• Kristi Burke

It's Time To Start Treating Artists Like They Are Essential

Recently I saw a post circulating on social media that showed the results of a survey in which people were asked to rate the most essential vs least essential jobs. Not surprisingly, Artists made it to the top of the list - the non essential list. I laughed it off because you can't take a survey from a small group of 1,000 people too seriously, right? Although, it wouldn't surprise me if this did reflect the collective opinion of our society. Because artists really aren't treated as essential, or even taken very seriously, are they?

We live in a society of people who consume art every day, but don't think twice about those that create it.

According to a 2018 joint report from the US Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis and the National Endowment for the Arts, Artist industries generate $763.6 billion per year for the U.S. Economy. Also according to the report, these industries contribute to the GDP four times as much as agriculture. They also beat out transportation and warehousing by $200 billion. Arts industries are growing at a more rapid rate than the entire US Economy as a whole. So where is the disconnect? How do we live in a society so immersed in and enriched by art, without even realizing it?

I always get a kick out of meeting someone for the first time, and telling them that I work as an artist. They are usually quite curious about what "artist" entails. What kind of art do I make? How do I sell it? Do I market? Do I get paid? Do I get paid well? Is it my main source of income? Do I work any other jobs? When I'm out painting a mural, the main question I get asked by those who pass by is "are you getting paid for this?"

I know they always mean well. I'm never upset that I get these questions. The title "artist" can be so vague. Most people are generally curious (myself included). But I have a feeling that retail workers, doctors, farmers, customer service agents, and grocery store clerks don't often receive the same line of questioning. If someone tells you they work at a bank, your first thought isn't to question whether or not it is their main source of income. I've never heard anyone ask my husband if he's received payment for bar tending. There is this assumption within the minds of most people that artists don't get paid, get paid very little, or don't deserve high pay. Many artists, however, do work for years, building a skill that is highly sought after but not properly valued. The term "starving artist" exists for a reason. So many artists I know are scraping by because they are putting all of their creative energy and passion into projects only to receive very little pay or appreciation. Perhaps it's a vicious cycle we need to find a way to break. Most artists have to take what they can get, when society treats them as if they are of very little worth.

The same people questioning my ability to be a successful artist are probably going to drive home with the radio on. They're going to sing along to all their favorite songs, recalling the warm memories attached to each lyric. They're going to come home to a sanctuary they've curated with framed portraits by professional photographers, wall art by local artisans, and decor that radiates expression of self. These things comfort them after a long day.

They'll open a new bottle of wine, one they only purchased because they thought the label was pretty. They'll kick off their designer shoes and lounge on the sofa while flipping through the TV channels, seeking much anticipated entertainment from writers, actors and actresses. They'll start scrolling through Instagram during the commercial break, because they love seeing new posts by local artists they follow.

Then, when the day is done, they'll slip into bed, grabbing a book from their handcrafted bedside table, escaping reality for a bit before dozing off into their own self-imagined, subconscious dream world. It exists in almost everything that we do. We just don't always see it for what it is. Art.

@Artofrobb, a super talented Orlando watercolor artist

@Howveryretro, a kickass local graphic designer.

@Benevolencephoto , a passionate Sanford photographer.

Imagine a world without art.

Where music doesn't exist. TV and movies can't entertain us. Packaging is bland. No art galleries or open mic nights or concerts or Broadway. No murals or creative inspiration within our streets. No rewards or incentives for imagination. No art therapy. No video games. No books. No comics. The very things we seek to comfort us, entertain us, help us cope with and also escape reality would cease to exist. Without art, would we be living or merely existing? What is it that separates us from every other species on the planet? Our imagination, ingenuity, ability to create and build and progress at an astounding rate. If it weren't for creative thinkers, out-of-the-box-ers, and imaginative minds, we wouldn't wouldn't be where we are today. Humanity needs art.

If we want to continue living in a world enriched with color, imagination, creative inspiration and artistic entertainment, we have to encourage and value the artists within our community. We have to donate to arts funds and attend local art events. We have to take our musicians, actors, poets, writers and visual artists more seriously. We have to share our artist friend's work on social media. Invite our friends to like their page. Advocate for fair pay within community art projects. Stop asking artists to work for free or "exposure". Re frame what we think it means to be an artist and place higher value on the artists that create the very work we consume. We have to do more to promote the artists within our community because without them, our world would be grey and bland. Without them, there would be an emptiness within all of us that nothing else in existence can fill.

George Floyd Mural By Xena Goldman

We need art now, more than ever. With all of the chaos, violence, fear, and uncertainty within our communities, we look to artists to bring us hope, comfort and inspiration. We cling to art to cope with grim realities we inevitably face every day. We share art to feel more connected with those around us. Artists are pouring out their hearts on canvases, in front of cameras, inside book covers and within songs. Let's start encouraging them more often. The more we appreciate them, the more we'll see them create. The more we fund them, the greater their advances will be. Your support and investment in the arts directly impacts the level of creativity and ingenuity in all of the artistic things you enjoy every day. Your TV shows will be more entertaining. Your books will be more thrilling. Your weekends will be more imaginative and fun. Your entire world will be a better place to live, the more you value and appreciate the artists around you. What you put in, is what you'll get out. And I hope we all start putting in a little bit more.


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