Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Arts & Culture: preserving the scene while bringing in the green

The upcoming Create Baltimore event has got me thinking about a couple of things related to arts and culture in the city. One of them involves the economic sustainability of local grassroots art and cultural happenings.

As I've witnessed (with delight) the growth of Baltimore's emerging arts and culture scene, I've noticed that most of the consumers of DIY visual and performing arts in this city are either: a) artists' friends and relatives; b) fellow artists who want to support their peers. What I don't see a lot of are people like me, i.e. folks who are neither professional or serious artists themselves, nor particularly connected to the artists whose works they are coming out to see/hear, but who are interested and excited enough by local art to come out and drop a couple of bucks to see something potentially face-melting.

While this due in large part to the fact that friends, family, and colleagues naturally want to turn out to support their peeps (not to mention that, lacking children or a live-in significant other, I have a bit more flexibility with my time and income than a lot of people I know), it's not an ideal model for sustainability or expansion. Simply put, if artists want to make a living from their art, they need to attract new consumers and patrons. This is something that the local craft community - e.g. BEST and the Charm City Craft Mafia - have been doing with some success.

The trick is to attract new audiences and new money without diluting the informality and sense of community that characterizes the local emerging arts scene. I love the fact that I can go to the Copycat Theatre, help myself to some hummus and Natty Bo, take a place on the floor, and watch friends and friends-of-friends perform experimental music and dance, all for an $8 donation. That free-flowing, grassroots, multi-disciplinary approach to making and appreciating art is the main reason that Baltimore is such fertile ground for emerging artists. It would be a shame if that sensibility was diluted in the quest for wider exposure and greater lucre.

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