Monday, February 16, 2009

Taking Back Art’s Mission

It saddens me that much of the art discussion these days is about money. Between the controversial closing of the Rose Museum at Brandeis to the struggle to keep arts funding in the stimulus package, the art world finds itself on the defensive. Of course we in the arts are always fighting for more money. This is particularly true now and in Cincinnati as the city has eliminated more of its funding for the arts. For these last years, we’ve allowed our city’s strong corporate instincts to determine and promote the value of the arts. However we find again that viewing art as a means to financial success is not a sustainable approach. Artists need to speak on their own terms. It is time to take back the art’s mission.

The Fine Arts Fund recently recognized an interest in promoting the arts not as a promise for financial growth in the city, but as a vital component of the cultural health of our communities. This change of focus is probably my greatest source of optimism. Though I think this change involves more of a cultural shift in priorities that are unfortunately ingrained in the city. This is not only about changing the language of our missions. Defending the cultural value of art is rather easy. In fact, I know no one who disagrees with the importance of access to the arts in our schools and other public spaces. If the Fine Arts Fund wishes to succeed in shifting their focus, they may want to require local arts organizations to employ not only business but art professionals.

This is not to say that many administrators of our local arts organizations are not interested in art. In fact, I trust many of them have a sincere passion towards the arts in Cincinnati. Their skills in business administration are valuable to the art community. However, the caretakers of the core mission of the arts should be artists, historians, or educators.