A Dime and Four pennies – Thanks, Tallahassee!

Florida arts funding to Bay area artists is like giving a dime as a tip to a Denny’s server: it serves more as an insult than actual compensation.  I knew Florida arts funding was bad (and thus my constant complaining), but the statistics nearly made me puke.  How well the Bay area art scene does with the virtual absence of support from state funding is a testament to how awesome the local scene is.    However, to pull ourselves out of this funding hole it may be helpful to get an idea of how deep it is.

A good benchmark is how much each state spends on the arts per person.  The state that tops the list is Minnesota at $5.80 per person (Washington D.C., because it’s not actually a state, really tops the list at $11.80 per person).  Florida comes in at $.14 per person.  That’s right: one dime and four pennies.  That puts Florida on the bottom of the list at second to last.   To get an idea of how little that is consider this: your Minnesotan cousin gets nearly fifty times more money for the arts than you do!  50 times more!

The good thing about being in a pit, however, is that the only way to go is up.  That is, unless the State thinks the best plan of action is to keep digging.  The state of Florida managed to come in second on a list in this regard – largest arts budget cuts.  In 2010 the state saw it fit to make the small art budget even smaller, cutting it by 65% or $2.5 million.

Hold on, I’m think I’m going to blorch.

I’m not going to bother spending time on the enigma of the reason why politicians hate art.  The only thing I can think of is that phrases like “cultural enrichment” and “stronger tight-knit communities” come off as hippy-babble to politicians.   That fact is, besides its hippy-perks, arts and culture is one of the best financial investments the state can make.

The fact that the state of Florida would treat the arts as trivial even though they generated $26.9 billion dollars in taxes nationwide in a single year (2005) is perplexing.  Additionally, that same year the arts let people bring home $104.2 billion dollars in income.

I hate going down the road of why art is great economically (art and capitalism just don’t mix) but now since we’ve started…both the audience and the artist have a large financial impact on their community.  Consider the artist.  The artist performs a job that can’t be outsourced.  Money made by the artist is in turn spent locally rather than funneled to out-of-state banks.

Consider the audience.  The average arts and culture attendee spends on average $27.72 above the cost of admission (i.e. dinner, lodging, gifts, etc.).  Simply put, spending money on the arts encourages people to spend more money elsewhere.    However, non-local attendees on average spend over $40 above the cost of admission.  That’s important for places that are already established tourist destinations…like Florida.  And not to be overlooked is the fact that arts tourists are more awesome than regular tourists.  Arts tourists on average spend about 27% more than regular tourists and stay two nights longer.  Studies have shown that in 2009 people spent $26 million in the city of St. Petersburg alone, with little help from the city itself.

Don’t let the state of Florida’s fiscal abandonment of the arts con you into thinking that arts and culture are a financial dead-end.  Art is not only a cultural necessity but also vital for any stable economy.  The funding of the Bay area art scene is directly tied to the welfare of the Bay area as a whole.  I know five bucks is a lot to ask, but 14 cents?!

Check out these links (a couple of the sources I used):

  • You’ll find an awesome study at the very bottom of this page called ‘Arts and Economic Prosperity III”.  Check out the National Study PDF. 
  • Here you’ll find an interesting analysis of arts funding sorted by state.
A Dime and Four pennies – Thanks, Tallahassee!

So Kanye West Walks into an OWS Rally… or … I’ve Got 99 Problems But Being Rich Ain’t One – part 2

Henri Murger

Henri Murger (left) was part of a group of artists who called themselves “the water drinkers”.  Apparently, back in Murger’s day telling someone they drank water (instead of wine) was like saying they got their clothes from JJ Give Away.  Murger and friends basically invented the idea of ‘the starving artist’, the artist too concerned with his work to be bothered by money.  However, Murger himself said that he sold his prose “at the rate of eighty francs an acre” – any garbage that’d make a franc!

A hungry Munger crafting junk so he can make ends meet is sad.  But an entire community of artists concentrating on making ends meet instead of making art is a serious cultural problem.  I can think of two ways to tackle this problem, and only one I take seriously.  First, the implausible one.


Building our own Chelsea

This is the “build it and they will come” solution.  That is, build an arts destination that attracts the segment of the art world enamored with contemporary art and emerging artists.  Miami did this successfully (though perhaps accidentally) with its Wynwood Arts District.  Granted, downtown St. Pete is growing into its own formidable arts destination.

I have a feeling, though that two of St. Pete’s best galleries, Mindy Solomon and C. Emerson Fine Arts, still make the majority of their sales (if not all of them) outside of Pinellas County.  What that indicates is that people come here to see Dali and Chihuly, but go to Miami to buy art.  The St. Pete arts area is still young, though.  There is the danger of St. Pete pandering to art tourists with showy, big name, and/or substanceless art.  If that’s the eventuality the exciting portion of the Bay area art scene will shift entirely to Tampa.

However, St. Pete can also emphasize its local art scene, showcase its peculiarly Floridian perspective, highlight national and international work, and build a sustainable community that’s the foundation of an arts destination worth seeing.


Building our own Brooklyn

We have the seeds of a second solution sprouting around the Bay area.  Seeds like the West Tampa Center for the Arts, the Dunedin Fine Arts Center, Tempus Projects, the Morean Arts Center, and Hampton Arts Management among others.  With good art becoming harder to sell (i.e. video art, performance art, new media art, installation, etc.) artists are more often turning away from collectors and galleries and toward other artists and alternative spaces.

It’s a lot like the difference between banks and credit unions.  Artist co-ops and collectives do a lot of the same things as commercial galleries but with slightly different intentions.  I will say, though, that galleries aren’t a typical business – curators typically choose not only art they think may sell, but more often art they love.  Being a curator is nothing like being a car salesman.

Still, when artists learn to rely on each other in alternative art spaces the work often pushes the envelope further.  More importantly, it fosters relationships between artists based on collaboration.  A community of artists that work with and for each other make up a solid scene that can better weather financial downturns (among other problems).

The Tampa Bay art scene is already a very tightly knit community.  I would love to see it further embrace existing alternative spaces and encourage the growth of more spaces in the area – to keep the art exciting and everyone moving forward.



So Kanye West Walks into an OWS Rally… or … I’ve Got 99 Problems But Being Rich Ain’t One – part 2