But let’s tax poor people anyway and send the money to nonprofit arts organizations instead of direct aid to artists.
The book has been unleashed…save yourselves (by buying it)!
My new book, Scene Change: Why Today’s Nonprofit Arts Organizations Have to Stop Producing Art and Start Producing Impact is now on the shelves, be they internet shelves or real ones, in the UK and the US. If your bookstore isn’t carrying it (yet), please let them know that you want a copy and that they should stock up. Just give them this ISBN: 978-1-80 341-446-1. If it’s still not listed, contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are connected with an arts management program, an arts school, or want to buy a group purchase for your board of directors and staff, contact me directly (as others have) by clicking here. There are substantial discounts starting at 25 copies.
Seattle Rep is hosting a launch event this Saturday, February 10, an interview/reading in the lobby rotunda at 5:15 between the two performances of Quixote Nuevo, currently on stage. The emcee will be local, award-winning acting legend Allen Fitzpatrick. (Psst: it’s free.) More events are coming soon – please check the website: https://501c3.guru.
Now, to this week’s column. First, let’s talk about addiction.
Addiction, according to Healthline, is “a chronic dysfunction of the brain system that involves reward, motivation, and memory. It’s about the way your body craves a substance or behavior, especially if it causes a compulsive or obsessive pursuit of ‘reward’ and lack of concern over consequences.”
But you knew that. What you may not have discovered is that one can become addicted to one’s school of thought in the same way. The “craved behavior” can be the establishment of a set of norms — whether they actually work for you or not — and utilize them in such a way as not to accept that they may be wrong, or at the very least, someone using old societies to justify toxic behavior. Either via privilege (no one questioning authority) or via segregationist tendencies (and this does not only apply to White people), a school of thought comes to the surface, is believed wholeheartedly, and applied, even when the circumstances do not call for it.
This addiction is at the firestorm causing the implosion of our current political system and ceding democracy for authoritarianism – but then again, it could be said that addictive qualities surround nearly all elections. And those who cover them.
It’s akin to that 1966 quote from Abraham Maslow (yes, that Maslow, as in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs): “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” But not all solutions are hammers. And sometimes, that nail might be a salami.
One such addiction is relatively prevalent in the nonprofit arts community: the addiction of artistic vision worship. Similar to the kind of vision worship found in televangelism, artistic vision worship is a key reason too many large nonprofit arts organizations have become elitist, inessential charities that do no quantifiable work for the community in which they serve. It also feeds into why the public does not buy the notion that an arts organization might be anything but a sham attempt at vanity.
Televangelists (corrupt, criminal, or otherwise) answer real-life problems with the hammer of manipulated Bible vision and use their literal pulpit to do so, often at the expense of their poorest parishioners. Nonprofit arts organization leaders answer them with the salami of artistic vision, only at the expense of the wealthiest White people in the community. The arts productions may be of excellent quality, but excellence is irrelevant for a charitable organization when no measurable community good comes out of it. If your impact on the community can’t be strictly measured, it does not exist. You can’t cull data out of “nurturing the soul,” a common phrase used to support artistic work. “Nurturing the soul” isn’t measurable. It’s a cop-out.
No data? No relevance. Unworthy, especially for large nonprofit arts organizations considered “too big to fail.”
So you have to ask: what is the purpose of supporting the arts? Is it to support art? Artists? Both of those items deserve tons of support. As we’ve discussed in earlier columns, art is essential, in the literal sense. It exists, like air and water. Even the most inartistic item you can imagine — say, a grain of sand or a Styrofoam cup — is artistic because everything is. Artists are magical. Only artists can take disparate items and ideas and transform them into something else. Whether that something else is beautiful or ugly is immaterial (that’s a subjective judgment), but it is always art.
But nonprofit arts organizations are neither creators nor art itself. They have the ability to do a lot of things, but the thing that sets them apart from commercial art producers is that they have responsibilities to the community they serve. In this Pre-Post-Pandemic Era, solving an issue makes a nonprofit fundable (any nonprofit) while just doing art does not.
That said, there are hundreds, if not thousands of arts leaders fighting this notion. Their arts organizations do anything they possibly can not to help the community and still get funding. They yell and scream for others to “support the arts” with no real reason why. In King County, several rounded up county supervisors and have imposed a regressive sales tax so that every purchase costs substantially more in inverse proportion to the amount of wealth any purchaser in the county actually has. All sales tax increases do that (hence the descriptor “regressive”). It should raise $100,000,000 in 2025, and the money is earmarked for science, heritage, and arts organizations only.
$100 million of trickle-down (yes, that trickle-down, as in trickle-down economics) from golden-ticketed arts organizations won’t help, keep, or draw artists as much as, say, renovating an apartment tower in downtown Seattle (for the same price) and subsidize rent for 800 artists, actors, directors, writers, scientists, etc. who make substantially less than the median income for the area. (The 2023 median income for a family of four in King County, Washington is $113,436.)
What means more to artists – an affordable place to live and work and create? Or sending money down a whirlpool of irrelevance, causing no real charitable impact on the poorest or most underserved among us?
I don’t know. As always, I could be wrong. But I’m probably not, and unworthy nonprofit arts organization leaders continue to try to feed their addiction to self-congratulation, while the all-too-few worthy nonprofit arts groups, the ones whose mission is to quantifiably solve a community problem, will be seen as somehow lesser because someone with power believes that art isn’t worthy unless there’s an audience of old, rich, White folks watching it. It’s hard to break an addiction. Do it anyway.