Monday, July 23, 2007

So wrong on so many levels - Part 2

Well, it was to be expected...The Blade, our local daily newspaper, has another article on the 'Art Assist' program. They did call me for comment, but I said no - I suggested that, if they wanted a Republican Party perspective on this as they said, they should contact the Republican Party or interview Republican elected officials throughout the county.

I don't know if they did this, but the only 'contrary' opinion given in the article was when they quoted my original blog post on this topic. Don't get me wrong - I'm glad they read my writings. But I am disappointed that they either didn't contact anyone else OR that local republicans failed to take a principled stand on this issue.

But back to today's article...

It starts with a hard tug on the heart strings with a poor local artist who doesn't sell enough of his art to support himself full time. Got news for you...a LOT of artists don't sell enough to avoid another job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, earnings for self-employed artists vary widely. "Some charge only a nominal fee while they gain experience and build a reputation for their work...Many, however, find it difficult to rely solely on income earned from selling paintings or other works of art." And, the $25,000 the County is making available in low interest loans of $500 - $2,000 isn't going to make a difference in that!

The article says:

"Joe Zsigray, the (Collingwood Arts) center’s executive director, said he hopes the program can lure not only new art buyers into the market but also induce those who already buy local artwork to buy more.

(induce those who already purchase art? perhaps those LEAST likely to need a loan???)

“The problem that we have in Toledo is not that we don’t have enough artists. It’s just that we don’t have enough people buying the art,” he said."

So our market isn't good. Okay - then let's artificially support the market...and then, when the limited $25,000 for local purchases expires, the market will return to what it is now. How does that really help our local artists or our local economy? We artificially create a demand, but when that artificial demand is gone - what then? Government will use MORE of our tax dollars to subsidize MORE of an artificial demand? Wasn't it Reagan who said that a government program is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth?

In the article, a local gallery owner says: "Mr. Zaleski said: “Everybody needs a new pair of shoes, but not everybody needs art.” He also said that there's been no formal study of the art market in Toledo. Wouldn't such a study have been a good idea before investing public monies in ANY program? Wouldn't we, as a community, have been better served by understanding the issues that prevent our local artists from being successful and then helping to address those issues - rather than implement a superficial program with limited impact? I'm not suggesting another government study - but before trying to impact an industry and local market, wouldn't it be nice to understand it?

And then there was this quote:

"Some artists who have had trouble selling work in Mr. Zaleski’s galleries have traveled to Chicago and sold their pieces for double or triple the original price tag. When the artwork was on sale in Toledo, people seemed to place a lower value on it, he said."

Wow - your work doesn't sell well here, but it does sell well why are we subsidizing - with tax dollars - purchases here? (And don't say it's for the sales tax - the County's portion of the sales tax on $25,000 is only about $300.) Why aren't the artists traveling en masse to Chicago? And how smart is that, especially in an industry that doesn't rely upon location for success? Would any type of analysis of our local market have shown this as a factor?

So, the County is losing investment income, the small amount of available loans isn't really going to make much of a difference in terms of sales tax or individual artists ... IF anyone actually takes advantage of it (The Blade didn't mention anyone who's actually qualified for the loan). So why are we doing this?

Are we just trying to set the stage for a more significant investment of public dollars in the future? Is there some special "arts lobby" out there pushing for a new government program? Are we using public funds and offices to cater to a personal interest? Does the fact that our local paper promotes such art programs factor into the decision in any way?

Or is it just a really nice press opportunity... all smoke and mirrors with no real substance?

I have no idea, but I resent the attempt by this latest article to make me feel sorry for these 'struggling artists.' Isn't the 'struggle' supposed to make the artist better? And if we're supposed to feel sorry for these individuals to the point that we subsidize their 'products,' what about everyone else in our community who is struggling? How about if we subsidize every local business who can't sell enough of their product to be self-sustaining? Where will it stop?

One of the major points of my first blog on this was that the priorities of the County, in putting this program above everything else, were misplaced. They still are misplaced, in thinking that this program will spur any economic development. True economic development and growth don't come from an artificial market demand. And no government program can create a true demand for a product. But they can certainly spend your tax dollars in a failed effort to do so.


Roo said...

Good morning Maggie!

Well, this is another fine mess we are getting into!

While I support the arts as an integral part of our revitalization I do not agree with subsidizing the purchase of art. If there is a piece that I can't live without then I will find another way to purchase it. Either wait till I save, lay away (yes artists do this), save up (hey! what a concept!) or just wait until it won't put a strain on the household budget.

You and I have talked about the Paducah project that has been very successful. I just re-read the program synopsis and other items regarding how this small town put together one of the most innovative art projects around. Nowhere in the material does it say that this effort was funded by creating a burden on the tax-payers.

I don't know how someone that is on the verge of losing their home because their job disappeared is going to feel sympathetic (or empathetic) to a 'starving artist' when the artist is being afforded a free-ride to self promotion.

There has to be a better way. So far it's not surfacing - at least not in my mind.

Maggie Thurber said...

Roo...the problem is that the Paducah project was based upon research about what was needed and how best to meet the needs of this industry. Lucas County's program is a sound-good, feel-good program with little long-term substance to make a difference.

The most successful economic development projects are when they are driven by private industry with the local municipalities providing infrastructure, lower taxation and limited - if any - red tape.

I started saying this in my 2002 campaign and many now repeat it: Government doesn't create jobs.

Anyone interested in the Paduca Artist Relocation project can visit here:

Luke said...

This is an absurd program. I commented on Mr. Konop's official blog about how I thought so.

It's a no-brainer...if you can't support yourself doing one thing, you do another. Duh.


Jay Ott said...

I couldn't agree more with just how wrong Lucas County government's involvement in art is.

The more that government subsidizes something, the more they can regulate and control people. The latest cat declawing issue is one of many examples just how bad government wants to run people's lives.

It's not the government's job to find or create the market for an artist's work. That responsibility lies with the artist himself.

If an artist wants to sell his work, he needs to become a better salesman and promoter. He should take Ron Popeil lessons or something.

If an artist wants to be in business (not all do) in addition to doing art, then the artist must create work that people want and are willing to pay for.

Being an artist is one thing, being an artist in business is altogether different.

Maggie Thurber said...

Yes, Jay...but how many people have called the commissioners and told them so - versus how many artists that may have praised the program...

As Shakespeare said, "aye, there's the rub."

Hooda Thunkit said...

I have a different perspective Maggie.

The blade being a champion of da artz, and perceiving themselves as THE local political king/queen maker, senses that our charming and charismatic mayor du jour is on his political death bed, so they feel the need to find and make a new king that is suitable to themselves and their agendas.

Enter young Ben...

Fresh meat that can be molded and shaped, hyped and sold, as Toledo's new savior; young, fresh, new ideas, yadda, yadda, yadda.

They're (J.R.B.) primping, pimping and packaging young Ben as their answer to our problems.

Otherwise, why else would they fawn all over such a silly and insignificant project (scam), unless it's just the first wave of ink from the upcoming monsoon of blather and hype,designed to SELL young Ben to the ignorant and attention deficit voting public?

As I recall, it's worked for them before. . .

Terry A. Burton said...

Hello, I am a young artist living and working in Lucas County and think that creativity is a bi-product of a healthy arts community. I also think when someone talks about art; they should also talk about what an artist does. The reason I mention this is. . . art is all around you, from the television that you watch, the cloths you buy, the new cars you drive and the houses you live in. People in graphic design, architectural design, automotive design, fashion, interior design, media arts and/or traditional arts like music, film, poetry, painting, dance and sculpture contribute to the local economy in some way, shape and form which influences American culture in some interesting ways. In my humble opinion, with designers, fine artists and scientist working together, we can contribute to the bottom line in real time.

For example, when most companies make something, provide a service or sell something, they advertise. For most companies that advertise, they use a combination of radio, television, print media and now the internet to sell their products. The advertising business is a multi billion dollar industry where jobs are made and lost by how effective they are in increasing sales. The marketing departments for most companies are in charge of figuring out what people buy, when people buy, how people buy it, why people buy it and then selling it to them. When I attended Owens Community College to study Entrepreneurship, one of the main points I learned in my business classes was, most of the successful business people in the new economy will be people who combine people, resources and ideas with the most creativity, followed up with the only constant in business is change.

In my very humble opinion, I think creativity and a healthy arts community is central to developing job growth and eliminating brain drain in this region because the manufacturing/industrial sector of the business community is a shrinking market for generating economic opportunities in the area. Right now, the manufacturing/industrial sector is rapidly changing environment i.e. out sourcing of jobs, cutting healthcare costs and increased efficient in the technology to produced goods at a lower price. This is what any smart business person would do to continue turning a profit for their company and the last time I checked, America has an economic system based on capitalism and free enterprise. It is hard to grow a stagnant economy based consumer spending if people have no money to spend because there is little job growth/income growth and the jobs that are generated are low paying jobs.

So that leaves me with the notion that the American economy is changing and if Lucas County residents do not look to the future, the impacts of globalization and rising energy cost will be crush our local economy. Well into the turn of the 20th century, Toledo and most Lucas County residents experienced increased prosperity with the development of technology in the manufacturing/industrial sector of the business community, creating a foundation for the current middle class in this area. I think it is time is ripe for our business community, arts community and government to work together to start building our 21st century economy, one innovation at a time, funding creativity in all its forms. There are growing opportunities in the alternative energy business, computer technology, arts/entertainment and service industries but without progressive thinking, we will be left behind in the new economy.

Terry A. Burton

Here are some support materials to add to the discussion:

Anonymous said...

On September 26, 2007 I interviewed Ben Konop about 'Art Assist'. Some of the questions I asked were about some of the issues that were brought up here on the blog.

In my post "Tuesday's Story - Specifically 'Art Assist'", I quoted the post [from Ben Konop's blog] by John Swaile, "...after expenses (including time, supplies, rent, taxes and utilities), a local artist would make less than 100 dollars from a 250 dollar sale. That's less than 20 hours of minimum wage work." With my painting "My House" and example figures in front of him I was able to get some good answers from Ben.

His answer included, "Toledo should aim to become a destination for the arts. You bring in tourism, people from the surrounding communities..." He talks more about how 'Art Assist' is just the beginning. Find out more! Read Tuesday's Story... September 26, 2007

Read Tuesday's Story post:

~ANT homepage

Maggie Thurber said...

Ant - you did a nice job with your interview...but the fact that artists don't make enough money does not justify the loss of revenue to government in order to 'prop up' the industry. There are other ways, without offering low interest loans for purchases, to promote arts in Toledo.

Furthermore, this loan program offers only a temporary boost (if at all), not a long-term solution to the fact that artists here pay more in taxes and regulations than they do in other places.

If Ben and the commissioners were truly interested in 'helping' all small business owners and not just targeted special-interest groups, they'd be looking at ways to reduce the sales tax and property taxes.

But these kinds of programs appeal to the emotion and, with the help of local media, get good press.

sad...very sad.

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