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Private Business Support for the Arts: Good or Bad for Artists?

05/26/2011 04:24 pm ET | Updated Jul 26, 2011

More public and corporate entities are stepping up their use of art -- probably because they think it makes them look good and artists can be had for insultingly small money.

Artists want opportunities, exposure and success. That makes them prey to organizations that will manipulate them for the good or goals of the organization and the detriment of the artist. That bothers me.

Specifically, the Grand Rapids ArtPrize has a hidden agenda of discouraging government support of the arts, promoting a right-wing attitude of populist, not very provocative art, that appeals to a broad public base, is offensive to no one, and does not encourage artistic growth or significant social commentary. 1700 artists apply to ArtPrize, hundreds get juried in, under two dozen divide $500,000 in prizes, mostly determined by a popular vote. Seem okay? Even if 90% of the artists don't get anything? How about if you factor in that the combined efforts of all those artists has a seven-million-dollar upside impact on the city of Grand Rapids? In an art gallery 50% of sales goes to the artists. In the ArtPrize less than 10% goes to the artists. Who is being served?

The Chicago Loop Open leaves me with a similar, bad taste in my mouth, though rumor suggests they may be learning from their mistakes. Too many artists running around hoping someone tosses them a bone. It's embarrassing and unfortunate that artists get used to promote real estate and that the artists get disproportionately inadequate compensation. And Chicago copying Grand Rapids? Not good. Are we leaders or followers?

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On the other hand, it is possible to create powerful win/win scenarios where both corporate entities and artists' purposes can coexist. I was satisfyingly impressed with the Chicago Loop Alliance's sponsorship of Kay Rosen's beautiful, competent, fun and rewarding GoDoGood, located above the intersection of State and Washington Streets. Not only that, the CLA has partnered with the United Way and together they are seeking 100,000 good deeds.

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This plays nicely with having a new mayor and the positive attitude that peculates with any new administration's beginning.

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Rosen is creating positive social change. She lives in Indiana and is a Chicago artist. She has been significant for years, makes public art and has been collected by museums for decades. It's great to see the Art Institute of Chicago participate in honoring Rosen and lend perspective to her Loop art by presenting pieces from their collection.

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The moral of the story is that if artists insist upon getting what they deserve they are more likely to get it. On the other hand, when artists go chase brass rings, they get led around by the nose and find themselves fulfilling other people's agendas.

Congratulations to Kay Rosen, the Chicago Loop Alliance, United Way and the Art Institue of Chicago for getting it right.

Thank you,
Paul Klein

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