The Death of Community Art

Few things are as heart wrenching as watching someone you love die but I can tell you that watching someTHING you love die can elicit similar pain and heartache. It is torture to watch something you worked on and poured your passion into as it dies, worse when you see it dying but can’t stop it.

For me right now that THING is community art and it is dying…but it doesn’t have to.

With the loss of so many federal funds, the arts have been suffering a death of a thousand cuts and what money is left is sought after by a thousand groups. Imagine a mother bird trying to feed a nest of a hundred babies with one worm. It doesn’t feed everyone and those that do eat will eat very little. Everyone wants a non-profit and everyone needs money only, well, there just isn’t a lot to get. So you have a couple choices, you evolve, or you die. A lot of places though don’t have the foresight, or leadership to evolve. I can say from personal experience that for the area I live in, if you want to do arts work, you have to be willing to sacrifice because if you want someone else to fund it then you are dreaming. The arts, I am afraid, are an extravagance to many people and that is just how it is. My friends and I did art shows in this area, indie art shows, for over two years and never once did we ask for money from anyone but ourselves. Sure, who doesn’t want access to money so you can do more and accomplish more? The thing is though, if you can’t put something together on the cheap, then what is money gonna buy? For an art show you need a venue, a way do display art, and artists. That is it. The rest is so much window dressing.

Some people prefer drapes to canvas though.

The truth is that, for now and for the foreseeable future the money for the arts is almost all dried up. There are too many programs that need funding and the arts are just lower on the priority list. So what do you do in order to survive?

Well, you can keep fighting for the little money that is out there, something that is many times necessary in order to survive if you are a gallery or have staff and an overhead. The thing here is that if you don’t get the money then you are pushed into a corner, and then what?

So sure, you can fight for money but what if you don’t get it? You can work together, or try to, and pool your resources. The inherent problem here is that te more people that get under one roof, the more voices that will be fighting to be heard above the clamor and the more hands you have outstretched. You get into a situation similar to where we started, with lots of people and little money to go around.


Or you slim down and streamline. A venue is pretty hard to get around. You can only do street art in so many places and during so much of the year, but beyond that, you need somewhere to put art up. After that, it is about getting art and a way to show it. You can promote things digitally, and, frankly, if your artists are not invested enough to get the word out as well then they don’t need to be showing. You can supply your own snacks if you have to have them, and for music, make a damn mix on a computer. It isn’t complicated, just takes some work.

So which one is the evolved choice?

All of them.
That is the thing. You have to look for the money, and the venue, you should always look for ways to work with other people, other artists, and other groups, and if you are smart, you will always look for ways to save money. And while they save money they must never forget to foster the new talent. There has to be a balance where you celebrate the artists and art that has been around the scene but you have to also usher in the new generation of artists. There is a point of stagnancy that can occur in local arts where the old artists refuse to give up their ground, refuse to look for new venues and make it hard for young artists to break through. Without the mix of old and new, you run the risk of alienating the patrons and the artists, which can also lead to the death of community arts. And without an established art scene and room for an indie scene, the art community becomes boring and stagnant.

I love the arts, and have loved being a part of my city’s arts long enough to feel tied to them. Being tied to them though, I can see the sickness in the roots here. Too much infighting, too many unchecked egos, too many hands out, and not enough cooperation. There are never enough venues, too few artists that think beyond themselves, and with newspapers suffering so much it is hard to get the word out about what you are doing in a traditional sense. If this was only about the art, my god, this area would be a mecca, with so much ready talent available, but it isn’t that easy, and, in the end, nothing is.

Community arts are dying, friends. Sure, the artists will survive, but will the galleries and cooperatives? I dunno. I don’t know that anyone does. Unless we can support ourselves, and learn to support one another, things will only get worse. But where does autonomy end and group-think begin? How much do we need to evolve to survive? And finally, when does are simply become commerce and little else?

Time will tell.

1 thought on “The Death of Community Art”

  1. Awww….Chris. Sorry you weren’t at Voices. It would have been nice to see you and Amanda. You’re so right. There are so many talented artists downtown (this I only know from looking at last night’s exhibits; don’t know many of the people behind the work), but last night you could feel the ego in the room. What I’ve found, though, is that truly dedicated artists–people who care about the work and not the glory–become both the best technical artists and the least egotistical artists. I think the ego is from the insecurity of not knowing if you’re good enough yet. People who know they’ve given it their all–like you :)– don’t need the ego. Sometimes you outgrow the people (and the community) around you.



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