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Summer 2003

An interview with Denise Giardina

ADA: Becoming Accessible

From the Director

A convergence of printmakers and potters

Monoprints of Barbara Marsh Wilson

Interview with Mark Wolfe

Fiber artists share

Other news

From the director
Support of art and artists

Periodically, direct support of individual artists with public funds has generated controversy at the local, regional and national levels, both in the U.S. and abroad. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), following challenges to its purpose, even existence, a decade ago, is prohibited from making direct grants to artists. Arts administrators, college and university art professors, and, naturally, the artists themselves generally regard this change as unfortunate. Previous grants to individual artists helped to complete significant works in the many arts disciplines.

The West Virginia Commission on the Arts continues to make awards to individual artists in two principal grant categories: Professional Development and the West Virginia Artist Fellowship Grant Program. The former provides resources to help artists achieve advancement to a “next step of artistic growth.” The latter recognizes excellence in artistic work.

Some economic theories would argue against any public support for the arts by suggesting that the arts should be subject to the same “survival of the fittest” test of any enterprise in the marketplace. Proponents of public support contend that, without it, art forms that represent long cultural development or new art forms that do not yet enjoy popular success would be unavailable to students and community audiences.

In fact, many enterprises in the marketplace receive subsidy. State, county and municipal governments provide tax abatements to encourage economic development. Public funds pay for infrastructure such as roads and utilities to create incentives for corporations to choose one location over a competing one.

A West Virginia artist was recently quoted, “I know the public does not owe me a living.” However, counties, cities and states have found that the presence of artists contributes to an environment that offers educational opportunities for children. The arts are also an important part of the attraction for tourists.

Recognizing the value of aesthetic enjoyment is a matter of experience, not an innate capacity possessed by some persons and lacking in others. The human capacity to appreciate the world through the senses is generously distributed, as demonstrated by the near-universality of decorative arts and musical cultures.

In recent years, approximately six percent of the grant funds available each year from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History for arts programming projects have gone to individual artists. In more generous economic times, it would be desirable to increase the investment in the state’s artists.

Several years ago Anne Focke made a report to the NEA titled: Financial Support for Artists: A Study of Past and Current Support with Reflections on the Findings and Recommendations for Future Action.

Ms. Focke suggested among her findings that there is reason to:

  • understand and talk about artists’ work as an asset that contributes to the society around them, rather than to just understand and talk about artists’ survival and needs;
  • figure out what we can do with our own resources and within our own communities or areas of interest and get on with the business of doing it;
  • encourage the exchange of ideas about ways that artists and cultural workers sustain their lives or “get a living” in the context of their various roles in the world at large;
  • engage with fields other than the arts to develop relationships with commercial “creative industries,” that is, industries based on the work of creative artists;
  • through collaborations, build a collective constituency that is large enough to become a political force;
  • find a source of energy that does not rely on a sense of crisis. (Running on the fuel of one “crisis” after another is exhausting, seems likely to foster shallow argument, and probably can’t be sustained in any case. The big things won’t change quickly. A powerful source of the energy we need is specific or local activity well-anchored in many different places.)

Investment in individual artists is more a social commitment than a handout to a single person. We do it for “us” more than for “them.” Society wants to emulate what artists live — expressiveness, creativity, independence and innovation.

To make the case for the support of artists, arts programming and arts facilities in our communities, we must develop a voice for arts advocacy. That voice will be too small to be heard if it comes only from artists, or from arts managers with the self-interest of employment. If you are an artist or if you are an advocate of the benefit of the arts to education, to cultural understanding, to economic development — spread the word and gain the ear of decision-makers at the local, regional, state and national level.

Richard Ressmeyer, Director of Arts