Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Another's Turn - Jade Simmons: Charity Ain't So Sweet After All

Ladies and Gents, I am thrilled to introduce you to our first guest blogger here at A Liberal's Libretto.

Jade Simmons is positively versatile. She effortlessly flows between classical and cutting edge, performing and speaking, writing, designing and producing without skipping a single beat [pun intended]. A true renaissance lady of the millennium, Jade's many projects and performances are aimed at broadening the boundaries of classical music and pushing the cause for great music overall.

Now, this multi-faceted superwoman brings you her first e-book: EMERGE ALREADY! The Ultimate Guide to Career Building for Emerging Artists. This tell all covers everything including carving your niche, marketing, creating package deals, approaching management, what presenters really think and how not to get re-engaged. Just for you, my Chiclets, Ms. Jade has provide a coupon code - TB83V ... and, let's be honest - who doesn't love a good coupon code? So, go on ... get your copy.

Now, without further jaw-flapping from Yours Truly, I give you Jade Simmons:

Charity Ain’t So Sweet After All
By Jade Simmons - A Liberal's Libretto Guest Blogger

Artists, look down! Those are called bootstraps.

First, let me say that I can’t think of another group accustomed to hustling more than artists. We’ll starve for our art, make art out of nothing and perform in the subway station if we have to. We’ll teach even if we don’t like teaching, perform in venues that are less than divine or even wait tables if it means one more day of chasing our dream. But the one thing that we still seem hesitant to do is ask this one question:

“What would it look like if art-making was never, ever disproportionately dependent on charity?”

It’s got to be hard to imagine because, in my opinion, the patron-artist model has crippled us since the beginning. It’s pretty much the only model we know. As a result, many of us still wait for that elusive King to come bestow his court and his money. Lack of funding for the arts is nothing new. Even back then the artist was at the mercy of his benefactor’s whims. When the next, young, titillating wunderkind rolled into town we found ourselves out on our talented butts once again. The image of the poor, disheveled artist was, and still is, a prominent one. He was never expected to make money, or be good with handling it. He was only expected to be marvelous. And this role he accepted with glee, content to spend his days playing to his heart’s content and performing at the King’s request. But what are the costs?

We are seeing those costs today. Artists are coming out of schools glazed over like virtuosic zombies, wholly expecting to be swooped up on tour by a famous conductor or, worse yet, they’ve already bought into the myth that there is no room for them on the stage. It’s never occurred to them to build their own stage. In 2011, on the heels of drastic funding cuts for the arts, some of our top music schools are just now making more than a half-hearted effort to add entrepreneurial programs for their students. That way at least they will be able to write an effective bio before they march across that other stage, diploma in hand. Arts organizations in many ways suffer the most from a lack of business savvy as they hand their entire seasons over to well-meaning donors whose deep pockets entitle them to a big say in the brand of the organization. The mantra? The Classics, the Classics and nothing but the Classics. This is great for the donors, their friends and an ever-shrinking traditional audience. But if we keep marching out predictable program we’ll fill our halls with predictable audiences, not new ones. There’s nothing wrong with traditional programming that appeals to traditional classical music audiences. But if we limit ourselves to that, we look less and less appealing to funding from the government who does not feel the need to spend money on something that apparently only effects a small privileged demographic. If we want new blood in the seats we have to offer new experiences, but we can’t always do that when our boards are scared to death of change.

Now, I’m not na├»ve, I know that the lack of government funding is not about artistic programming. But investments in general are made for two reasons:
  1. There’s a noted and powerful impact on a large group that would come from the product being invested in.
  2. There’s money to be made.
Unfortunately, for many, the arts have not proven to be that product. We can either fix items 1 and 2 and go back to the government with new proposals in hand or we can decide that we’re personally going to look at new, innovative ways to make an impact AND make money in our own communities, to the point where we do not need so much outside help. If small businesses across this country have found ways to fill niches and make a profit, so can we.

Am I against government funding for the arts? Heck no. Am I against patronage and private donors? Heck no. I run a 501c3 so I know firsthand the importance of those resources. But am I against blind dependency on outside funding, the kind that causes us to spend more time making “asks” then daring to ask ourselves how can we run our artistic projects more like artistic enterprises? You bet I am! We have to ask ourselves how we can we be more like a business and less like a woe-is-me charity?

Of course, apply for grants and let your politicians know how important arts funding is to you and your surrounding community. But while you’re petitioning, petition your local arts organizations to start genuinely mixing things up and petition yourself to learn to market yourself like an artistic product complete with a business plan. And for the love of Mozart, never let yourself be beholden to any King’s court. Proactivity and self-sufficiency along with creative collaborations with like-minded artists are the keys to an artfully successful future.

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