If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it make a sound?
The laws of physics and common sense would respond with a solid “yes.”
If it’s time to lift the curtain and no one is in the audience, does the show go on?
The laws of theater and revenue lead to a show-stopping “no.”
Right now our economy is in a place reminiscent of purgatory. While we wait for it to steady itself, countless stores are offering deals to lighten the blow of what has been dubbed “the great recession.” The government has also taken action by assisting the failing banks and crushing thousands of cars. Whether or not coupons and new cars will solve our problems is yet to be determined, but one thing that the aforementioned won’t solve is the dark reality facing our country’s arts.
“Most [art] organizations have been hurt,” says Robert Lynch, president of Americans for the Arts, in a TIME Magazine interview. “But arts organizations aren’t driven by profit. They’re driven by mission. And they’ll do anything to survive.”
In a survey conducted by the Alliance For Arts, 100 art organizations described how they were going to avoid closures. The survey found that 78 percent indicated that they have reduced their budgets or plan to do so; 50 percent planned to lay off employees; 69 percent will defer new hires; and, 45 percent planned to cancel or postpone programs within the next year. Unfortunately, survival is getting increasingly difficult.
With this recession, abstaining from luxuries has been strongly advised to anyone looking to save money. While making cuts is important to maintain some order, the arts shouldn’t be simply expendable. An Allstate Insurance commercial that ran this summer informed audiences that we, as Americans, have “learned a lot in the past year.” The commercial then applauds cutting back on expensive trips and dining out, but where it falls short is when it merits “staying in” and not going to “that symphony.”
These types of cuts will happen in tough economic times, but they shouldn’t be given up with such acceptance. If anything, we should try our best to invest in our communities’ artistic venues while keeping our budgets.
The arts in the recession are an escape. They are both a release from reality and a warm reminder that we are all in this mess together. Sitting in a theater when the lights are dim and the curtain is slowly rising is like entering group therapy. Walking through a museum of artwork is like being with old friends. Letting the music of Tchaikovsky fill a performance hall is like breathing fresh air.
Art is also more often than not a reflection of our lives. When a nation begins to change, the art responds to that change. It often becomes reflective of the struggles and the endeavors of its people. It shapes and retells our histories, rebelling from the past to show us a new future. Both World Wars created new movements like Dadaism and Modernism. The Great Depression created some of the most iconic photographs in not just photojournalism but also the entire medium. Art is important in any country’s most difficult times.
The arts are valuable in shaping our culture and teaching us about ourselves. The concepts and the core of each art form isn’t going to die any time soon, but I would hate to see the foundations we’ve created for them crumble around us. If that does happen, it will be something we will regret. It is something we can’t afford to allow to happen, in the most literal sense possible.