Friday, March 20, 2009

As Promised: What I Would Have Told the City Council

The Portland City Council recently had a hearing at which the Regional Arts and Culture Council presented their "State of the Arts" report. You can see the whole thing here.

I was unaware that I could have signed up to add my two cents. Here's what I would have said:

Mr. Mayor and members of the Council, I'm not a part of an arts organization. I don't have a 501c3 or a 401k. I am a writer and broadcaster who has spent a long time documenting music and musicians and artists working in other disciplines here and elsewhere. I am also a published author outside of journalism. And I'm speaking only for myself.

This Council session is devoted to the question "What is the state of the arts?" There are several answers to that question. Without any reservation I can tell you one thing you already know...we have a startlingly vibrant roster of writers, film makers, musicians, painters…all manner of expression. So the state of the arts when it comes to the arts themselves is pretty thrilling.

What's not so thrilling is that because of the current economic crisis there is a major breakdown in how the rest of the public gains information about us. The Oregonian is incredibly shrinking. While I am envious of the good folks there who still draw a weekly paycheck, I know that they care passionately about the arts and are not happy with the way things are going, and that they chafe under the cutback in pages and space for stories. Likewise at Willamette Week.

Creative people communicate with other creative people on the web and there are many avenues to take in order to do that. But what about the rest of the public, the consumers, the people for whom we make our work? How do they know what's going on? Who is working on what? And where are the profiles of our creative people to be found?

We have not begun to feel the effects of all this yet. Well, I have. Assignments have dried up. I can tell you from experience having worked in TV, print and radio, when work in one of those media has been slow, there has always been another to turn to. That is no longer the case…in the arts.

When it comes to buisness, techincal, health or a few other areas, there is work, but not in the arts.

When the word about who is making art can't get out there, consumers don't know about that work and can't buy it. If consumers don't know who is playing where or who has a new album out or is working on something new or can't learn about that work in articles longer than 400 words, then they can't…consume.

And so clubs are emptier, music goes unsold and work dries up. This is beginning to happen now. It will only get worse under current conditions.

A wise head of one of our best organizations once said to me, "We're all playing to the same ten thousand people." That may be true. But there are a million other people in the region.

We're not organizations Mr. Mayor and members of the Council. We're just people with something to express. Where's our bailout? What do you propose? Without us there are no arts. We are the arts. And our state is fearful and not optimistic.

There is a new organization called CAN: the Creative Advocacy Network which is a step in the right direction. It is a little disappointing to see that there is no representation from our music community on their board. Still, you should check them out and do what you to speak.

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