Last week, had the rare opportunity to see firsthand how one city is fighting for the arts. Economists, pundits, and writers claim we are in an improving economy (a.k.a. the new cash bubble). But who is seeing the rewards? Is the wealth being spread evenly? Citizens are told that economy is getting better but how come it doesn’t feel like it? Well, art organizations and cities are still searching for funds but their calls for help seem to be ignored.
I was allowed to sit in and observe the city of Richmond’s Arts & Culture Commission. The beginning of the meeting started with Maryann Maslan’s beautiful opera singing voice. Shortly afterwards, the board discussed tech applications, legal writings, workshops, mural projects, mini neighborhood grants, exhibits, and much more. However, there appears to be a multi-million dollar deficit in the budget and all departments are expected to make cuts. The little money going to the creative welfare of the people has just gotten smaller.
The arts provide results. Then why is it often the first on the cutting block, the last priority, or considered to be just an “extra”? The positive effects include enhancing critical thinking skills, encouraging innovation, creating community pride, becoming an alternative to crime for youth, allowing individuals to express themselves authentically, and much more.
Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco delivered some disheartening news last week also. The organization was established in 1965 and long known for bringing together various communities by creating intelligent discourse through its exhibitions and public art projects. However, they are one of many that are closing, suspending services, asking for donations, laying off employees, and/or fading away into the sunset.
Again, the media continues to say that the economy is fine. For the 1%?
Board Chair Yancy Widmer in a press release: “Intersection is at a turning point. Like many nonprofit, grassroots arts organizations, our business model has long been fragile. The Board has retooled Intersection’s community purpose to align with today’s needs. Moreover, Intersection will work closely with key stakeholders to continue to support our role as a platform and an incubator for artists and community engagement.”
What is “today’s needs”? Maybe it’s a world in which art is just a memory. My fear is that a cultural shift of accepting the mundane has occurred. This deficit in questioning and exposure to diversity will not lead to innovation and true universal prosperity. It leads to nothing. Meanwhile, the city of Richmond and organizations like Intersection for the Arts will continue scraping the bottom of the barrel for funds. Fortunately, creativity doesn’t die that easily.