It’s amazing both how little the arts are supported in the U.S. and how much they are supported, a contradiction that I, in the following slew of words, will attempt to elucidate.
Sometimes it seems that to make it in this world as an artist – and by that I mean someone who makes a living or, well, is known as an artist rather than someone who does art on the side – you have to sell out. And I know that selling out has a bad connotation but, really, selling out means that you have something that people want to buy in the first place anyway. The truth is that there are simply some artists, writers, musicians, etc. who cannot sell out because their art is not saleable. Others are more in tune with the zeitgeist and their work slides down the gullet of the masses like thickly-buttered hotcakes.
And I’m not saying I’m in one camp or the other – though most of the time I prefer my work to be saleable. No, scratch that. All the time.
The trouble is, I also want the freedom to write whatever the hell I want.
The good news is that I’m able – RIGHT NOW! – to write whatever the hell I want to write.
The bad news is that I’m not being paid for such uninhibited, though undoubtedly brilliant, writing.
The proof that it’s undoubtedly brilliant? I’m not getting paid for it. And how many brilliant writers have died penniless in garrets, their work only to be discovered after their bones have been interred in the pauper’s graveyard outside of the major or minor city that they called home? Plenty. Plenty, I say! And, I, too, can be one of them!
Granted, the reason I began with the funding paradox is that I have been lucky enough to get a lot of support over the past few (ten?) years as a writer. University creative writing programs in the U.S. essentially work as government (and private) funding for writers. While in those programs I received several fellowships that allowed me to worry less about what I was going to eat and more about what I was going to write. Last year I was granted a fellowship from the Houston Arts Alliance for the production of a new book of poems. This year, I started Theater 42 with Erin Kidwell and we’ve benefited from regular benefits sponsored by the Poison Girl and Boheme bars. That’s a lot of support for an individual, and more than enough to fully sponsor Theater 42’s first production (i.e., “Tuned to a Dead Channel” which is going on now, check your local listings).
But overall, much, much more money goes towards defense, corporations, blah blah blah, you’ve heard this argument before and if it didn’t convince you then, then it won’t now. It comes down to whether you think arts are a vital part of our lives – as if they didn’t exist, then culture and civilization would die – or whether you believe arts are just the icing on the cake of humanity. Remember, when baking humanity, preheat the oven to 11000 degrees and let sit for several billion years or so.
So, to those of you who believe that arts are essential and desperately want to support the arts: I’m right here.
All of my skin is available for your socially-conscious-and-artistically-inclined advertising needs.