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THE BENIES OF ART & CULTURE TO CITIES

THE BENIES OF ART & CULTURE TO CITIES

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By Doug Gritzmacher

Creative Director, Z-Channel Films, Denver, Colorado Google+

One of the reasons I moved to Denver was for the arts scene. During my preliminary visits to Denver I could sense a much livelier arts vibe here than what is found in DC. I have not been disappointed since my arrival.

I have landscape images in John Fielder’s gallery on Sante Fe Drive. Every first Friday of the month, the street closes off to traffic and all the galleries open their doors for evening viewing. People come out in droves to check out my work and that of other artists. Many artists also are on hand to talk about their work and talk with other artists.

It is certainly not necessary that jobs be fun. ‘Fun’ is reserved for hobbies. Photography, painting, dancing — those are hobbies, not careers.”

Additionally, I found a place for my office in a shared industrial space that also is home to painters, web designers, photographers, interior designers, musicians … even a blacksmith. I enjoy painting, design, and photography myself, so it’s fun to be able to talk shop and exchange tips and ideas with other artists skilled in those areas. And where I don’t have experience, it’s still enjoyable to hear about the various projects these other artists are engaged in.

In short, this is a good thing for me. But it’s an even better thing for the city.

The owners of the space where I have my office recently hosted an event to discuss the impact of arts and culture on communities. The moderator, Gary P. Steuer, president and CEO of the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation, opened the conversation with statistics from some recent studies:

• Children with an art education tend to lead happier lives.

• The main attraction to leisure travelers and new residents to a city is arts and culture.

• When considering a city to live in, people are more concerned with the physical beauty and openness of people in that community than they are with that city’s crime, education, or economy.

It would seem that investing in arts and culture is a great place to start for cities that wish to have a strong GDP. Yet, most city governments do not recognize the importance of arts and culture in their communities. Consequently, opportunities for artists remain minimal and many struggle to survive or work a “day job” to finance their artistic careers.

Why don’t cities do more to prioritize arts and culture? This is what the discussion attempted to answer.

One panelist suggested one reason for this is because artists are not invited to nor sitting at the decision-making tables. This is true. But, I wanted to add, neither are construction workers, yet the value of that profession is immediately recognized. The value of professions in art is recognized much less. And I think this stems from a deeply rooted attitude in our culture.

What we value most in Western culture are responsible citizens. Responsible citizens obey the law, pay their taxes, raise their families and above all else, have a job. A “job” is defined as “a task or piece of work, especially one that is paid.” Get the job done and you are being responsible. Whether you like your job is irrelevant. In fact, we often value those who “sacrifice” themselves in jobs they hate above those who have jobs they like. “What a hard worker,” we say.

It is certainly not necessary that jobs be fun. ‘Fun” is reserved for hobbies. Photography, painting, dancing — those are hobbies, not careers. Consider the comments left after a recent article by former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne on the dire state of the music industry in the face of Spotify and Pandora:

“I can’t see any problem, myself, with a world where making art is … a hobby for those with the time and leisure to do it, rather than a way of making a living.”

“If you are only being creative as a means to get rich, then I don’t want your crappy creation and I hope you go bust. Truly creative people are delighted to share their work and ideas for free.”

Obviously, artists are driven to create because that is what turns them on, just as someone passionate about medicine pursues a career as a physician or surgeon, or someone passionate about numbers may pursue a career in accounting. Do we expect to get their services for free? No. But then, no one practices medicine or accounting as a hobby.

Another panelist made an analogy between art and sports. Professional sports are fun and the community values them and they are paid well. But this is a poor analogy. Sports tie into a deep history of tribalism. Social phycologists and evolutionary behaviorists have shown that humans have banded together in groups around a common identity for as long as there have been humans. The reason is simply — safety in numbers.

Earlier in human history, our “tribes” fought to defend or spread their collective identity, resulting in bigger and bigger wars. Sports teams are a modern day representation of waring armies. It is no accident that the NFL is the most popular sport in America. It’s the closest approximation of an army going to war in sports (with soccer, or futbol, a close second). When it comes to sports, the value is easy and natural to recognize.

So how can we get the  same recognition with art? What needs to happen to shift attitudes in those whose quotes I included above? Current technology only seems to be working against us — authors, musicians, filmmakers — we have all been reduced to “content creators”. A commodity. Another comment from the Bryne article:

“The internet has made everyone think that an artist’s hard work and creativity doesn’t matter, it’s just a link on your smart phone.”

Sad, but true. And only getting more so every day.

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