I have questioned publicly the sustainability of new models for arts ventures, especially those that involve developing an isolated project rather than an on-going arts organization. And I have been criticized just as publicly whenever I do.
I have been called an old fashioned elitist more times than I can count. (My personal favorite was being called 'the one percent of arts managers.')
I do not take these criticisms lightly; they always cause me to reflect on my own prejudices and weaknesses.
And while I still worry that the new project models that have been developed do not lay the groundwork for projects of larger scale or sustained support, (because they require starting the marketing and fundraising activity over from ground zero every time one develops a new project), I must admit that there is one highly attractive characteristic shared by many of the projects: they show a level of creativity and innovation and dreaminess that too many traditional organizations would do well to emulate.
Perhaps this is simply a matter of age; when young artists, not tied to traditional organizations, strive to make something new, they are often more creative and less bound by conventionality than their older forbears.
But I think there is more to it than that.
The projects developed by the artist not tied to an institution are typically not created with an eye towards long-term economic sustainability as much as they are focused on artistic expression.
This is remarkably important.
When money concerns affect creativity, one is always likely to be more conventional, more easily accessible, more conservative, more boring.
But independent artists think less about the repetition of a project than their institutional counterparts; they try new combinations of media and art forms, explore the use of new technologies and let their imaginations dictate the contours of their projects. They work hard to cadge together the forces needed for a project and don't think as much about the impact on future donors or ticket sales.
This is a great help in moving the arts forward, developing new approaches and even art forms.
But I still worry about sustainability.
I know too many very creative people who have found their way out of the arts because it was simply too difficult to continue to do their work. They got beat down as they tried to find cheap labor, cheap venues and to find a few supporters ready to invest in their work.
And the need to find new resources for every project (while often relying on crowd-sourced funding) limits the size of these projects; many artists can become frustrated if they do not have the opportunity to advance the scale of the works they create.
How do we support the development of independent, fresh voices, allow them to do their most creative work, and still create the financial foundation that makes it easier, rather than harder, to continue to be creative?
How do we support the anarchy of creativity?
To me, that is the great conundrum we face in the arts today.