I’m really happy for Gwydion here. He’s found a situation that works for him as an artist, and I wouldn’t wish him anything differently. But as he points out so well, not every artist has the luxury of a cool company, doing work that so well complements their art.

And in the end, my own art (which, disparaging remarks about all us evil administrators aside, I can assure you is still in a state of more art than science), that of fundraising, comes down to ensuring that artists get paid a living wage or better (a concept I usually abbreviate as a living+ wage). After all, art will be created whether or not organizations exist. The bohemian lifestyle of living poor for the purity of artistic and philosophical pursuit has been immortalized by Puccini, Larson, and many others. And artists themselves make these choices for any number of reasons. Some artists don’t feel a need to pursue a professional career in the arts, rather doing it in that dreaded professional-amateur (aka “pro-am”) designation. Some folks even feel that getting paid for art cheapens it. While I find these various folks a little on the eccentric side, I respect their right to their philosophies and preferences.

But boy, does it ever make getting artists paid living+ wages difficult.

More importantly, while Gwydion certainly has found a balance that he appreciates, I am a full believer in the idea that, for most of us, a mind divided on multiple jobs cannot release the full creativity and innovation needed to make true strides in either pursuit. I know I’m a better writer on the state of arts management when I have a few hours to read, write, and edit, rather than when I’m bustling along trying to keep all my other balls in the air. My posts are better, more thought out, more entertaining, have better links and research, make more concise arguments, and might even push boundaries just a little more.

If you are a fundraiser for the arts, you must make it your job to see artists receive a living+ wage. The ones that don’t want that won’t flock to you and your organization anyways. But it becomes incumbent on the fundraisers to light the way on this important strategic goal. We must recognize, first and foremost, that our greatest asset in the arts are our people and the ideas and creativity that they bring with them.

If you and your organization aren’t committed to this ideal, then you owe it to your funders, to your audience, to your advocates to let them know that. I think the best way we can start to better get people and resources where they need to go is better transparency and better communications. There will be people that want to fund community theater or orchestra as an important neighbohood resource and part of the cultural landscape that encourages participation in the arts without making it a vocation. But as it stands, I’ve seen far too many audiences and funders that were absolutely ignorant of the situation we face in seeing our artists paid for their value. They assume we all get paid very well for their entertainment. Too often, they assume wrong.

I don’t accuse my fellow arts managers of being duplicitous by any means. But I think it does speak to the fact that we aren’t as good at communicating and taking risks off-stage as we are on-stage. It’s as if all that risk we take in art-making sucks all the risk from the rest of the organization, and so we resolve ourselves to not being able to do anything about chronically underfunded organizations, chronically un- or underpaid artists, and chronically deteriorating arts organizations that focus on the wrong investments and can’t figure out why they’re in trouble.

  • February 24, 2011
  • 24