I have a bad habit of watching/reading the news in the morning. Today is Budget Day in the province formerly known as Beautiful British Columbia, and the preview announcements of cuts, cuts and more cuts are enough to send a person straight back to bed. The one that hits closest to home is the announcement that millions of dollars earmarked for various arts organizations is being yanked – after assurances were made that the money was there, that it was coming…
Inevitably, instead getting mad at this latest deception, the peanut gallery turns on each other, debating the “usefulness” and “economic returns” of the arts. Artists are by turns selfless heroes, grant-sucking leeches or worst, out-of-touch elitists. Surely when times are hard, artists should take it on the chin and realize there are more pressing matters, like the homeless, education and healthcare. (Or, if you’re a cynic – Olympics and highways and raises for those hard-working politicians.) By the way, artists – get a job!
Let’s put aside the argument whether or not the arts are necessary – that is film, television, theatre, dance, writing, painting, photography, ceramics, carving, multimedia, and any other creative form – because we are humans and we need culture and we need to express what’s important, whether or not times are hard. In short, everyone benefits from the presence of artists and arts groups. Studies have shown that arts do have economic benefits too – encouraging people to go out and spend money when they go out to see a show or giving business to art supply stores, printers, fabric stores, and a host of other services and suppliers.
But of course, you can’t put a price on the intrinsic benefits – such as the goodwill created towards those in poverty, when for example, a book is published that changes the way the reader views the homeless or a photography project encourages citizens to take pride in their own community. These are things not done for money and personal gain, but to give a gift to the world.
These gifts do not come cheap to the giver, and it’s no secret that most go unappreciated. Maybe Andy Warhol got to lounge around at the Factory, but for most creative folks, the day job provides the bread to keep the creative fires burning. Far from depending on grants and handouts, many people work hard and even go into personal debt to finance their vision. And if there’s an exemption from paying taxes for artists, I’d love to hear about it.