How do you make a living? Asking someone where they work or what they do for a living may yield a very different response than if you ask them, “Who are you?” or “What kind of work excites you?” Chances are, if you ask this question of a creative person, whether a visual, performing, or literary artist, you will find a vast disconnect between how they make their living and how they feed their soul or enrich the community around them. This is an inconsistency with a long and widespread history.
In many regions of this country, including northeast Indiana, the Arts are lauded and touted as important to everything from child development to enhancing the lives of citizens. If the intrinsic benefits of the Arts “inspire, soothe, provoke, and connect us; ennoble us as people; provide bridges between cultures and embody the accumulated wisdom, intellect, and imagination of humankind,” then why aren’t we more outraged that few artists are able to make a living at their craft? Why haven’t arts organizations developed business models that actually work and help to sustain the careers of the artists whose mission it is to support?
Such things are difficult to quantify, and there is scant reference data, but most would acknowledge that many artists must work a “day job” and/or combine several artistic jobs in order to earn a living. Most musicians are avocational, working in gainful employment outside of their field of interest/expertise in order to be able to perform. Many musicians in our region are earning wages that are at or below poverty line with their principal employer in the arts and they must cobble together multiple gigs or jobs outside their principal field in order to make a decent wage.
Fort Wayne is heralded as a great place to live and work because of our wonderful arts opportunities, yet the data reveals we are not providing adequately for the livelihoods of these artists. One need only reference the federal census and financial reports of various arts group in our area to see that we are failing to plan and adequately support the careers of artists, the very creative class that has proven to help communities thrive economically, emotionally and spiritually. This is a paradox that should not be allowed to perpetuate and the most significant impetus for the strategic plans currently underway at Heartland.
Career artists should be able to earn a living wage in our community. The Arts enrich our lives, make our community a uniquely special place to live and help sustain our economic future and community health. Those who understand the value of the arts must do more to advocate for those who make it possible. How? Support the arts with your treasurers. Attend local arts shows and performances. Accept leadership roles in the arts. Help create new and sustainable business plans for your favorite arts organization. Remind those in authority that the arts save lives, and deserve their support.