I am a member of The Field, an organization primarily for those in the performing arts, with a focus on the dance world. It is an amazing organization which helps artists, both emerging and experienced, create their own works through residency grants, teaches artists how to survive through grant writing, marketing and online strategies courses, among many other things. They also have started initiatives such as ERPA, Economical Revitalisation for Performing Artists, to address the ineffective traditional grant making path for those in the performing arts. About a month or so ago they hosted a forum regarding the state of the New York arts economy. I attended not knowing what this event would be like and wound up leaving inspired by both the artists and the producers/”gatekeepers” of the arts. There were a couple of really good points made and the one or two that have been rattling about my mind this summer have kept me from being dismayed when I see theaters losing their spaces, massive layoffs at arts organizations and less grants (less money) to go around.
The first point, or suggestion, was to focus on one project and work on it slowly, perfecting it before showing it to the public. This is something I need to constantly remind myself, since I’m prone to want to have my work shown in public before it should be presented. There is definitely a market driven economy in the arts in NYC that makes artists often feel they need to be showing their work constantly or they will fall by the wayside. Such commercialist sentiments often ruin the creative process. Breaks are very, very important. That doesn’t mean walking away from your life, but it means taking a break so that you can let ideas simmer, brainstorm and court your muse (he or she does not usually show up until you’ve learned to sufficiently de-stress). When focusing on one project you can also have little spinoffs (ideas, projects, etc) that happen randomly. You can also plan to show an entire evening worth of work instead of constantly showing only 10 minutes of work at this showcase or that workshop. That was also another point made during the forum. Show a full evening’s worth of work. Don’t continue down the path of endless showcases. I’ve used showcases to this point in my career to get my work out into the public, but I don’t want to continue to use them as a crutch. They are very helpful for the emerging artist, but there does come a time when a full evening’s work must be shown.
The other point that I found of great interest was the idea that maybe the artists in the city should be working closer together and less at odds with each other, especially as we enter an era of scarcity. With even less now to go around, the current pathways to carving out a career in NYC as an artist seem poised to become dire. As for what is going to happen to the arts in NYC, or for that matter anywhere in the USA, I don’t really know. New York City was on route to pushing out most of its artists to the absolute borders of the city (well maybe not the absolute, but definitely further out). Unless you’re working a posh job or claiming you’re an artist while working in advertising, or your parents were supporting you by paying for rent, you are/were barely scraping by. Yet it seems that some people in the arts did have access to large amounts of capital during the past decade and so they will probably feel this slowdown at a much steeper incline. But most people in the arts did not and have never lived flush with cash and so overall maybe life will just go on as it has been for most artists. Or maybe not. Maybe this era will push artists towards more innovative collectivity and further away from the individualistic market-driven economy.