Earlier this month I highlighted three factors fueling a growing international interest in community engagement and the arts: economics (the “cost disease”); demographics (the declining percentage of people with European cultural backgrounds); and funders’ demands for much broader community impact than is typical with Eurocentric arts organizations.
It seems like a little expansion on these existential threats to the status quo might be in order. The rapidly rising cost of the arts (and all labor intensive industries) is not new and not news. What is perhaps worth emphasizing is that we are now at or past a breaking point where traditionally available resources are no longer able to keep up with that rise in costs. Expanding the base–of funders, of participants, of audiences–is essential.
Global demographic changes in which people whose cultural backgrounds are not European is another issue. When this is coupled with the growing social and political power of those people it forces greater accountability for attention and resources provided to arts institutions. Across the U.S., it has become imperative to consider the interests of Latino/a populations. Canada has begun to pay a good deal of attention to equity issues with respect to their First Nations. Both Singapore and China are seriously re-evaluating support of Eurocentric arts. Indigenous forms of cultural expression are, rightly in my view, questioning disproportionate backing of non-native cultural expression. If arts institutions cannot develop relationships addressing these imbalances, their futures are imperiled.
Since the ’60’s, the number of funders who support the arts as arts has declined precipitously. Many that had strong arts mandates, now barely fund the arts at all. (The Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in my hometown is one that did this long ago.) One of the most notable of recent shifts like this is California’s Irvine Foundation.
Government funders are even more sensitive to a changing world. San Francisco has had a long-running controversy on this topic (The Visible Hand). In 2017 a bill was introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature to examine “systemic racism in arts funding.” The bill died in committee, but the point is that it was introduced. The political winds are shifting.
And funders of all kinds–individuals, foundations, corporations, government entities–are concerned that things they support have a broad impact. They want to to reach as many people as possible, a reach well beyond the traditional market share of Eurocentric nonprofits arts organizations.
So from the standpoint of costs, political reality, and shifts in funding, the need to engage deeply with new communities is essential to a sustainable future. As I said last time this is not true just in the U.S. We are seeing this phenomenon on a global level. And, in fairness, I should acknowledge that the title of this post is probably outdated. These issues are not just on the horizon. They are upon us now and action in response cannot wait.
Photo by Doug Borwick: Myrtle Beach, SC January 2019