Do you consider your organization’s deepest responsibility to be to art or to people? I don’t mean what is your mission. (That’s a question for another time.) Rather, in extreme instances, what is most important? If many in your community are hurting is your focus on art?
The tendency to focus on art almost exclusively is one reason people outside of the arts view our work as insular, out of touch, and/or irrelevant. In times of crisis, such focus on art comes across as tone deaf. Epochal moments require a reframing of perspective.
Without question, today the world is in crisis mode. Arts organizations, like all individuals and organizations, are struggling to figure out how to survive. I would argue, however, that given some people’s impression of the world of the arts as meaningless to them, now is an ideal time to demonstrate that we are reliable citizens. We are all looking for good news; plus, since for many “the arts as helper” is a counter-narrative, efforts could get considerable play. As but one example among many, Erie Arts and Culture is distributing face masks made by a local immigrant artist. Certainly art is a part of this, but that artist’s and EAC’s obvious main motivation is providing the community with something it needs on a very practical level.
I have long suggested that one way an arts organization can develop relationships is by providing goods or services that do not cost the organization much but are of considerable value to people in the community–space, expertise, or equipment (e.g., a portable generator for charging cell phones after a natural disaster). Getting this right simply requires an acknowledgment that the organization, like any individual, has some level of responsibility for the well-being of members of the community; and, of course, it must have enough external focus to know what needs exist in the community.
In spite of the difficulties we all face, we have a responsibility (and, perhaps, an opportunity) as community citizens to pull together in meeting the grave challenges of this time.