Imagine That, Creative Expression Retains And Increases In Value In Difficult Economic Times

By now you have probably heard about all the residents of cities around the world who have emerged on balconies and rooftops to sing together or provide impromptu concerts to those in their neighborhoods.  Imagine all the economic value they are generating with this creative activity! Surely it will help sustain the commerce of their communities in this difficult time.

Except, no it won’t. No one is doing any of this to bolster the economies of their communities, they are doing it to bolster a sense of hope and solidarity among their neighbors.

If there was any time to illustrate that the value of creative expression is independent of economic outcomes, it is now.  People are singing together across streets and alleys. Libraries are streaming their staff reading books. Organizations are providing creative activities that families can do at home together as downloads or video demonstrations. I saw a link to a public radio story about a group in NC who will provide a 30 minute virtual concerts to loved ones.

The biggest danger is the one that  has always existed–the assumption that if you were willing to provide this content for free during tough times, you can find some other means of support during better economic times.

Yet there is also the opportunity to turn around and say, when people were scared and panicking about whether they had a sufficient supply of toilet paper, expressions of creativity forged bonds between citizens, buoyed their spirits and gave them hope.  Artists provided a great service in maintaining the mental, spiritual, and emotional well-being of their community in a time of national angst. While this activity normally does yield economic benefits in a ratio significantly greater than the funding inputs, the real value creatives provide is unrelated to the economy.

While we may say these things all of the time in different ways, right now there are a lot of examples floating around broadcast and social media one can reference when making the case for support to funders.

In addition, while you wouldn’t necessarily want to continue doing something for free indefinitely, there is also an opportunity to leverage processes and expertise you may have developed communicating and providing content from afar into a more significant program. (i.e. You never had the time and resources before to stream content until your priorities were shifted for you.)

Likewise, once the current crisis is over, there will be an opportunity to hopefully solidify any relationships your activities for those in isolation have helped you develop.

In the meantime, pay attention to all the ways in which creative expression is exhibiting its value to society and take notes for later use.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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