As reported last week, the arts appear to be taking it in the neck in Washington as congressmen and women posture their way toward a recovery package. What originally looked like an enlightened approach, treating cultural work as, well, work -- and setting aside a modest but, given the context, significant amount of money to help shore up underfunded and otherwise economically battered nonprofit arts enterprises now looks to be in serious jeopardy.

Even education funding provisions are being slashed, so you can guess what's likely to happen arts wise.

This is happening because, as a congressman from Georgia said last week, arts workers aren't considered workers by lawmakers. What artists do remains a mystery to these people.

But, of course, lawmakers aren't the only ones who fail to understand that making art is productive work. So are all the well-intentioned folks who ask artists to exhibit or perform or do whatever they do for free. The people who say that what they can offer is "exposure." The people who suggest that their cause or program or festival is so worthwhile, but who somehow manage to leave compensation for artists out of their budgets.

Artists compound this situation by agreeing to play along -- by actually showing up and doing their work without pay.

These artists might ask themselves: when was the last time they received medical care for free. Or legal advice. Or had their car repaired for no charge.

Artists, especially in in an arts-hostile environment like Indianapolis, are constantly trivializing what they do by providing services for little or no compensation. It's a sign they don't take themselves seriously. Look, when a construction worker loses his job, he's out of work. He doesn't continue building houses for the joy of it.

Artists need to learn to withhold their services -- or go wherever the market will support their labor. In a society that believes you get what you pay for, arts that come cheap might as well not come at all.

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