The other day I read a newspaper article that told how some cities in England were selling their public art pieces to pay the bills.Experts are warning of a wave of public art sales by local authorities after Tower Hamlets agreed to sell a Henry Moore statue donated by the artist on the understanding it would be left permanently on open-air display for the enjoyment of people in a socially deprived area of London…. The money raised would ease the 100 m pound budget cut that Tower Hamlets – home to some of the worst deprivation in Britain – will face over the next three years.
… The Moore is the latest in a growing list of sales of public artworks by councils. Last year, Bolton Council sold seven works of art, including two etchings by Picasso and a painting by John Everett Millais, and a Gloucester city council approved plans to sell 14 works of art valued at 381,000 pounds. In the same year, Newcastle city council put 270,000 pounds of publicly-funded artwork for sale on eBay and Leicestershire County Council made more than 160,000 pounds after selling off some of its art collection.
(Read complete article at http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2012/nov/07/henry-moore-sculpture-tower-hamlets-sale.)
When I read that I felt pretty steamed. Public art does not belong to the mayor or the city council, it belongs to the people and is held in trust for them. It is a legacy for all to enjoy over time. When public art is sold it’s a breaking of the faith between the arts and the people.
I am not saying that all public art are masterpieces or that at some time a community may not sell a piece that has outlived interest but if you sell public art to pay bills that might have been generated by bad management or economic cycles, you’re selling your heritage for chump change. It’s selling a bit of the community soul for a bowl of porridge. It’s like a person cashing in their engagement ring or their grandfather’s watch to pay off their credit cards.
For all of the talk about art and culture and creativity I don’t believe that we as a culture have much respect for the arts – unless we want something from them for free. Creative people are often generous people. When some charity or non-profit wants to raise money for its poster child, who do they first go to – the musicians and the artists. They ask for free art to auction and free music to dance to.
The recent concert for Sandy Relief showcased some of the top names in music and raised some $30 million. This money (in theory) will go to help the victims of the storm – help that should have been given by the government to whom we pay our taxes and by the disaster relief agencies we support – both of whom did a miserable job – as usual.
Then take any city with an art population and you will find the artists living in some run-down industrial area where the rent is cheap. Once the artists move in and get creative, all of the sudden the ambience changes and property values go up – along with the rents. Before you can say Kandinsky all of the artists who made the neighborhood unique and vibrant can no longer afford to live there. They are gentrified out of town and while the land developers and realtors grow rich.
While study after study has shown that the arts nurture creative thinking, and that creative thinking eventually translates into a better quality of life and a stronger bottom line, what are the first cuts that are always made in the schools when budget are trimmed? Arts programs, music programs and the humanities.
And nobody says a word – until the athletic programs are scaled back. (The difference between the arts and sports is that people pay money to buy tickets to attend events and cheer on the home team – which is a discussion for another day.) And in the schools, who are the kids who are considered the freaks?
The artists are often the iconoclasts, the troublemakers, the dissidents. As a consequence of their provocation and irritation, they shake a society out of its self-satisfied complacency and cause them to view with new eyes and hear with new ears. When not being proclaimed blasphemers, they are condemned as anarchists. As a last resort they are labeled insane. In fact, the visionary artists often foreshadow breakthroughs in science and technology fifty to a hundred years in advance.
Henri Rosseau understood the dream state and the unconscious before Freud; Cezanne introduced the idea of multiple perspectives; Dali played with time as did Einstein; Chagall played with the image of zero point gravity; Duchamp’s Descending Nude captures the idea of simultaneous time; Jackson Pollock showed us the field rather than the content. (For a fascinating and provocative book, read “Art & Physics” by Shlain.)
So my little rant for today is over. I am just so tired having life defined, measured and evaluated in dollars and cents. Success and happiness and security have nothing to do with money or the economy. The best things in life can never be purchased or sold, but must be shared.