How Technology Is Transforming the Arts

We are living in a time of immense and painful transformation in the arts.

All across the country, many of our biggest arts institutions are facing extinction. In my home city, for exampleDCthe Washington National Opera had to be subsumed into the Kennedy Center so that it didn't collapse. The NEA has a gun held to its head by conservative legislators every time the budget gets debated in congress. And the percentage of philanthropic giving directed to the arts keeps getting smaller and smaller year after year.

Meanwhile, artists have been totally marginalized. The average successful playwright earns $5,000 a year from royalties and commissions. That's it. And we usually live in big cities, too, where the cost of living is much higher. It isn't that we aren't making a good living. It isn't that we don't have any health care. We literally can't afford to make art.

And at the same time, audiences are diminishing. Even the most frequent consumers of culturepeople who visit three or more arts institutions a monthhave dropped by a third. Only the digital art forms are doing somewhat well... because almost all of our leisure time in America is spent at home watching television, surfing the internet, and playing video games.

I believe all three of these issues are relatedthe extinction of institutions, the marginalization of artists, and diminishing audiencesbecause the arts are an ecosystem, and an ecosystem is only healthy when the relationships between the elements that make it up are healthy. Right now, in America, that just isn't the case.

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