Are Artists the Next Best Business Venture? Connecticut Is Banking on It

A new arts funding plan is brewing in Connecticut that places precedence on cultural and arts programs that contribute to the community and attract new businesses. According to Hartford Business, Kip Bergstrom, deputy commission of the state Department of Economic & Community Development, has merged several arts funding initiatives into one overall program and plans to increase total funding to $1.3 million. The grants, however, will be mostly handed out to arts programming that will help jump start the economy in Connecticut. Bergstrom noted to Hartford Business that he believes that arts funding will increase  “once legislators believe they are no longer funding just arts but greater economic stimulation.”

While its important for state governments to be selective of which arts program they channel money towards, this program initially seems limiting in the types of programming the state is willing to fund. What about artists whose work will not necessarily equal immediate dollar signs? What is the funding criteria for arts programming that is geared towards community development and education rather than business ventures?

Hyperallergic spoke with Bergstrom who explained that the new funding plan will cover a “wide gamut of things from theaters that tend to be major economic engines in downtown areas to something like a neighborhood music school that impacts the community.”

He also emphasized that he hopes the new funding plan will serve as an antidote to the decrease in visitors at traditional art venues that he believes is widely due to the pull of the internet. “Many places are struggling to maintain and develop audiences and this plan is an attempt to reach out and engage,” said Bergstrom.

The new arts funding program may also make it easier for artists to make a living off their art, another goal of the program that Bergstrom highlighted. Project Storefronts, developed by New Haven, Connecticut’s Department of Cultural Affairs, re-purposes vacant storefronts into temporary pop-up gallery spaces and stores that sell artist works. They supported the opening of Detritus, a curated bookstore filled with artist books and zines, as well as the arts start-up City Bench, that creates furniture out of trees cut down by the city of New Haven.

However, capitalizing off of artistic programs can be a tricky venture, and one that many artists are tentative to embrace, especially when states begin to think of artists as business opportunities.

Artist Sharon L. Butler provided her perspective on the matter over Twitter, and she’s definitely got a point:

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