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How to Build a Robust Creative Economy That Rewards Everyone—including Artists
26th July 2022 • The Thriving Artist • The Clark Hulings Foundation
00:00:00 00:38:01

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How do we live in a robust culture? How do we produce a robust culture at a time when we are fracturing, polarized, and creative enterprise is an afterthought?

Let's remind ourselves of where we are. If you look around, you see political fragility, economic uncertainty, and general unhappiness. That's depressing. That's the point. As a people, we ARE depressed. You don't look back at 2021, let alone what's going on now, and go, "it's a happy time." We're not happy and we have to face it. We've got essentially a global war, and a recession only partly driven by that war. We've got a big economic bubble. We have a politically fractured culture at a global level. Totalitarianism, never the friend of a creative culture, is coming back in vogue. We're at each other's throats. We're not happy. 

The beast is slouching toward Jerusalem. The earth is heating up. We're settling into (if we're lucky) a mere detente as two nations living in one national entity. Arguably, we began going in that direction in 1945 when we settled into the Cold War and that generated the Korean war, the Vietnam war, El Salvador... and we decided to live in a state of permanent animosity, driven by munitions manufacturers, the intelligence apparatus, and munitions and chemical industries that profit from it. There was a huge amount of money to be made. Those chemical makers clean your baby and make for a sparkling kitchen and they also do deforestation in Laos.

All of that to say that we're now in an understandable state of fragility when it comes to the role of creativity in our lives. We have a tenuous relationship with art.

We do not even now dream so much anymore. Our dreams are smaller. We don't dream of a world that flourishes and we haven't been given a mechanism to build better dreams. The material on CHF's site is basically an insistence that there is another path—that we're working to solve that problem in a robust way.

How do we get a robust and flourishing culture in the first place? That's the entrance to the conversation we are creating. As a culture, we tend to put creatives in a box. And even the goal of showcasing artists as essential workers and ensuring they're well-paid is not yet dreaming big enough. I think even those dreams are too small. I don't want to be a useful cog in someone's wheelhouse. I don't want to work for somebody because I have the skills. I want to work for somebody because without creative enterprise, we don't 'make it' as a culture.

We must move away from the merely theoretical lament toward a vision of doing something practical and economically powerful. Without that, We don't build a robust creative culture. We must build a road for artists to thrive, and creativity to flourish, and it has to be done at the economic and investment level.

Anything less creates the same problem we had all through the cold war, which is the starving artist syndrome. Only the 1% of artists can be famous and only those who know the right people and happen to gain the approval of the taste-makers can make any money. Everybody else is dirt poor and living on their cousins' sofas.

What we're doing at CHF isn't sexy in a theoretical way, but it's actionable and practical. We're asking people to dig deep into the thought process of how we get a culture that we want to live in. And we are starting from the premise that you don't get a robust creative culture without a thriving creative economy. 

I don't think we've widely connected the dots between these big questions—first, daring to ask them and then to dream of the ubiquitous, middle-class artist. How do you actually do it? What is the day-to-day? How do you actually implement it? And that's where we actually do have an answer.  

It starts at the mindset and knowledge level. We foster a conversation around art as a business, and we empower art-entrepreneurs with the business training all other industries require to flourish. We connect creative professionals through peer networks. We encourage and nurture pivotal projects that accelerate their careers, regardless of style. We train them in self-sustaining entrepreneurial practices. And we galvanize—not just artists but ourselves—into a movement with a pivotal aim which, at the risk of being repetitive, is a culture teeming with creative ingenuity and newly reliant on creative intelligence. All of CHF's programs, of which there are many, are devoted to these ends.

Can we really say this is not important? Are we willing to call it a pipe dream? If we settle for that, we get more of what we've got—more of what we've gotten over the past 70+ years. And really, that more is less. Much less.

In the midst of this. Old white guys like me think music sucks and art is mostly garbage. Some of us want to go back to 1984 and nothing any later than that. And even if you don't agree and you like modern, abstract expressionism and dig music from 2002, how do we get more of what we want—what any of us want? We get more by encouraging more of everything. By generating a robust dialogue, a conversation among artists that are actively thriving, economically empowered, independent, and not dependent on a small cadre of tastemakers. Regardless of what taste that is.

The most common answer I've heard is to sit and wait for government funding. 'The government needs to do more to save us. They need to bail us out. They need to have more programs.' Of course, I could be any elected official and stand up there and say, "We've got to create a thriving, creative economy. But that just gets one elected. Then, we go back to business as usual. 

Our fundamental divisions make the political sphere the least likely source of answers. And yet, we don't actually need to wait on a better Congress, a more interested President, a different governor. And we can't afford to.

No one's coming for us. We're on an island and the search has been called off. There are no planes or boats coming now, so what do you do? And either we build our own boat—ideally, a speedboat—not just an ark for preserving the minimum, or we're stuck here. 

That's where we are. And we can build it. We have the architecture for building that boat. So let's do that.