A new program to fund infrastructure development at arts organizations provokes the following utterly justified complaint from arts leaders: too many institutional funders spend too many of their already-scarce arts dollars on consultants, who don’t product any art, instead of on artists, who do.  As for funding artists and arts groups directly, though, what to do about the fact that–as one interlocutor so delicately put it–"so many arts organizations have their heads up their asses" and actually seem to need management consulting more than anything else if they’re going to live to create tomorrow’s art.

Is there any way to provide funding that actually strengthens arts organizations without reducing those programs to nothing more than the Arts Consultant Full Employment Act?  Ideas eagerly solicited.



2 Responses to “Conundrum”

  1. JJHunsecker Says:

    You’re dealing with a couple of cultural issues here. First, the creeping middlemanization of all of American life. Why produce art when you can be a record producer? So the funders have to question themselves about why they are so reluctant to deal with artists directly and why they think that artists don’t know what to do with the money. Is it because the NEA got burned by Piss Christ?

    On the other hand, there are some flakes in arts organizations. However, having worked in private industry, I can assure you that no one can stretch a dollar farther than the typical Chicago theater. You give them a dollar, and they build the set for a show. I still don’t know how it is possible.

    I think that funders could pay for training. Funders could pay for attendance at certain conferences or courses. Funders can ask to see outcomes. Funders should try funding positions–current heresy. But the biggest problem for most arts organization is that they are thinly staffed. And what staff they have doesn’t get paid anything like what the founders of the foundations got or what the staff of the foundation is paid.

    For instance, I’d like to see funders give money so that actors can be paid, which would allow actors to hone their skills. I’d bet on actors (and their enduring influence) more than the enduring influence of a program manager at Blahblah Big Foundation.

    So there is plenty for both sides of this equation to think about. Funders have to stop trying to be middlepeople and the Voice of Good Business Practices. Artists can be asked embarrassing questions about how they handle money.

    In the end, though, like the school system and public transportation, artists simply could use more money. The money people will just have to learn to give some of it up to us groundlings.

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