Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=127097
Story Retrieval Date: 5/26/2013 1:35:37 AM CST
WASHINGTON – When Kyle Reslow began his career as a glassblower in 2003, he knew he would never be a rich man.
Most artists rarely make a lot of money, but Reslow, 29, loved the craft and watched sales steadily grow over the years.
“In the summer of 2007, people were giddy with their money. It was pretty good for awhile,” said the Warwick, R.I. native. Those were the good days.
Last year, Reslow’s sales dipped “way down,” and he’s lost hours at the studio in Rhode Island where he works as a result of lower sales for the owner.
“Everyone is trying to keep a brave face, but a lot of people are having trouble,” Reslow said.
Across the country, communities that boast thriving creative economies are beginning to feel the sting of the recession. Economies based on the draw of arts and cultural venues, as well as a strong population of artists and creative industry leaders, haven’t escaped the force of the economic downturn. In fact, some experts argue the creative sector has been hit the hardest, as state and local funding vanishes and private donors tighten their belts.
“From what we’re hearing, ticket sales and visitation are up, but they’re still struggling to meet the bottom line,” said Rob Watson, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
Though Massachusetts has the fourth highest number of artists as a percentage of the total workforce, the state has been hard hit by funding cuts. The state’s preliminary budget proposes to cut the Cultural Council’s funding by 10 percent.
Cities that once thrived now hurting
Economic development based on the creative sector had been gaining momentum before the recession, with some regions shaping their image around their unique cultural and artistic offerings. Communities like New Orleans and Portland, Ore. attracted young people in record numbers in recent years, drawn in part to the creative industries these areas boasted.
With the recession, though, these same economies are beginning to falter.
“Arts organizations are just now beginning to feel the hurt in a significant way,” said Randy Rosenbaum, the executive director of the Rhode Island State Arts Council. “We’re finding that ticket sales are beginning to be affected in a way that is scary for arts organizations.”
More than $750 million is added to the Rhode Island economy each year from cultural nonprofits, according to data from the New England Foundation for the Arts. But in February, 68 percent of surveyed arts organizations in the state said that “things were worse for their organization since October.”
That’s not unexpected, given the current downturn.
“Because the economy is suffering and because the Rhode Island economy is suffering, the things that allow arts organizations to stabilize themselves are in a challenging position. There are just fewer private and public dollars available,” Rosenbaum said.
With $19.8 million in economic stimulus money set aside for the arts sector, state and regional arts organizations are receiving one-time grants, which are dispersed by the National Endowment for the Arts. Many places are pinning hope to that funding.
“There’s a lot of hardship out there,” said Victoria Hutter, the acting director of communications at the Arts Endowment. “The stimulus funding might give some organizations some breathing room.”
The upside of the downturn
In Chicago, artist and art educator Carol Ng-He, 27, now teaches fewer hours as an adjunct art teacher at local colleges as the schools cut spending for arts programs. She prefers to take an optimistic look on the cuts, viewing the extra free time as an unintended favor.
“In between the gap of time, I find myself more flexible time-wise in making art and engaging in the local art scene,” she said in an email. “The recession makes it possible for me to optimize the resources surrounding me in my own art practices and building connections with the industry in the downtime off work.”
What Hutter called “more and different kinds of partnerships” are popping up as artists look to support each other to get through the tough times.
“In an economy like this, you see more artists going to local initiatives and working within the community,” said Theresa Colvin, the executive director of the Maryland State Arts Council. A 2008 survey of Marylanders found that 95 percent of respondents see a role for the state and local communities in encouraging art, including increased arts education in schools and supporting free public arts programs.
Maryland has fared better than many other states in the economy, and while culture and arts programming has certainly see budget and staff cuts, several organizations have reported goal-surpassing fundraisers.
“There’s still a commitment to artistic excellence, and that has not faltered at all,” Colvin said.
An effort afoot to promote in new ways
New Mexico’s cultural economy is heavily based on their emphasis on history and heritage attractions, and their cultural attractions brought in $230 million in tax revenue in 2007. But they’ve been hard hit by a dip in their usually thriving out-of-state tourism.
“New Mexico is unlike other states where it is really spread out, and we rely on the drive market,” said Doug Svetnicka, a spokesman for the Department of Cultural Affairs. “The gas prices last summer had a lot to do with those low numbers we saw.”
New Mexico has turned to promoting so-called staycations in an attempt to lure locals to the region’s cultural attractions.
“We’re attacking this. We don’t want to clam up. We’re trying to get creative on how to bring people in,” Svetnicka said.
Artists and cultural organizations are confident the creative economy will survive the recession, but not everyone will make it out alive.
“I think we’re in the middle of it now, and it’s going to get a little bit – or a lot – worse before it gets better,” said Rhode Island’s Rosenbaum. “Arts and culture should be a part of the restructuring of the economy, but it’s tough when people are retrenching everywhere.”
More relief might be on the way. In July, the Arts Endowment will announce a second category of Recovery grants for nonprofit arts organizations.