For every Frank Gehry, Donny Deutsch, Adele, Jeff Koons or newly crowned American Idol/Fashion Star/Chef, there are thousands of working artists pursuing their passion at low- (or no) wage internships, low-paying jobs or—worse—under/un-employed in temporary, this-is-what-pays-the-bills gigs. Writing in Salon, Scott Timberg notes “that creative industries have been some of the hardest hit during the Bush years and the Great Recession… Jobs in graphic design, photographic services, architectural services–all peaked before the market crashed and fell, 19.8 percent over four years for graphic design, 25.6 percent over seven years for photography and a brutal 29.8 percent, for architecture, over just three years…Theater, dance and other performing arts companies are down 21.9 percent.”
Yet, the struggle of the creative class is a story untold. If anything, it’s “shrugged off.” For a nation “that produces and exports its creativity around the world, why are we not lamenting the fate of its practitioners,” Timberg asks. Is it our Puritan tradition that considers the arts elitist and artists as “idle” and therefore, somehow less worthy of respect? Is it our mercantile culture that doesn’t readily find the value in art (as novelist Jonathan Lethem suggests). Are we paying the price for anti-intellectualism that “pays more attention to celebrities than to everyday people who put together productions, or who struggle to make a living in the arts.” (Dana Gioia, former chair of the National Endowment of the Arts).
Timberg notes that although the recession may be easing, the creative classes are, if not extinct, certainly endangered. At a time when art’s transformative power is most needed, how do we create an America that, in the words of John F. Kennedy, is remembered, for “our contribution to the human spirit.”