How Do We Turn Love Into Money?

In August I wrote about the kinetic energy building up Seattle’s arts festivals, emerging galleries and independently curated spaces, about how the communities we build today can become our patrons, collectors and advocates tomorrow. But collective, loving energy alone does not lead to long-term economic viability.

As a fellow producer recently said, art jobs are real jobs. They’re often done for free, at high financial risk. Those job are worth it, because we love the work. But love isn’t enough to sustain the people, galleries and events in our community. What we really want is for our artists and producers to get paid, so they can keep doing what they do and so that the arts remain vibrant in our city. So how do we turn love into money?

A few weeks ago, a colleague of mine posted this meme on Facebook. It illuminates what support really means: Show up (emotionally, if not physically), talk about what excites you, spread the news so that other people show up too. Showing up is not only fulfilling, it’s contagious.

It’s easy to get excited about the arts and lose sight of how fragile their existence really is. Our lives are busy. We think “I’ll see the next show.” We Facebook RSVP to events, give a thumbs up on an announcement or a heart on Instagram. We emoticon-applaud the efforts of creative forces and then move on to the next person, image or event. We see glowing press on artists, bands or venues and assume they’re doing just fine until we read they’re suddenly moving away, breaking up or closing down and we wonder why they’re gone so soon.

If we’re to endure capitalism, then at least the arts provide a meaningful and joyful spending option. Consumer culture already embraces minimalist lifestyles as part of technological mobility, sharing economies, environmental concerns and virtual reality. “Less stuff” is the rallying cry of we who take an increasing amount of free stuff for granted—e.g., streaming shows, films and music; website services, ebooks, educational courses, apps and software. Choosing to spend money on objects and cultural experiences made by humans sustains much-needed pause, complexity and concreteness in a world that is increasingly fast, reductive and intangible.

Start by making room in your schedule and demonstrate what you value with your time. Buy tickets—not just to familiar events, but also to events you’re curious about. (Buy them for yourself and your friends.) Make a monetary contribution. Many artists, small theatre companies and bands fundraise using online tools like Kickstarter, which is project-specific, or Patreon, which allows you to provide regular monthly support to individual artists. Ask gallery owners if they have smaller works available by an artist you like or about payment plans—most of us have them and are more than willing to work something out with you. Ask about the price—you might be surprised to find out artwork in your local gallery isn’t as expensive as you think.

Let your enthusiasm guide you to show up and start seeking. Find the ways to shift your consumerism from things you don’t need over to things that last a long time and matter more. We have a slow food and a slow fashion movement. What about slow art? Can you imagine how art lives and changes with you over time, whether it’s a painting on your wall or a play you see each time it comes around? What about investing in that band you like, so they can get book a recording studio or five-leg tour down the coast?

When we buy things created by people, made with their hands and composed over time, we participate in a resistance to speed reading and surface engagement. Whether visual art, music, or performing arts things that have been crafted ask us to engage with them in the way they were made: over time, with consideration and with inquiry. They stimulate deeper thinking about our analogous experiences, the world beyond what we know and the significance of a particular moment or feeling. Making room for these meaningful things means shifting our ideas about what we value from things we can throw away to things we hold onto for a lifetime. 

Sharon Arnold is an artist, curator and founder of Bridge Productions in Georgetown. This is the first column in a new web series for City Arts called “Field Notes.”