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Time to say NO to the “Scarcity Principle”

Ernest:  The working class is out for itself.  Then why shouldn’t the middle class be out for itself? #

Who among us in our field hasn’t felt what Ernest articulates?  That there’s a lack of artistic opportunities, or funding sources, or potential audiences, and that we have to put our resources towards competing for those that already exist, rather than toward trying to build new ones?  But as Madge points out, it’s just bad business.  A business that fails to actively create demand for its’ product, and just relies on historical demand – unless it sells something like milk – will swiftly lose significance.  So the economic side of this thing is just common sense, self-protection, even, and there’s lots of easy solutions that can be employed to shift this paradigm toward the development of new audiences, opportunities, and funds, which this blog will explore in later Chapters. #


  1. Floyd Rumohr says:

    You raise an important point of societal value, Ron — particularly from the demand side, a perspective that I’ve been arguing for some time has gone under the radar in some nonprofit arts contexts. I wonder how your argument might adapt if, for example, we frame it in the broader nonprofit environment in which 40,000 new ones were created last year. 20,000 went bankrupt, merged, or were acquired.

    Whatever your perspective, it seems to me that economic resources for the arts will continue to contract as competition for them escalates. Scarcity here, too. I predict that more “wheels” in the arts and other fields will continue to be invented as if their creators had thought of them first.

    Sustainable, competitive, creative inventions will be as much a product of strategic thinking as they will be of artistic imagination. How does my idea, my invention, fill a particular need or boldly respond to opportunity? Most of us humans have within an artist of one kind or another which might not be as visible given the material effects of life. If that artist is to thrive in a material world there will have to be something significant it for others. There’s nothing wrong with making art for yourself and those you love. But your first employee ascribes the responsibility to cultivate demand if it doesn’t already exist.

    Oh man, did I just hear someone quote Spiderman?

  2. Thank you for articulating all this. Especially this: “A business that fails to actively create demand for its product and just relies on historical demand – unless it sells something like milk – will swiftly lose significance.” Can’t be said enough.

    We in the arts focus almost entirely on diminishing historical demand (just look at the silly nonsense we publish in our brochures and emails) and ignore the expectations of new audiences. The opportunities are abundant, but we have to stop speaking exclusively to our inner circle and start paying attention to the “undecided” audiences who are waiting for us to convince them that we’re worth their time and money.

    • Well said, Trevor – I love the idea of thinking of potential audiences as “undecided” – rather than “disinclined” or similar commonly-used words that subtly imply that it’s the audience’s fault, rather than ours, that they are not being actively engaged –

  3. HA Beasley says:

    Economically, we’re also dealing with the aftermath of the NEA Four in the 1990’s, and the government’s near-absolute refusal to fund individual artists or to take responsibility for judging their artistic merit. The Supreme Court decision and the resulting shift in NEA granting policies tricked down through foundations and other public and private funding sources, the non-profit’s equivalent of “venture capital.” It has been increasingly difficult ever since to find direct funding for artists and artistic creation, as separated from arts education or community (re)development efforts.

    The public refusal to determine what art is good, and what art is worthy of funding, leads to a market in which artists have no economic value. When all artists are either “priceless” (for arts lovers) or “worthless” (for those who don’t care about the arts), there’s no way to create a quantifiable competitive market. If we seek to convince a nation of indifferent folk that art and artists are worth work and effort and perhaps even money to have around, we’re fighting the decades-long trends toward “democratizing” the arts and the blurring of lines between professionals and amateurs in these fields.

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