Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Recession and the Arts

The New Republic has been burnishing their culture credentials lately, with great success. The Book is a fantastic compendium of essays and literary writing, including some gems from decades past, and on the arts front Jed Perl now has a biweekly column on the arts. His inaugural post asks how much arts institutions should take fiscal considerations into account in the midst of the Great Recession, noting that MoMa spent $2 million on a new building during the Depression, when it would have looked positively suicidal. "When culture is at stake, financial considerations cannot be allowed to rule. Cultural institutions must be fiscally responsible. They must also be artistically responsible," he concludes.

This is a lofty outlook, but not necessarily reflective of the way things are. This may be my cultural philistinism talking, but museums that shell out millions for diamond-crusted skulls, sharks preserved in formaldehyde, and beds covered in tampons seem to have neither fiscal restraint nor good taste in mind. I really don't have much ground to stand on, though, as I don't follow fine arts world.

For the broader arts, namely theatre, I'm not much more optimistic. Judging as a somewhat-outsider hoping to eventually make his way in, the fact of the theatre world is that garish Broadway musicals continue proliferate because they sell. They cost a lot, too, and how much of that actually has to do with the extra staff needed and how much is pure waste (whatever that is), I couldn't tell you. For regional theaters, they seem to be perfectly happy to be regurgitating the same plays (Proof, The Rabbit Hole, and Doubt come immediately to mind) because they have the prestige of a Pulitzer Prize, a small cast, and an easy translation to film, so literal-minded do we seem to think our audiences.

Personally, I'm less concerned with creating new structures and programs than finding ways to compensate the artists we have.

(I've to go to work for a little while now. Might pick this up later.)

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