Arts In America: Webisode 1

Here is the second in a series of five posts I’m creating for

On Thursday May 21st, 2009, the University of California Press in association with CORE: and Ovation TV hosted a panel discussion to consider the issues documented in Bill Ivey’s book, Arts Inc. Gaynor Stachan-Chun, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Ovation TV, moderated the discussion with Mr. Ivey, Agnes Gund and Robert Lynch.

Read the intro blog here.

How we define Art’ and Culture’ really influences how we buy and sell our work as Artists. In this video clip Robert Lynch discusses how Native American cultures do not have Professional Artists. In response to Lynch’s statement, Agnes Gund forwards the idea that defining what it means to be an artist sometimes leads to a perception of art as elitist.

When I tell people that I am a dancer, they frequently ask if I am professional. I always have a hard time answering the question. What does it mean to be a professional artist? Is it an economic distinction? Are they asking – do you make a living being an artist? Perhaps they are asking – do people pay you for your work? I have the sense that in many people’s minds being professional is an economic distinction. Lynch and Gund point out in this clip that how we define our work influences the reception of our work. How do you define your work? Is asserting professionalism in art creating a divide between you and your audience?

I had a chance to ask Robert Lynch a few questions about the part of the discussion in this clip. Here’s the Q &A:

In his book on the Creative Economy, Thomas Borrup cites that community is defined by a set of terms (including social, civic, economic, and physical bonds), and in this first video excerpt you talk about how Art is hard to define, and that usually our definition or art is limiting. Why is it important how we define art?

Robert Lynch: I think it is important to think about definition simply because so often defining narrowly has really meant being exclusive, only certain kinds of art will be considered excellent, or worthy of funding, or valuable to study. In a democracy we should be looking constantly at what others tell us we should believe and we should actively question and contribute to the dialogue. When it comes to public policy which is what the panel was about the discussion of definition is critical because policy at the federal, state and local government as well as private sector levels is what dictates who will get money, what categories will even be considered, what our children will study, and even how goods/art will be regulated, marketed, celebrated, and made accessible.

Do you ever question our government’s spending priorities? We’re spending billions and billions to save companies too large to fail, and not enough on smaller bailouts – including arts bailouts – that would reap larger and broader economic benefits. Why do you think the arts are not receiving more support?

Robert Lynch: I question government spending priorities all the time, especially in the arts. Regarding why the arts are not receiving more support there are several reasons. But first it is important to understand what support “they” are getting and of course what “they” include. The not for profit arts include about 100,000 not for profit 501c3 organizations in the US like museums, opera, ballet, etc. The for profit arts include another 550,000 businesses such as music stores, art galleries, design firms, Hollywood, Broadway etc.

To read the rest of the interview, check out the post on Ovation here.