Gambling with the Arts

The March, watercolor, by Abigail Gray Swartz, 2017
The March, watercolor, by Abigail Gray Swartz, 2017

Gambling with the Arts

As federal funding appears to dissipate, who will fund the arts, and at what cost?

By Meredith Bless

Every four to eight years funding for the arts is on the table for debate depending on what conservative, liberal, or middle of the road entourage is running the festival of US politics. Starting on January 20th, 2017 it became clear that funding for the arts was, and still is, of less importance to the new presidential leadership. Is this a surprise? Not at all. Do I think this will radically affect students, non-profits, and art institutions? Most likely, but not in the way most people might initially preach. The arts won’t suddenly be without, but the funding will have to come from another source - the private sector.

When the government withdraws funding for the arts, it forces programs and institutions to rely heavily on private funding. The tipping point of this issue is that art can be compromised if the private funding is unethical. Most private donors have a specific agenda of what verbal and visual imagery they want their business to be associated with. From a business point of view, this makes complete sense. However, curators across the globe have dealt with this issue for years and have asked whether dependence on private benefactors exacts too high a price? (Financial Times, 2014)

That price is freedom of expression, which inevitably is lost when private money is involved. The truth is, a large percentage of private funding comes from banks, tobacco, and oil companies. I believe that culturally, art institutions, presenters, and artists need to know they have the freedom to express themselves openly about any topic they choose, even if it challenges corporate ethics, government, and human rights issues. As capitalism takes another grand stand in today's US government, I struggle to see clearly what this means for visual and performance art over the next 4-8 years.

What we need to ask, is as artists respond to political and corporate agendas with raw verbal and visual imagery, will our public curators and presenters have the freedom to showcase whom, what, and when they want?

Quoted in a Feb 13, 2017 Vanity Fair article, Jon Coombs, the managing director at Secretly Canadian Publishing says, “I don’t think it’s every musician’s job to be political, but it feels like we’re at a turning point where if an artist has any political inclinations, the time to create and speak is now.” Coombs’ company has collaborated with several other prominent indie labels and Dave Eggers to launch Our First 100 Days, a project that releases a single protest song by a different artist for each of Trump’s first 100 days in office. (article by Kelsey McKinney in Vanity Fair, 2/13/17)

The silver lining here is that in times like these, artists tend to have more to say. As policies, leaders, and laws tango with the emotions of our divided country, a fraction of us head to the studios and unleash that emotion through visual and performance art. Like all artists, we have to trust that even if our major public institutions acquire more rigorous guidelines, that new independent outlets will surface so there will always be a platform for uninhibited artistic expression.

I will leave you with the comforting words of John Craigie, "Don't let the darkness break you my friend. There are so many of us and only one of him." Craigie is a Portland, Oregon based musician, and his new album No Rain, No Rose recently hit #1 Folk Album in the US on the Roots Music Report.

Featured Art


The March

By Abigail Gray Swartz, 2017

The New Yorker jumped on this iconic painting by friend and artist, Abigail Gray Swartz for their February cover just after the Women’s March on Washington.

Abigail Gray Swartz, who marched in her state capital of Augusta, Maine, was inspired by the spirit of the day to paint “Rosie the Riveter,” wearing a knitted pink cap. “I marched for my three-year-old son and for my six-year-old daughter,” the artist said. “Even though I couldn’t take them with me, I was there for them.”

View New Yorker article

View Huffington Post Article

America's Nightmare, mixed media, 2016 By Karen Wippich

America's Nightmare

By Karen Wippich, 2016

A political painting from one of my most recent additions to the Taiga Creative roster is visual artist Karen Wippich. Last year while Trump was on the campaign trail she painted this very powerful piece in light of his fear based campaign, his response to the Orlando shooting, and the hope that he would be a distant memory. Cover painting also by Wippich is titled "Louder than Guns."

“The Orlando shooting had recently happened and after 50 people had died Trump tweeted that he should be congratulated for being right about radical Islamic terrorism. When we got back to Portland I channeled into the painting my anger about how Trump thinks his own brand and power are more important than the American people. Sadly, at the time I painted it I thought he would be a distant memory. Now I think I may have been forecasting the future.” - Karen Wippich, painter


A Rose By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet

By Genevieve Gaignard, 2016

”I think this election is just forcing a lot of people to confront a dark reality that so many others already face on a daily basis. Art has always served that same function for me and it will continue to. I also think there’s a lot of collective grief happening and art is a really powerful space for expressing that anger. If you’re not the type to protest on the streets or don’t have the words to express your outrage, your voice can still be heard through your art.” ―Genevieve Gaignard, photographer and installation artist

View Huffington Post article

Everybody Knows

by Hurray for the Riff Raff, from the album Our First 100 Days

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Fired Up from Dan Fipphen on Vimeo.

Fired Up

Directed and Produced by Dan Fipphen and Elyse Kelly

Fired Up is a short animated film that depicts the origin story of President Obama’s famed “Fired up, ready to go” chant.

On a rainy day in June of 2007, President Obama found himself speaking to a subdued crowd in the tiny town of Greenwood, SC. He was exhausted, soaking wet, and beginning to doubt the whole campaign when a voice called out from the back, “Fired up, ready to go!”. The chant, started by one unassuming woman in a church hat, transformed the audience and went on to become a rallying cry in every corner of America.

With the audio of President Obama’s speech as the soundtrack, the film combines original animation by 14 artists from around the world.

Animation directors (in order of appearance): Emily Eckstein & Ege Alper, Alex Silver, Lynn Tomlinson, Jovanna Tosello, The Duke & The Duck, Amy Lee Ketchum, Juan Camilo Gonzalez, Musa Brooker, Miguel Jiron, Sara Spink, Lou Morton, and Daniela Sherer.

Articles sited in this blog post include: Financial Times, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Huffington Post, and the Roots Music Report