Here is the emotional one.
A friend starting an artist residency was told repeatedly—by arts professionals I respect and like—that artists are “difficult” and “unrealistic.”
Who says things like that?
I taught high school dance for ten years, no easy task, but I would never call high school students difficult. They're incredible. They're functioning in some pretty limiting systems, but they are heroically creative in spite of it.
When I am disrespected or condescended to by an arts professional, I whisper one word: Fear.
Some of this fear is, I believe, misplaced envy and resentment: Why do artists get to make these amazing works of art while I only exhibit or fund them?
Imagine, dear artist, spending all your working days near the artistic process but never in it. Imagine valuing artistic practice so highly you center your life around it while never directly engaging in it. Imagine the annoyance as you watch artist after artist—some wildly young, some seemingly undisciplined—walk nonchalantly into the studio, that enchanted space where art is born, while you, curator or programmer or funder, are stuck outside, glimpsing magic through the doorway before it swishes closed.
Some of this fear comes from working in linear, rationalized, legacy organizations, but working with artists who question all of that.
If you are committed to established structures and economies and efficiencies and all the consensus agreements of functioning well, if you are not ready to question the foundations of your thinking and the systems and histories that made you possible, you maybe should fear the artistic process. Artists will pose the unasked question, and that could mean turning the building inside out, reallocating the budget, interrupting the conference call.
Sometimes I'm welcomed into an arts organization with a kind of nervous graciousness, as if my hosts are both glad to see me and worried I'm about to start breaking things.
If your well-being rests on unquestioned givens, keep artists out of your space. Or, rather, bring artists into controlled spaces only—a stage, a gallery, a panel—where you can contain our fire and fearlessness. That's my experience of arts conferences: Trot out the spoken word artist or musician or dancer to open the proceedings. Clap heartily. If their work is political or coming from the so-called “margins,” make it a standing ovation. Then usher the artist offstage so the grownups can get to the real business.
You surely don’t want artists or artistic thinking when discussing best practices and sector building.
Arts professionals love artists who question the status quo, just not their status quo.
That's too scary.