater testimony to the generosity of individuals and their recognition of the crucial role art plays in their lives!