The news was released today that the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting were approved for funding that would keep them operational.
The organizations that we were told were going to be killed, defunded, eliminated...weren't...and by subcommittees that actually MAKE these decisions, they were funded, albeit at reduced rates ($5 million in cuts...small potatoes if you're building fighter planes, impactful dollars for relatively little guys like the NEA).
This is seen, and RIGHTLY SO, as a victory for the fine people fighting the good fight to keep these institutions up and working. The Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO (DPE) (a coalition of 23 unions representing over four million professional and technical union members) worked it's butt off to help get this funding. It was no small feat. But STILL...
It cannot be enough that the arts community be allowed to continue to skulk around the edges...It cannot be enough that organizations like the DPE and their affiliate unions (who represent professionals in over 300 occupations) have to go to bat time and again to prove vitality and claim validity.
This in no way should diminish the incredible work of all the advocates who kept these scraps on our table. However, it should be noted, this is NOT a victory. This is what was destined to happen all along. The Arts, the Humanities, Public Broadcasting...these are easy whipping boys for a political machine. It is easy to decry them as wasteful and talk big and say they're going to get cut in a "skinny budget". It is ALSO easy to wail at their demise and demand that we be respected and supported. Both of those easy paths get us right here, to where we were always going to be...a slight reduction, a slight diminishment. Another step down but not a complete door slam.
We, as a culture, are content to watch art and artists wither on the vine, but not die. We can waste away, tighten our belts, throw another stone in the soup, and persist. Because we will. Because we are so lucky to have identified our passions. We are so fortunate to know what fuels and feeds us that we are willing to survive on the meagerest of rations.
Artists will work for free.
Artists will work "for exposure".
Most artists, especially young ones, will PAY for the right to make art. It is not a day of victory or celebration when arts organizations are going to continue to be forced to make the choice between paying their artists living wages, and producing or operating at their highest capacity. But this mindset reaches every level of the arts world.
And we at JustArt are just as guilty as anyone in this exploitative cycle. We charge tuition to our student performers to participate in our programming. Because we have to monetize in order to exist we ask young artists to pay for the right to make art. We have chosen to do so with an intention in mind. We have chosen to charge our students a tuition that barely covers the cost of costuming them (let alone licensing material, building sets, fitting out a lighting system, building a website with a blog for the director to muse when he should be preparing to write light cues tomorrow). We have chosen this with the hope that the cost to do the work is outweighed, for the individual, by the benefit of experience and education. But we have prioritized our staff artists and designers and musicians over our students in this way. We haven't forced these artists to volunteer their services to benefit students at cost to themselves. We have made that choice so that we can pay our designers and musicians the barest bones of a salary. It is a frustrating choice to have to make.
SO...Artmakers...let us feel relief but not celebration when our institutions of support live to fight another day. Let us move forward with an awareness of our own complicity in the operation of a machine that is fueled by the labors of love of the technicians, designers, writers, actors, musicians, directors, composers, filmmakers, painters, sculptors...the weirdos who would, and DO, do it for free.
JustArt actively acknowledges our own benefit and our own privilege within the system. JustArt also promises to do whatever we can to turn this ship. This starts now, when we pay our designers, musicians, music director, etc as much as we can possibly while still trying to break even...
selling out our shows would help here, buy your tickets now...
But it also continues as we pledge to do our best to do better next time. And even better the time after that. Etc etc...
The first step to changing the world is to frankly face the ways in which one benefits from NOT changing. Identifying how the status quo serves us is our first job. Then, once we have done so we can begin to disrupt our own benefit. Disrupt and redirect it until such time as we are obsolete and irrelevant. As proud and as happy as I am to have launched this company, I can't wait for the day when our mission has lost its punch, when the unfairness that we see all around us is balanced. When the scales come out even.
I love that I get to do this work, I am lucky that I get to do this work. I can't wait to shut this company down.