Thursday, October 15, 2009

My proposition to graciously walk away from Milwaukee Arts Board Funding...the reactions, and a challenge

Yesterday I posted an entry called Milwaukee Arts Board Funding...shut it down.

Today, I got several reactions to that post. Many of them were on Facebook, and since I know many of you don't read Artsy Schmartsy through Facebook (though you can by becoming an Artsy Schmartsy Fan), I thought I would share some of these thoughts.

And then I'll offer a challenge.

Here's some thoughts:

I do completely agree with taking a bold, active choice that
a) changes public perception on artists' presumed 'sense of entitlement'
b) show a generosity and awareness toward the entire community's needs
c) show solidarity amongst all arts groups

If I was smart enough to come up with a-c, I sure ain't smart enough to discover what it adds up to.

And some more:

I think society is best served when people advocate for things that they sincerely believe should be. Sincerity, in my opinion, is the most effective way to shape public values, and the best strategy for garnering lasting change.

If, given the totality of our city's financial challenges, you honestly believe that funding for the arts should be eliminated in favor of core social services, then I applaud your bravery in suggesting so - particularly on an arts focused blog.

But, candidly, it doesn't feel like that's your point. It seems like you're saying that there should really be significantly more city funding for the arts than there is - and that, if the only option is the small (and, now, decreased) amount that's being offered, then we should just turn it all down. It seems like you're suggesting a petition to eliminate city funding as a strategy to ultimately increase city funding. If that's your point, then it strikes me as disingenuous and (perhaps even more importantly) unlikely to succeed as a strategy.

Many thoughtful and intelligent people believe that any public funding of art is a mistake. And their arguments are not without merit. When I look at totality of the issue, I don't happen to agree with their point of view. But I don't think we do society - or our (my) side of the argument - any service by walking away from the debate. At the risk of being repetitive: if we believe there should be public funding, we should say so; if we believe there shouldn't be public funding, we should say that; if we think the funding is too low, we should say so.

Public policy is complicated enough as it is. Balancing "basic needs" and "higher needs" is complicated enough as it is. The best strategy to achieve what we believe is best for society is to acknowledge that complexity and then make reasoned and persuasive arguments for whatever we truly believe. And then to keep on doing so. Because none of this has ever been easy, and it never will be.

And even some more:

What's with the "our turf, their turf" analogy? Is there a football game planned between the arts community and the firefighters? I wouldn't know who to root for as I support both! I don't have the answer to the City budget problems. I don't have the answer to my own budget problems.

Playing the sacrificial lamb of the budget process IS radical, but is it smart? Not in my opinion.

The arts help to make Milwaukee a world class City...and the City knows that. in fact, Calatrava is the City's logo, The Milwaukee Government's web portal page has a photo of the MSO.

This is not about entitlement's about a great place to live, a strong economy, a culturally vibrant population.

I reverse it, it IS about entitlement, but not entitlement of recognition that the arts are important, it's entitlement for the tax-paying citizens of this City that they be safe, clean, educated, have the opportunity to make a living, and as part of that living, be culturally enriched.

If I had more time, I would organize these thoughts better. But I'm at work and need to sell tickets as an effort toward keeping my organization healthy.

Smart people say smart things while at smart jobs while on Facebook it seems.

There are also people who think everything I say in my original post is 100% perfect. But why bore you with those, right?

Okay, so, thoughts out on the table. There you go.

Now, here's the challenge:

Any other ideas?

(And I will accept that "keep advocating that the arts are important" is an idea, but I will also confess that I don't think it's a very good one. If we take the Arts Board as a case study, that's exactly what has been done over the past several years. And all the advocacy and working to convince City Hall that the Arts Board needs more money is a good thing has resulted in cuts to the budget year in and year out. Tenacity or insanity? I'm throwing no stones, I'm just saying.)


Sarah said...

I want to know if anyone important, meaning influential, is going to read this conversation and share it with important people who do important things. Frankly, it's not the conversation itself that has us spinning our wheels, it's with whom we are having the conversation that keeps us from moving forward. The conversation we are having amongst ourselves is a great one. Is anyone else paying attention besides the choir? My hunch is not (no offense, Jonathan).

Jonathan West said...

Sarah, I operate under the assumption that about 16 people read this blog, so you have not offended me in any way. I concur with your assessment, and this is my whole point. We do something out of our wheel house and it's uncomfortable to be sure, but it quickly makes us a part of a new community and we rapidly actually "listen" to conversations around us that help us take in the big picture and solve bigger problems than a piddly little grant pool.

Sarah said...

OK....I'll keep thinking of ways to accomplish this goal with out obliterating MAB. On a different scale and under different circumstances, I've tried a version of this approach before and my strategy was ignored. That's what I think I would happen with your suggestion to walk away from MAB. We would attempt to be the hero, martyr, sacrifical lamb, or whatever you want to call it, and the straegy would hit the ground with a big thud, and then be forgotten.

I am proud to be one of the 16 sad people who read this blog.

Ben Thayer said...

Offhand, does any know how much it costs to administer this $50,000? Is the city spending $100,000 to give away $50,000?

Ben Turk said...

This "great conversation" woulda been great 5 years ago. Now, it's beyond overdue.

Simple solution: stop making Art. By that i mean: stop thinking of what you do as Art and therefore special, inherently valuable, and always deserving of support.

Sorry folks, nothing has inherent value, especially not the poetic expression of one's subjective experiences (and that's what art is).

If artists only made things they feel compelled to make because the work says something so pressing, or reflects something important about the way we live now, then new audiences might get interested.

If audiences don't get interested, then your expressions aren't worth expressing to anyone but yourself and your friends, which is fine, make art for them, but don't demand other people pay you for it.

Michael Neville said...

The bright side of this is that ranking Alderperson Michael Murphy is a big proponent of the arts in Milwaukee.
As for the choice whether we, as citizens, need art or fire fighting, that is what my logic teacher, Dr. Lottie Kendyzerski, would have circled in red as a "false dilemma."
Another positive is you, Artsy. Your tenacity in the face of seeming indifference is a model for all of us.
Please sign me,
#17 and Proud of It.

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