Making it Count

These past couple of days I have been thinking: why is it so hard to know, definitively, if art does something?  Now, I am speaking in the qualitative sense here.  So I suppose to in order to answer this question we must ask another: what does it mean to measure something?  Measurements can give us concrete knowledge of what something is.  But why do we always have to know that?  Isn’t there something beautiful in a mystery?  Yes, yes of course.  But me personally, I like bottom lines.  How can art give us bottom lines to prove its own worth?  (ALERT:  I know art is far more than bottom lines, but lets just explore what finding a bottom line in art can do).

Well, for starters knowing what something is helps one know exactly what is does, or has the potential to do.  Think about it.  If I didn’t measure my height when I was growing up, I would not be able to see how much progress I made over time.  Without charting progress in definitive ways, I cannot know if something is wrong, or abnormal.  Charting progress can also give a sense of excitement or hope.  I mean how exciting is it to show your mom how much you moved up from that pencil mark on the wall last year?  Quantitative statements are ways to identify patterns of change that lead to more exact knowledge about what is happening, if it is going well, and if we should make adjustments.

It is in this light that I want to think about this new term I have recently been reading about in my art explorations. This term is, “creative placemaking” (CreativePlacemaking-Paper).  This is essentially the study of how a region or community can be developed and economically improved by an increase in arts institutions.  These institutions can be museums, visitors centers, artist studio spaces, theaters, etc. The idea is that wit increased venues for artistic production, communities can ultimately generate more income.  I kind of see this process as having three facets: first, for creative placemaking to take hold, there must be definitive ways to distribute the initial money needed to found the creative spaces.  After that, there must be a way in which the artistic activity is diffused and publicized.  Finally, there must be a way in which the creative work is conserved and preserved as time passes.

First step: distribute the money.  Often times this is the role of either state or federal government agencies of arts councils.  This can also be the work of individual patrons or foundations who have strong arts initiatives.  The Getty Foundation is one example.  However, I would like to look at the Warhol Foundation because I feel their way of distributing money is different, and very intriguing.  Two things interest me about their distribution structure.  An offshoot of their foundation is another foundation called “Creative Capital.”  This nonprofit gives money, counseling, and career support to artists as a package.  Meaning, if an artist submits an application for funding, they must also be willing to engage in regular workshops, and meetings that are geared to monitor the fervor with which they are trying to use the money to not only produce work, but get it into the public sphere.  The Warhol Foundation also has a new initiative for distributing money that is called the Regional Regranting Program.  This is where the foundation identifies strong cultural institutions within various communities around the United States to partner with.  In partnering with these institutions, the Foundation gives them the responsibility of finding the arts initiatives that community most desperately needs strengthened.  In deciding how the money will be given out in this way, the Foundation uses the expertise of institutions native to a given community (assuming the native always knows best).

Second step: get the word out.  Once the arts institutions are economically on there way, how can we make them popular?  Often times this can happen through collaborations and multi-stake holder approaches.  This means that the art institution itself is supported by maybe three or four smaller organizations.  Therefore, in a perfect world, this new institution will have the audiences of all three or four of those other smaller organizations.  Also, more and more initiative are living online.  This means that the initiatives are more for idea diffusion as opposed to a memorable experience.  Personally, I am not sure I like the idea of art living online, but I do think it should absolutely have an online facet.  Two examples that are interesting is the new cultural diplomatic effort of the US State Department called “Center Stage (SM)“.  This program was founded to follow the “smart power” vision of Hillary Clinton.  It is the result of a collaboration between New England Foundation for the Arts, the U.S. Regional Arts Organizations, the Asian Cultural Council, the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, and the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation.  The second example of an online art source is called Art21.  It is a PBS series about contemporary art.  I love the layout of the website, but it feels more like an artistic think tank as opposed to an artistic experience.  But who says there is anything wrong with that?

Third step: preserve and conserve!  Now you have the wonderful art, everyone loves it, but it is loosing its charm.  it is getting old, or out dated.  What now?  While this question relates more to historical art, the art we are trying to create and circulate now will eventually become historical, so I suppose it is never too soon to start planning.  Two organizations I found to be interesting are the World Monuments Fund (WMF) and the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR).  The WMF works to identify important decaying architectural or art historical locations around the world and develop a strategic financial and business plan to rejuvenate them.  The IFAR works to constantly uncover the provenance of works of art, to clarify their legalities and ownership rights, and to protect against unjust theft or movement of the work.

So as you can see, art is a lot of work!  You gotta fund it, distribute it, and save it.  After all this I can see why people want to hear some hard, number-related reasons as to why it is worth it.  And while I am still working on finding that answer, I can tell you this: art is who we are.  What we produce is what will define us in the long run.  And I for one want mt generation to leave a legacy.


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