It’s nothing new in the history of mankind but it’s unnerving to witness the breakdown of faith in our government on every level, our food system, our economic backbone. Not that there hasn’t always been plenty of institutional obfiscation in the past, but the techniques for marketing deception have become so sophisticated that it is truly hard to tell truth from fiction. With the proliferation of social media, a good boondoggle can go viral in a matter of seconds; collective cynicism and anxiety ensue.
But the arts community still makes me feel safe. Despite the lingering perception that artists are wastrels and layabouts, drinking too much and living off free grant money, nothing could be further from the truth. Virtually every artist I know works a day job to supplement the meager, unreliable income they make from their artistic pursuits. They have student loans, kids and mortgages just like everybody else.
Artists have practiced the sharing economy long before it became a buzz word. There is a fine measure of this kind of co-operation in Peterborough. At Public Energy’s Emergency, artists support each others’ productions as musicians, stage managers, costume and set designers, often for little more than the price of a beer. Last week at Artspace’s annual 50/50 fundraiser, over 50 artists donated artwork to the popular event which benefits the whole community. Some also bought tickets to support the gallery and their fellow artists. They designed posters. They tended bar. They took tickets. They served hors d’oeuvres.
Artists like Banksy show us that the emperor has no clothes – and it was a writer who came up with that original story. Or they give us a glimpse of our future as George Orwell and Margaret Atwood have done. Artists bring our past to life and reframe our stories. We trust artists to temporarily act as scientists, like La Cosa Radioactiva, coming up with innovative ways to give us information that public officials neglect to disclose, and with a dynamite sound track to boot. They make us forget our troubles or define them better than ever before. We bring words and pictures and music into our homes and trust them to inspire us, comfort us and remind us who we are every day; we trust artists when we sit in a dark theatre and let them explore our vulnerabilities, our victories, even our shame; we take books and films to our bed with us at night. The arts give us the chance to try on different identities. Perhaps most valuable of all, they restore our sense of wonder.
Can you imagine your life without that book that rocked your world at 10, the film that haunts you to this day, the music that has been the sound track to every love affair, or the painting you could not live without?
To tangle the arts with business is a mistake, yet the dilemma remains, how do we support our artists? We trust artists because to give less than their complete heart and soul would be humiliating and pointless for them. We know they don’t do it for the economic benefits.
When the chips are down, who are you going to trust? Virtual or no, my money is on the arts community.