Posted by: Mish | March 4, 2009

Alms for Art

Although they can be educational and very therapeutic, the arts are frequently seen as frivolous fun. Art in its array of forms can be uplifting and help alleviate stress. With troubling times, people need them more than ever, but the declining economy has hit non-profit art organizations extremely hard. According to a USA Today/Gallup Poll, 69% of Americans have cut back on arts and entertainment. With their funding, donations, and general income decreased companies and organizations are barely surviving, if at all. Many have been forced to cut staff, cancel performances, shorten seasons, and even shut down. According to USA Today‘s article “Fine arts are in survival mode as funds dry up”:

  • Over a dozen Broadway shows closed in January
  • Carnegie Hall cut back its schedule by 10%
  • 8 dancers were cut by the Miami City Ballet
  • Previously free museums are forced to charge admission
  • Utah Shakespearean Festival shortened its season and put on smaller productions
  • Palm Springs Art Museum laid off employees and cut back on hours
  • The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra cut pay by 11%
  • Baltimore’s Artscape festival will be scaled back
  • Baltimore’s Theatre Project, opera, and chamber orchestra may close
  • Los Angeles Opera laid off 17% of its staff
  • Connecticut Opera and California’s Opera Pacific have closed their curtains
  • Walters Art Museum laid off 7 employees, froze salaries, and canceled an exhibit
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art will lay off 30 employees and increase admission
  • Boston’s Rose Art Museum is closing and works will be sold (including Andy Warhol’s)

Some companies have used their creativity to try to survive. Florida Repertory Theatre ran a deal of five plays for $99, which is nearly half the regular price, and it brought in hundreds. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will perform Mahler’s less expensive Ninth Symphony instead of his Sixth Symphony, which requires 10 more musicians. One company ran a production without understudies, which can be a gamble even if necessary to save money.

With an uncertain future and non-profit organizations unable to receive bailouts, the executive director of of the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra said:

“It’s frightening. We’re unfortunately at the bottom of the food chain. The general thought about the arts in our society is it’s expendable.”

The argument between art being frivolous or valuable is long standing and is one that will continue. Practicality is one of the many hurdles the arts world has to constantly overcome, especially in times like these.

A subscriber to Alabama’s Shakespeare Festival said:

“It’s important to support museums, symphonies, the dance and theater. These are things we need in society. If we lose them, we are declining faster than we think.”

On the other side of the coin, one conservative commented that:

“When families are struggling to make ends meet, $50 million going to the arts means $50 million less to help families put food on the table.”

Sharing that opinion, Republican representative Jack Kingston said:

“Putting people to work is more important than putting more art on the wall of some New York City gallery frequented by the elite art community.”

Feeling Kingston’s attitude “uninformed and perhaps disingenuous”, member of Americans for the Arts, Robert Lynch said:

“Those jobs are every bit as important as an auto industry worker.”

The non-profit advocacy group estimates that art organizations annually generate $166.2 billion in cultural and related spending through restaurants and parking. They also produce $30 billion in tax revenue and 5.7 million jobs. 10,000 art groups that employ 260,000 people could close this year.

Of the belief that the arts should be supported as a society, Josh Bivens from the Economic Policy Institute commented that:

“Any spending is good spending in an ailing economy.”

Centerstage’s managing director said:

“The arts isn’t fluff. It’s not discretionary. It’s a very important piece of our lives.”

And from my quotes collection, Stanislas de Boufflers said:

“La société a besoin de poètes, comme la nuit a bèsoin d’étoiles…Society needs poets, like the night needs stars.”

It should be no surprise that I’m fully supportive of the arts and don’t see it as frivolous. I started this Stage and Canvas to share that which I love so dearly and am very passionate about. Music, theatre, and the fine arts are necessities of my existence. I’d rather fast during the Jewish high holy days than go on without the arts. I returned from my recent art-filled adventure content and as happy as a clam at high tide, without having to break the bank. These days it can be cheaper to hear some live music and visit a museum than go to a movie.

I disagree with Kingston’s comment about the “elite art community”. The majority of those who visit museums are children, students, and average folk (like myself) who are a far cry from being considered elite. While I was at the Brooklyn Museum I saw groups of students ranging from grade school to college. Museums and theatres usually have student admissions for a reason. Again, the arts are educational and therapeutic.

There are enough unemployed people out there who don’t have jobs due to layoffs and companies not hiring at this time. Museums and theatres, which don’t run themselves, employ people who need income too. That’s also how musicians, painters, and such make their living. I’m concerned about my friends, whether they’re in the art industry or not. A friend was recently told to inquire about a regular day job in the summer. Until then she has to struggle and, hopefully, find another job to supplement her income. Another friend who currently plays viola for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra will be taking a pay cut. After I inquired, a musician’s partner told me they’re financially fine. I breathed a sigh of relief at the good news, but I still have other friends and collegues in the arts and entertainment industry to worry about. I’m only one person who can support so many.

Those are my 3 cents. Feel free to add to the till. Do you feel the arts are necessary or frivolous? Despite these hard times, are you finding ways to still enjoy art and entertainment?



  1. The arts have been a central feature of human existence since the beginning of human society itself. They are far from frivoulous. All forms of art are part of being human. They encourage the expression and experience of humanity.

  2. Well said and here here. Thanks, Mr. Anthro.

    Thinking of all the masks, costumes, pottery, tomb markers, etc. I saw last week. Fascinating enough I’ve had a post simmering since.

    Nous connaîtrions-nous seulement un peu nous-mêmes sans les arts? ~Gabrielle Roy

  3. Definitely not frivolous. Not at the top of the list of priorities, but definitely not frivolous.

    I’ve also heard that, in television, some of the good but higher budget shows are losing out to stuff like talk shows that more profitable even with fewer viewers.

    I can understand demand going down in some areas of the arts, but I’d also expect greater demand in others – what better way to take a break from the hard times than getting lost in a good story?

  4. Well…there are many who love Jerry Springer (is his show still on?) and Dr. Phil. What better entertainment than “real life” people and problems? Pffft.

    Yep. Sadly, opera has really taken a punch in the gut.

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