Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Insomniadic Ramblings on art and non-profits

Being someone who works in both the arts and non-profit sector I often find myself examining the issue of funding: mainly how to enough to get enough to actually do something. Let me state right at the outset that I hate the idea of asking people for money, it brings up a bitter taste in the back of my mouth. I’m not sure if it is just my pride, or if it’s that I hold what I do in high enough regard that I feel like people should simply want to support a worthy project or cause, but it serves as a major stumbling block.

Where I am actually going with this is the seemingly precarious super structure that surrounds the art / non-profit sector. It is supported almost entirely from within the community itself. This is great for fostering a tight-knit group of inspired people; the only problem is no one in the group actually has any money. Instead, the little money that gets infused into the sector via grants gets spread around to everyone by events like opening galas and silent auctions. It is actually a fairly clever way of circumventing the system in order to keep more non-profits afloat and doing great work. It does however have the fatal flaw of being unsustainable as little new money is being injected via patrons outside the social circles and government funding is being cut back.

At first the obvious solution then seems to be to just appeal to a broader market. If the product is more marketable or more mainstream more people will want to come out to the various events and the process can begin to snowball uphill instead of down. The major issue with that ideas is that not only is it trying to defy physics, it also fails to take into account climate change. By this I of course mean that no one has any money right now.

Now, this is actually quite a shocking idea. I mean I know that I don’t have any money, and I’m used to that. It’s been that way since I’ve started my adult life so the current crisis doesn’t feel much different. Further to the point, I have always seen myself working in the arts sector so I never really expected to have much, but in the back of my head there was always this idea of a middle class that was actually doing ok. In the back of my head if I was really hard up for cash I could pander to the mainstream, only now, it seems like selling out isn’t actually an option because there is no one to sell out to. The middle class was floating on plastic boats made of imaginary numbers and the invisible hand of the market suddenly became a bitch slap backhand.

So where then does that leave the arts / non-profit sector, where will we find our answers and salvation? Luckily, at least in the case of the arts, salvation is the last thing it is ever going to need. It will innovate because it has to. The arts will not cease to be because there is no money; in fact it very well might thrive because of it. If space is too expensive, bring-your-own-venue will become the hottest new buzzword and communes the newest living arrangement. This idea also has the benefit of needing less heat as more bodies in a tighter space can double as a furnace. Art cannot and will not die because it is what fuels the soul when it needs refueling.

As for the actual non-profit sector on a whole, this seems less clear. Oddly enough people seem to be giving more even though they have less. It is almost as if a renewed human spirit of giving and understanding is rising from the ashes of dysfunctional macroeconomics. The real question is if this is a false hope or not. People keep thinking things are going to get better but what if they do not. I for one think people will keep giving; it’s just that what we give will change. People will give what they can and although it will not be much it will feel like more. Perhaps it is simply time for a paradigm shift of what is actually important and what we actually need. If this is the case than once again the arts will flourish, it will cheer us up when we need it, and provide a hard mirror when we begin to think too highly of ourselves. With this in mind it can come as little surprise that I will continue to work with both the arts and non-profits as they seem to be two of the few business ventures that are actually adjusting fast enough for our ever-changing world.

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