Where have all the Artist Gone?
Yesterday, a NY Times article (Freelance Musicians Hear Mournful Coda as the Jobs Dry Up) chronicles the decline of the freelance music industry in the New York Area. It is a theme that is being repeated across the country. The work is just drying up. There are many potential reasons: bad economic times, an over-saturation of entertainment options, technological displacement . . .. Substantial responsibility must rest with contemporary classical composition. In my opinion, classical composition studies have not even tried to connect with audiences for a hundred years. Without the talent development of a viable modern classical composition field, we’re seeing Broadway (America’s Classical Music) increasingly turning to rock ensembles and simpler song forms. The worst aspect of this article; it offers no way forward.
These artist represent the soul of our culture. Mass culture (eg. Hollywood) caters to the lowest common denominator. At best, mass culture is nothing more than a weak reproduction of culture. It is not the cutting edge and does not show us the the way to the future. What is to be done to rescue the artist and restore their place in culture?
The Answer: Creating New Space for Cultural Work!
I believe the answer will be found in understanding how the world is changing. Peter Drucker, a “self-described ‘social ecologist’ . . . coined the term ‘knowledge worker’ and later in his life considered knowledge work productivity to be the next frontier of management”. Productivity in knowledge work consists in improving our ability to create new things like shared frameworks, understandings, processes, markets and social organizational forms. These things may look like they are created out of thin air, but that is not the case. They are created within cultural constraints. Therefore, the source of much of this creativity is found on the creative cultural edge.
Culture, in its fullest creative sense, is the foundation or the “stuff” of knowledge work. If you want to improve knowledge workers’ productivity, surround them with other people who are exploring and testing the boundaries, forms and shapes of culture. In short, surround them with artists. But, and this is a big but, art and culture can no longer be considered a spectator sport. Knowledge workers need to be intimately involved with cultural creativity. They need to be “in the artists’ heads” in a way that allows them to experience the artist creation and to explore what that experience can mean in their own cultural lives. Dedicated fans may have achieved something like this in the past, but artist should now focus on creating shared experiences. Breakdown that fourth wall, the one separating the artist and their audience. Help them to share in your creative nature, for in the end, knowledge workers are the artists of their own worlds.
Where Would Such a Space Be Found
Yesterday I saw a TV news segment on a new artist space in Cleveland (Ohio), 78th Street Studios. It’s described as a character-filled location: the former American Greetings Creative Studios building, converted into studio spaces that forms an “arts mecca”. It looks like a great place and I think these spaces should be the mecca for all kinds of knowledge intensive cultural workers. A place like this could be an economic engine where all kinds of cultural workers are able to integrated the cultural edge throughout their daily lives. Now artist have always been in the vanguard of urban development, and are usually displaced as arts meccas become expensive fashionable destinations for the well heeled. It’s because the well heeled can sense the importance and vibrancy that artists bring to their lives. This is a great time for developers to recognize the importance of artists as an economic force and to find ways to integrate them as an integral part of economic spaces.