I've decided to start a new organization: End Artist Starvation (EAS). I know it's not a very catchy title for an organization, but it gets to the point. Too many of our arts organizations and the singers, painters, actors, playwrights and directors they support are struggling. Keeping underfunded arts companies functioning has become an artform in itself. It's crazy that those who provide so much creativity to our civic life are living on the economic edge.
Sure, the hunger in Africa is worse. But they have Bono. Where's our Bono? Heck, I would take the Edge on a part-time basis to end starvation among Albuquerque artists. The reality is that we all need to become champions for a strong vital local arts community. Think of yourself as Albuquerque's Bono, without the great band. You, too, can be a champion for the arts. In the name of love. OK, that's enough.
Right now we spend more money on almost everything in state and local government than we do on the arts. We spend more on public buildings, more on government travel and more on animal control in our community.
Someone (I don't think it was Bono) said you can judge a society by how it treats its oldest and weakest citizens. Someone else said you can judge a community by how it supports the arts. Of course, the second guy was probably a starving artist and not on Social Security. But the point is well-taken.
Albuquerque is fortunate to have some of the best and most unique arts companies and facilities in the nation, from the avant garde Tricklock Company to the National Flamenco Institute to Working Classroom. We also have some incredible performance spaces, from the Roy Disney Theatre at the National Hispanic Cultural Center to the historic KiMo Theatre. What we don't have enough of is two things: cheap, safe rehearsal space for performing arts groups and money for programs.
It's time we fixed that. We can't keep building glorious performance spaces and then cut funding for programming of local performers and promoters. As Bach once said, “That don't make sense.” Dave Bach was that starving artist I mentioned earlier. It's hard to argue that we are committed to the arts when the KiMo Theatre gets less money every year from the city than the City Clerk's office.
Every year, arts organizations march up to Santa Fe, funny hats in hand, to try to convince legislators to provide funding for what should be a regular line item. Depending on how convincing they are, whether they're organized (most artists unfortunately aren't) or how powerful their legislator is, they either get enough to squeak by another year, or are, as is often the case, sent packing.
Last year, a coalition of arts organizations convinced the Legislature to pass a bill allowing Bernalillo County (and other counties) to ask voters to approve a quality of life tax for the arts. Let's hope the voters support such a tax. However, given how many big-ticket items are on the ballot, such as schools and roads, it's tough to ask voters for arts money.
Do we really value art in our community? If so, what are we prepared to do to make sure our arts organizations and the artists and performers they support are able to survive financially? Are we willing to ask our state and local officials to put more of our state and local budget into the arts?
Whether you are a mariachi aficionado, an opera lover or a poetry slam fan, we need art. Art makes us happy. Art teaches us. Art reminds us of our common humanity. As Bono said, it's food for the soul.
But even though art is food for the soul, you can't eat art. Believe me, I've tried. Oil paint tastes terrible. I even know a guy who once bit a cello. He didn't like it. But he loves the symphony.
Supporting arts in our community is about more than building bronze sculptures or contributing a token amount to an occasional arts festival. It's about making a longterm commitment to adequately funding a diverse set of arts organizations so that Albuquerque will continue to be a center of creativity.
Let's do it for Bono. And for Dave Bach.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.