|Mad Jenny and Maris Dessena|
in Love und Greed in Money Lab
I was taking a cab the other day, and my cab driver asked me if I had any good ideas to help the world. He was collecting.
I work in theater, I said, so all my ideas are about theater. But I do think art can help the world.
He scoffed. If you were starving, he asked, what would you like? Food? Or a flower?
Recently, I said, I’ve been doing a lot of work with theater and music created in the Terezin concentration camp. What’s amazing to me, is how vital that work was to them. How, despite the starvation, the terrible conditions, and the specter of death, they still needed to create. Or maybe they needed to create because of all that.
A distraction, he replied. They would have traded it all for a good meal.
In the United States, often the money associated with a profession tells you something about the way its valued. If you look at a list of college majors and money prospects, theater lies at the bottom. For our workshop of Money Lab, I did a survey of our audience members. I found that the artists made, on average, $24,000/year less (self identified part-time artists) to $45,000/year less (self-identified full-time artists) to comparable New Yorkers with similar demographics, matching education, age, borough, etc. Our non-artists made about $13,000/year more than the New York City averages.
I did not make a conscious choice to give up $45,000/year to become an artist. But I am willing to accept the choice. Because for me, art is a necessity. I am not starving, so I don’t have to confront the food or flower question. Like most artists I know, I live in a constant state of anxiety about money. Nonetheless, I would find the alternative worse.
And yet, the other question I am curious to understand is how much do we really value art. Why is it so difficult for artists to be paid? Here we are paying all our performers the same amount. $50/performance. It’s not much. But it’s what we can afford. Honestly, it’s more than we can afford, but it’s important to us.
Why is money for art so scarce? Why is the income inequality among artists even greater than the income equality among the general populace? Why do a few get so much and the rest so little? I doubt we will answer those questions in the course of this show. But what we will explore is how our audience values art vs. what are generally called the necessities. Food, or flowers?
Watch the values go up and down. We’re in a theater, so the odds are already skewed in the artists favor. So we shall see…