Tag: Creative Folly

Creative Folly

Creative Folly


The Illusory Support of American Artists by Arts Organizations & Funders

c  Lisa A. Miles 2014

Over a decade ago, I published a book about a woman artist and her work, and the larger role of an artist’s work in American society.  Another one formally begins here, to expose the lunacy that underlies American arts organizations and funders’ support for the individual artist, and to propose alternatives far more sane, just, creative and certainly do-able.

My biography of Esther Phillips, This Fantastic Struggle, commented upon the concept of Artists as Workers, deriding the little respect mainstream society has for creative workers of all genres.  This current work tackles in-depth the illusory support by the American arts establishment itself, which is supposed to be championing the artist’s cause.  Across a broad spectrum that includes community arts agencies, philanthropy, larger urban cultural entities and much more, it is a required critical look at the lack of real support for those that produce substantive creative contributions to society– the artists themselves.  It is informed by my own longstanding work as a creative artist, but also many others working similarly in the United States.

Where “Fantastic Struggle” railed against mainstream society’s lack of understanding of artists and their work, Creative Folly takes on the insiders, those very entities who proclaim to have artists’ best interests at heart.  Instead, their policies are entirely incapable of making measurable, significant difference in the lives of the millions of true working artists in this country.

This is a book that art administrators will denounce and hate– unless they’re willing to take an honest look within their community at what and whom they purport to be helping.  Foundation officers, and those directing the scant number of corporate giving programs out there, will certainly outcry, too– mortified that their work is exposed for its little genuine benefit.  Even arts organizations’ low-level workers may scoff, taken aback at the suggestion that the nonprofit they advocate for isn’t advancing the arts.  But that goal is something which is best done when you actually support and create work opportunity for individual creative artists.

I don’t write to please the art establishment.  My focus is to expose and examine the long-standing policies and practices in place within the art-funding world and arts organizations large and small.  Those who are presumed to do no wrong– philanthropy and the creative nonprofits.  When in fact they could do far better to effect meaningful impact on the lives of working artists.


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Too Big To Fail: Artists, Creative Workers & Arts Education

                    Daily Kos Publication Date May 22, 2012


The outrage over the Pittsburgh Opera’s honor to PA Governor Corbett and his wife is certainly justified, attested by numerous Letters to the Editor, the Post-Gazette Editorial of May 11, and numerous online writings.  No one could say it better than the arts teachers and arts education statistics across the state of Pennsylvania, nor more emphatically than language arts teacher Steven Singer (P-G 5/10/12) when he expressed, “No one has done more to devastate education — especially arts education — in the past two years than this honoree!”  He ends, “Pittsburgh Opera, you couldn’t be more out of touch and insulting to those of us who actually educate. Teachers like me don’t expect a thank you, but we sure do hate a slap in the face. Bravo!”

Well its about time for this public rage, shown as well by the protests outside Opera headquarters in Pgh’s Strip District.  We have the OCCUPY movement and the active-protesting unions (Steelworkers, SEIU, CWA) to thank– for the current bestowal of “coragio” to not only the teachers but everyday citizens (from the wealthier suburbs, yet, as evidenced by school districts predominantly represented in the Letters) to get out and raise some noise about what Singer aptly described as “farce.”

But the farce extends far beyond this debacle.  Artists and creative workers, nationally, get slapped in the face continually by the self-proclaimed “for the Arts” nonprofits.  The Pittsburgh Opera, Pgh. Cultural Trust, Greater Pgh. Arts Council, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, et al to most national organizations– you name it as a supposed cultural advocacy organization and it can be exposed that these entities “couldn’t be more out of touch and insulting to those of us who actually”…create (and thus usually educate as well).

These organizations are the 1% of the art world.  They are ruled by money, are blind to those in their community that have done more for the arts and culture than they could ever creatively conceive, and they will fight tooth and nail not only this assessment but for those ludicrous honors to individuals political and otherwise.

Artists themselves can attest that the policies of such agencies are entirely incapable of making measurable, significant difference in the lives of the tens of thousands of true working artists in this city, state and our country.  Because helping the arts is something which is best done when you support working individual creative artists… and the teachers attempting to educate young brains to think creatively.  Add to that all the creative workers in film and stage who labor to make the arts happen, yet their collective union in Pittsburgh, for example (and emblematic of the fights across the country) is essentially locked out of many of this city’s stages.

Local arts groups here in Pittsburgh ridiculously commend each other.  Similar organizations and nonprofits across the country feel as if they’re doing novel and important things for their community, wrapped up in their illusions of support as they cheer each other on yet fool the artist, the public and themselves with their policies.  And local, state and national funders are ignorant about those actual creators they’re supposed to encourage and sponsor– who ironically give reason for the existence of administrator salaries!

A decade ago, I published a book about a woman artist and her work, and the role of that work in both larger American society and the art world.  Esther Phillips and her friends, both in Pittsburgh and Greenwich Village, lamented mainstream society’s ill-regard for creative work.  How ironic there would exist a 1% in her very world, the arts, that are so wrapped up in their monied pursuits–chasing development projects and status symbol and faux honors– that they become clueless to what culture really is.

For there is an utter lack of wise and honest design of local, state and national funding bodies for artists, as well as organizations that actually do for the creative artist.  (Some exceptions exist in Minneapolis, Chapel Hill and elsewhere.) But there are policy and funding alternatives far more sane, just, creative and do-able.

I have been among a community of artists and creative workers for 25 years in Pittsburgh, and have crossed paths a myriad of times with others from across the U.S.  We are WORKERS–  We create and we teach.  We are involved in our communities.  We are pretty much invisible to the art establishment.  We are given a little funding and recognition when we are “emerging” or somehow adopted as a city’s “darling” troupe.

What usually happens is the true creative artist takes matters into his own hands, as myself and many colleagues long have, pursuing our creative output despite the lack of recognition and funding from the art 1%.  But our input can and will shape future policy.

The public needs to get wise to all of this– to the joke that the PA Gov. Corbett honor indeed was from the Pgh. Opera, to how money is as tangled around arts and education as politics, and to how illusory arts advocacy really is in America.  Bravo, Pittsburgh teachers, for spearheading the focus on our Opera’s folly and energizing some new folks into this emerging and lasting fold that will eventually present those of us truly “too big to fail”– the 99%.


Lisa A. Miles is a professional musician, performer, speaker, teacher, personal/ professional development consultant and writer working on her third book, “Creative Folly:  The Illusory Support of Artists by American Arts Organizations & Funders.”  


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Pittsburgh Stagehands Circumvented for “First Night”

Lisa A. Miles c2011                                      SEE POSTSCRIPT AT BOTTOM!

Pittsburgh Stagehands don’t work Pittsburgh’s First Night.  The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust hires other workers to man the stages.

You’d think a city with vibrant cultural district would have plenty of work for arts professionals.  So much entertainment– little use of Stagehands.

The story gets stranger.

The Trust has employees who do that very work.  On payroll.  Pittsburgh’s Stagehands–  IATSE Local 3 members (International Alliance of Theatrical & Stage Employees).   They build scenery for A Christmas Carol and make sure U2 sounds cool in a football stadium, with everyone safe under state-of-the-art equipment perched precipitously above.  They run sound and lights for the Symphony and seamlessly work together to unload semis with half-ton show equipment in dark of night.  You can’t get any more talent and working class, both, than a seasoned stagehand.

J. Kevin McMahon, President of the Trust, said of the stagehands, “Obviously, we respect them.  They’re skilled members of the Trust family.”  (Post-Gazette, 12-17-11)  But they’re circumvented for other labor.  

They are under-employed, and should be working First Night, Three RIvers Arts Festival (also Trust-managed), the Regatta, Dollar Bank Jamboree….  All public tax-dollar funded.


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