A Modest Proposal

Provide humans with even modest of means and they will make art. But of course procuring means for art isn’t easy. Duh.

That “duh” represents a significant portion of the probably self-evident knowledge I’ve gleaned from a long career in the art world. As a life-long art-drone, I’ve often spent time in close proximity to the sparks and fumes that sputter from the administrative welding of money to creativity, all needed to build an arts infrastructure (that often smells like burned flesh). Like it or not, success or failure seems to come down to resources, or the lack thereof.

Now if someone writes about a “crisis” in the art world, I reflexively replace “crisis” with “lack of support” as a sour, little copy edit.

However, I suspect there may be more than enough support already in the art world, plenty of resources. It’s just in the wrong places—just a problem of distribution, generosity and commitment.

Where?

While the governmental, corporate and private support for the arts may grow, it likely won’t be sufficient or necessarily enlightened support.

Recently there’s been a lot of talk about how artist-endowed foundations may become significant revenue streams for the cultural sphere. I agree with the conclusions of the Aspen Institute’s formidable study, “Artist as Philanthropist” when it concludes that because of the number of aging, successful artists, and the precedents of recently established and apparently thriving artist-endowed foundations, these kinds of organizations will probably proliferate in coming years. Good. The Warhol, Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg, and other such foundations do good work and we need more like them.

But there needs to be a second tier of organizations to gather together funds from the estates of those thousands of artists (and art administrators, dealers, collectors and the art interested) who struggled and supported themselves through a creative life and who have built modest but real estates. These should be aggregated and managed to create community-fund-like foundations, dedicated to the support of the creative arts, administered in coordinated efforts to ultimately build a logical, sequential system of art support for all the creative disciplines. New kinds of art support organizations will need to proliferate, designed with intelligence, flexibility, interdisciplinary coordination, and generosity. They will need to be constructed on a time-scale equivalent to building medieval cathedrals, over many generations, creating interlocking systems of support for artists not yet born; with funds donated by legions of the dead, who will never know those who’ll benefit from their largesse.

Weirdly, I think this might just be viable.

Our generation must acknowledge that for the foreseeable future there will not be a logical, sequential system of support for most artists. We have to understand that we are building an infrastructure that will benefit artists one, two, or three hundred years in the future.

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Sean Elwood

SEAN ELWOOD is Director of Programs & Initiatives for Creative Capital Foundation, which supports innovative and adventurous artists through funding, counsel and career development services.