In its October 9, 2007 editorial, The New York Times commented on the recent move of Altria Group, of which Philip Morris is one of its subsidiaries. Altria is decentralizing its operations by moving it’s headquarters out of New York, and is spinning it’s international tobacco division elsewhere, so it can create new smokers outside the United States. Why this editorial is so important is not that Altria Group is moving, or that Philip Morris is going to focus on international markets. What is important is that Altria is taking its arts funding away.
For four decades, Altria has funneled more than $210 million into the New York creative culture. Nonprofits such as the American Dance Company, Whitney Museum, and Alvin Ailey Dance Company have benefited from Altria’s generous giving. Of course Altria Group is not the only corporation that has used its profits to fund the arts, there are many. Which brings me to why I am writing this.
We in the arts are conditioned to receive money and gifts from benefactors. We are passionate and deeply believe that our creative spirits would be crushed if we focused on our craft as a business instead of this wild passion. For the most part, we cannot balance our checkbooks, work up a business plan, or talk to others outside of our industry as tax paying individuals. We have become slaves to our society. We have actually come to believe that we must ask for donations in order to survive. We have not been educated to look at our craft as anything other than a creative endeavor that, if the gods look favorability on us, will allow us to continue–just one more month, season, performance.
With this mentality, we have limited ourselves. We think, “if only we had funding, we could do this.” Or “we only received this much funding, so we won’t be able to do this.” We have created a patron-slave mentality that has to stop because, good as the funding is, that funding is really hurting us.
I think it is time to take up the MBA mentality and learn that we are, indeed, business people. We have a vision, a mission, and a product to sell. I think it is time for the art schools and universities to not only teach the various creative skills, but to teach how to make money at these various skills.
In metropolitan Portland, Oregon, where I live, there are thousands of artists who do their art part time, or sometime. Their “real job” is waiting on tables, as baristas, or something else that pays the bills, but takes them away from their passion–art. And, silly us, we accept this type of behavior as okay. People in the arts are notorious for having low self-esteem, selling what they make for less than it cost to make, and wondering all the time if someone, anyone will like us.
There are some individuals who are have taken up the task of kicking the creatives in the butt and getting them to focus on their art as a business. One person in Portland, Adrienne Fritze, is focusing her efforts in a course called The Guerilla Exhibitor During the course, Fritze has the students analyze what is holding them back, and has them understand that with a given vision, they can go forward in this profession, as a working artist. She has them focus on marketing, finances, and the legal aspects associated with our profession. At the end, they are given a project that they must complete. This project could be a gallery show, start a school, or something that is specifically associated with that individual. I truthfully don’t know of any other program that is like this one.
Creatives need to think of what they do as a business that makes money, not as an passion waiting for a patron. And to become a business, one has to do what the big dogs do. Think of what they do as a business. It’s that simple.