What’s the point? Practical musings on art and economics

In the midst of festival mania, yesterday I went and heard Tony Benn speak.   There’s a film being made about his life and they were previewing some of it and then Mark Thomas was interviewing him. (The film is excellent and I hereby recommend it).

So I joined hundreds of radical lefties (bringing down the average age) to go listen.

Amongst all the more straightforward lefty political questions, a lady stood up and talked about the fringe.  She said she was increasingly frustrated by the enslavement of artists at the festival (referring I think to the fact that artists don’t make any kind of money up here, and in fact usually end up paying for the privilege of performing), and how all the money is instead going to the landlords of Edinburgh (who hike up rents in August to mind-boggling levels) and, presumably, some of the big producing companies.  She then asked a very generic question – “So what gives you hope?”.

This is our little paper man, Chaim, from our show. He has had to take up busking to survive financially.

I reckon it’s easier to answer that question than to speak into the complexities of the Edinburgh Fringe economy.  I find it easier, anyway. Tony Benn talked about having spent a lifetime working for change and then having seen some things change, and so that makes him think they can.  But what would he have said about the fringe?

Today, as I was flyering and trying to persuade the public to come and see our show, I met a couple who had seen The Ruby Dolls yesterday.  They loved the show, but wanted to know, as festival virgins, what bringing a show here achieved – what are we hoping will happen?

I was on the spot.  (Do I mention wild fantasies of being handpicked for stardom?). No Ruby Dolls were at hand to rescue me.

It all makes me ponder what the point of being here is, one show in 2695, especially given the ridiculous money involved that rarely comes back to you. My answer to the lovely couple was about reaching a big new audience with your show and getting press attention all of which will open doors for future work and tours and the like.

But why is it so flipping hard to make art work economically? Answers on a postcard please.

On the one hand, I look at lots of actor friends who struggle and work hard and have their sense of self-worth eroded year after year by crappy jobs and lack of progress and instability.  And I want to shout ‘ENOUGH!’ Why do something that makes everyone so miserable?

And at the same time, I believe passionately that art and creativity are crucial, at the very core of who we are.  Wonderful art enlarges us all, takes us places nothing else can, makes news ways of living and thinking possible.  I don’t want people to give up.  I don’t want to give up (most days).

So the only answer I have at the moment is to engage our imaginations and creativity in finding ways to make it work that are weird and wonderful and unlikely – involving combining different kinds of work and ways of living.  (Hence I shall continue to search out people who do this and write about them in my blog). Like this bloke said:

“I am interested in art as a means of living a life; not as a means of making a living.” ~Robert Henri

 

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