Didja Hear the One About the “Creative Economy”? Heh Heh


It was an intense, productive week here in the land of here-today, gone-tomorrow revenue (that’s code for freelance work), so this post will be the first in a series designed to do an avalanche-style catch up.

This post is in direct response to a Nov. 2 headline coming out of Canada: “Arts groups re-think the ‘creative economy’.”

Story continues below.

The story reported argued that, at a Canadian Conference of the Arts event, “Artists: Powering the Creative Economy?,” the received wisdom with regard to the case for arts funding was seriously turned on its head.

It’s not a long article, given that the name Richard Florida was mentioned, and appropriately so. I advise you to give it a read.

In short:

If there is a case to be made for arts funding — and in the era of austerity we’re about to enter, that’s a big “if” — should it be predicated on fiscal imperatives (arts = jobs) or the idea that the arts better society (arts = civilization)?

Quoting from the story:

Kevin Stolarick, a statistician with the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute who helped contribute to Florida’s landmark book The Rise of the Creative Class, said that while the concept has helped artists, decision makers are increasingly looking at the arts as just dollars and cents.

…”It was very easy to fall into, ‘Gee, we can fall back on an economic explanation to justify ourselves.’ And that was easy when times were good, that was good enough reason to justify the expenses. But times aren’t so good anymore.”

Arts groups should be funded, Stolarick said, but that funding should come with the understanding that the arts matter.

Devon Ostrom, an artist and organizer… worries the public is beginning to think of the arts only from an economic perspective.

…”I think the ultimate core of what the arts is, and its benefit, is an aesthetic benefit.”

Frankly, I still have a woeful time parsing this topic into silos of “either/or.” It reminds me of a Sondheim lyric:

Must it all be either less or more,
Either plain or grand?
Is it always “or”?
Is it never “and”?

This idea that the only case for the arts is economic is cynical and reductive. There’s an obvious and generations-long economic case to be made for the military-industrial complex, too, but no one would argue it does society, in the very broadest sense, much good.

The idea, however, that unfriendly power-brokers can be convinced of the arts’ value by stressing intangibles — let’s call it the Postulate of Vegetables, since vegetables are good for you — is foolishness, a joke.

If a power-broker already believes that arts = societal betterment, then the case needn’t be made.

If a power-broker already looks askance upon such intangibles, the “arts for good for you” argument is a nonstarter.

And how many people, how many politicians, are really in between? Can you imagine a U.S. senator responding “I don’t know how I feel about the arts”?

If one must choose between the two, however, the economic case for the arts is stronger, for numbers are numbers and facts, with the exception of certain Republican facts, don’t lie.

What we really need is to stop pitting these arguments against each other but utilize them in complementary fashion.

Which is to say that I don’t want to over-generalize or be reductive. Stolarick clearly has a great job and, as I’m not part of the Martin Prosperity Institute, is in a better position than I am to interpret statistics.

So I’m really responding to the article as a matter of philosophy.