I was glancing at an interview with Arti Prashar on Arts Professional UK site as she departs her position at Spare Tyre Theatre Company. I had come for the title of the article, “Exit interview: ‘We’re asked to follow a business model that just doesn’t work'” but it was something else that really caught my attention.
“…I began to observe, slowly but surely, that the authority of artists was being eroded. I wasn’t having that, so I negotiated becoming the Artistic Director and CEO.”
It struck me that she felt she needed to become CEO in order to retain authority. (Her first 8 years at Spare Tyre was as Artistic Director.) It made me wonder if this was the case globally outside of the UK. I suspect it is.
I have discussed the problems with the sentiment that “arts should be run more like a business,” in a number of blog posts over the years. I wonder now if that concept, combined with the sense that artists should be more business minded might be contributing to the erosion of artists’ authority.
Artists should definitely be knowledgeable enough to monitor the health of their own careers so that their work is not exploited by others. But if an artist is not perceived as possessing authority in their own realm independent of their business acumen, that is troubling.
Prashar doesn’t give specific examples of how she felt artists’ authority was being eroded. As I thought about how this problem might manifest, I began to wonder if this was actually related to the question of why we value art.
If an artist doesn’t feel they have the authority to say a work has value on its own, but needs to cite relevance in connection with social and political movements to convince others it has value, that may be just as problematic as economic impact and ability to raise test scores being the only rationale for granting funding.
You may be thinking that these elements are all important for getting people to participate in an event or other opportunity. People need to either perceive something is relevant to them or is worth their time and money as part of their decision to be present.
But can an artist walk into a room and say this thing is important and worth doing and be believed simply based on their authority as an artist? If not, why?
Is it because we have come to doubt or suspect their authority to make that statement despite 15 years of practice?
If I walk in and say the same thing is important and worth doing because 1000 people will pay $50, do you doubt my authority to make that statement? Do you think to inquire how much experience I have in making these predictions if I am waving a spreadsheet around instead of a violin bow?