Inventions in the fine art of fine arts survival
If necessity is the mother of invention, then a plethora of artistic inventions are on their way in the '80s--inventions in the fine art of surviving , that is.
A group of New York City arts managers recently gathered in Brooklyn to discuss ''Arts in Transition: Creative Responses.'' They heard Frank Hodsoll, director of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) say that ''even the most original talent (artistic endeavors) cannot proceed beyond certain limits which are fixed for it by the date of its birth.''
As the '80s begin, American artists have already had limits set for them. The NEA, the main government funding agency for the arts, was cut 12 percent this year and may be cut 30 percent next year. State money has also been reduced. The Reagan administration has said that the private sector will pick up the slack, but Leonard Fleischer, senior adviser of arts programs at Exxon, told the conference that corporate donations to the arts actually went down last year. And ticket sales are down as audiences stay home to save money.
The conference, sponsored by the US Conference of Mayors, the Congressional Arts Caucus, and the Humanities Institute of Brooklyn College, brought up ways around these limits. It will serve as a model for conferences around the country , already being planned. If the suggestions are followed, people will hear more from their local artists, and so will city councilmen. The consensus was to nudge artists closer to audiences, local government, and the business community. Conference participants concluded that artists should:
* Give matinee performances for children, the audiences of the future.
* Be on local planning boards.
* Lobby to have fine arts made a requirement in secondary schools, to combat the attitude that arts are an unnecessary frill.
* Hold a National Arts Day.
* Appeal to Chambers of Commerce for help, since the presence of an arts community has been shown to lure businesses downtown.
* Take part in efforts to promote tourism, since the arts often benefit from such efforts.
* Ask local businesses for skilled volunteers or a loan of in-house printing facilities if they don't have money to give.
Participants were asked not to dwell on the effects of the cuts at the NEA, but there were murmurs of dismay. A member of the dance, music, and theater workshop complained there just wasn't money available, no matter how creatively one sought it. Moderator Joel Garrick replied, ''Do you know how plaintive that sounds?'' He suggested that arts managers think of ways to approach city hall and board rooms more positively.
Mr. Garrick, who is director of the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College, said later that many groups have not realized how dire their situation is with federal funding on the wane. ''Everybody at that meeting is in favor of increased federal funding,'' he said, ''but we all must deal with reality.''
In the next few years, smaller arts groups will fall by the wayside without aggressive management, Garrick says. ''The saddest thing is that (some) art that would have been created will simply not exist.'' To survive, groups should pare down ''to what they feel they must do,'' and save other programs until more backing becomes available.
From the look of the participants--most of them dressed in dark suits appropriate for financial districts rather than artists' colonies--and the somber tone of the questions, the arts have already entered a lean, competitive era.
David Amram, composer, musician, and director of the Brooklyn Philharmonia, was the least businesslike person there. He said art will endure because it is heartfelt, strong, and true. He admonished participants not to lower standards when looking for a wider audience, recalling that after a free outdoor concert, someone came to him and said, ''I really like the piece by that guy Wolfman.'' When Mr. Amram asked what he meant, he hummed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's G minor Symphony No. 40.
''He didn't remember the name, but he remembered the first eight bars,'' said Amram.