where the writers are
When Arts' Funding Heads South

In light of the current economic crisis, we are seeing a predictable drop in funding for the arts. Face it; many of the corporate sponsors whose names have appeared on lists of donors are now appearing on those who have applied for bailout money. What's a writer to do?

 For years I have served on volunteer boards for community service organizations. As in the arts, these agencies rise and fall with the availability of community funding. Often, they die when they are most needed because of public funding cuts. Community youth agencies, senior centers, home nursing programs all pay the price of being effective in service delivery (their "art"), but fail when the funding pipeline runs empty.

 It's Maslow's hierarchy of need in reverse. Both art and philanthropy are high up on the scale. They only become possible when the community around them feels safe and secure. Take away the money-base, and they go into freefall.

 Many of the Cleveland area poets talk fondly about the "mimeograph revolution" when poets like d.a. levy literally cranked out their work on accessible, low-quality duplicating machines. It's quite a romantic image of the artist with a fire in the gut and words in hand. Forty years later, some things have changed, and some have not. Computers and POD presses have led to mimeo-extinction. What remains to be discovered is whether this generation of writers has a stomach for the fire? I run into a good many people who expect writing to make them rich and/or famous. (I have six books, and am neither.) When I explain that most writers do something other than write for food, I get a sort of glazed over smile that says: "Not if you're doing it right!"

 I think I have been doing it right! What I mean by this is that as a writer I am not subject to the caprice of funding sources. (My public service taught me long ago that those who live by the grant will die by it!) I teach as an adjunct at two universities to get money to support my own work, and the work of others. By the way, this doesn't give me much respect in the community of writers who treat volumes from really small presses as illegitimate children! Wake up! We're the closest thing to the mimeograph revolution that has been taking place for the last decade. I suppose that it's in human nature to hope for a superhero to fly in and save the day. It ain't gonna happen. Art comes from artists who do not believe any of the excuses.