I’m a few days too late to the party on this, but I can’t resist.
Rocco Landesman seems to think there are too many arts organizations — that there’s an over-supply problem in the arts. He went so far as to suggest that the NEA would be wise to fund fewer organizations — the larger ones — so as to let some of the smaller organizations die out.
Chad Bauman does an excellent job of providing an overview of Landesman’s comments and some smart critical responses, then offers his own less critical (and more challenging) response. I need to share a few thoughts, however, because there is so much that is blatantly wrong-headed about the claim that there’s too much art being made that it needs to be eviscerated by as many people as possible.
Everyone in this discussion seems to want to reduce it to an economics problem — as if economics were “reducible” or simple in any way. (It is assuredly not.) I think this is fruitless, but I’ll try to respond on those terms nonetheless — if only because I do not have the PhD necessary to respond in any other way.
Landesman’s argument is there’s too much supply and not enough demand, so we need to reduce the supply. This is quite obviously foolish. How would one go about reducing the supply of art? The need to make art is an intrinsic part of being human. The only thing that might be able to reduce the supply of art would be the long march of evolution (or the brute-force efforts of genetic modification) selecting for non-artistic genes. It doesn’t seem likely.
I might also state the case more practically. If the NEA didn’t fund the Taffety Punk Theatre Company, for example — in an attempt to let the company wither out — the Punks would still go on making plays. How do I know that for certain? Because the NEA doesn’t fund the company now.
Most of Landesman’s critics have suggested that the real answer to over-supply is to increase demand — that theater marketers need to do a better job. The assumption in that response is that theater marketers are a bunch of incompetent boobs failing at their appointed tasks: all of them. I find that highly unlikely, don’t you? Some of them — half of them, at least — have to be good at their jobs, if not great.
What I believe instead is that the people best positioned to address this problem are the makers of theater themselves: playwrights, in particular, and artistic directors.
You see, the problem as I see it is that the product we’re making isn’t selling. Theater marketers can work their tails off, but if the stories they’re selling don’t appeal to people, people won’t come to see them. I think that if we spent more time worrying about making art for others — for our audiences — rather than to please our own personal artistic desires, which are often obscure and esoteric and overly specific, we wouldn’t have an over-supply problem any more. There’d be tremendous demand for our work. Heck, in time we might even find we need MORE institutions and practitioners of theater.
That’s what I think, anyway.