Supporting the arts during an economic downturn*

Regardless of the economic situation, making an honest living from the arts is never easy. The rewards tend to be concentrated among the top stars, so the majority make do with other careers or odd jobs. However, an economic downturn might bring about unexpected opportunities. During the Depression, the Works Progress/Projects Administration (WPA) provided jobs for those who were out-of-work. Under the WPA, artists generated murals and other works, contributing art that is now part of the everyday experience.

In an interesting, contemporary meta-art-project, the Work Office is trying to raise funds to support NYC artists on WPA-era wages of $23.50 per week. Artists are tasked with “simple, idea-based assignments to explore, document, or improve life in New York.” According to the project’s description, the two leaders “will perform the dull bureaucratic work that ensures that their employees make artwork.”

Such a juxtaposition suggests that bureaucracy and creativity are uneasy partners. Some, like Steven Dubin, who studied a governmental-funded Artists-in-Residency program in Chicago, are skeptical about the abilities of bureaucracy to support the arts. My research on Burning Man suggests that when judiciously applied, bureaucratic practices can enable creativity.

*I almost wrote “recession” in this entry’s title, but we’re still waiting for the official announcement from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).

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