This economy has been brutal. Although the markets are inching higher, banks are now repaying their bailouts, and there’s still a mad rush to get that latest and greatest smart phone, the art world continues to feel a threatening squeeze. I suppose I was hoping that since other indicators were ticking upwards (or at least leveling off), the Arts would follow. But my Twitter feed the past couple of weeks has told me otherwise, and it is bringing me down.
Indeed, I saw tweets reporting closures of New York galleries, staff cuts at the Guggenheim, and cost-cutting measures at Art Institute of Chicago, just to name a few. Yet the one that hit closest to home – and inspired this piece – was a RT (re-tweet) by @salvocheque about cuts to the Austin Museum of Art. In the linked article, Austin American-Statesman art critic Jeanne Claire van Ryzin reports that AMoA has made a second round of staff and budget cuts following an initial 10% cut in January. To repeat: that’s a second round of cuts. I understand that layoffs and budget cuts are a significant part of the big-picture approach to ensuring the survival of a company or organization, but when you start getting into multiple rounds of reorganization, how can you not be alarmed?
10% and counting is a personal response to this recent wave of art organization cuts. While it uses AMoA as its vehicle, it’s not solely about the Austin Museum of Art. There are any number of museums or galleries that I could have used to tell this story (all of which are hurting); AMoA just happened to be the one that compelled me to do so.
In a very related note, I received a letter from Lawndale Art Center last week asking for support. I love Lawndale. It is a unique, proposal-driven space that consistently puts on varied and intriguing combinations of contemporary art exhibitions. Most importantly (to me), they offer exhibition and residency opportunities to artists of all career levels. I had my first-ever solo show there in late 2007, and working with its enthusiastic and supportive staff is an experience I won’t soon forget. I remain a huge fan of their mission, and the thought of having that mission jeopardized by this "economic downturn" makes me nervous. I have no idea if they’re in any imminent danger, but there’s a threatening cloud overhead, made very real to me by AMoA’s plight.
Lawndale’s annual Houston-area free-for-all, The Big Show, is accepting drop-off entries Wednesday and Thursday of this week. I don’t have anything to enter this year, but I plan on stopping by anyway, checkbook in hand, to say hello and give my support. If you’re an artist or a fan of the arts, you might consider making a new or additional contribution to your favorite space or organization. I’d imagine they could really use some help right now.