The Strange Impulse to Euthanasia in the Arts

"Boston cemetery," © 2009  Dixie Lawrence, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license.

“Boston cemetery,” © 2009 Dixie Lawrence, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license.

Every now and then, someone in the arts world says something like, “We should let the weak arts organizations die.” This is a recent example.

My initial reaction whenever anyone recommends that somebody (or somebody’s organization) be made into a noble sacrifice for the greater good is, “You first.” Fire yourself and everyone you’re working with.

Of course, the person who expresses these kinds of sentiments never thinks that he or she is part of the “weak.” Naturally.

But once I’ve had a laugh at this, my second reaction is less enjoyable. It’s the strange and creepy feeling that some people want to control a bunch of people they have no business controlling; making decisions on behalf of members of the buying/attending/donating public that they have no right or role in making.

In other words, what makes you think you’re “we”?

And why are you so excited about killing off a bunch of organizations?

And are you sure that the presence of a lot of entrepreneurial activity, most of it unsuccessful, is a sure sign of failure? Or is it possible it’s a sign of vitality? In the world of Silicon Valley, for example, failures outnumber successes 10 to 1. The whole venture industry is built on that very concept.

But maybe Silicon Valley should stop all that messy early activity from happening in the first place. Who needs an ecosystem of startups and dumb new ideas that might or might not (but probably won’t) pan out? Why not just create some kind of council of the learned to figure out what should and shouldn’t happen?

Oh, right, because that’s a terrible, terrible, failure-bound way to run an industry.

If the founders and stakeholders of a “failing” arts organization are comfortable with the struggle, it’s up to them when to pull the plug. If the marketplace (of donors, of ideas, of talent, of ticket buyers) doesn’t support them, eventually they’ll go away. Until then, or until they get sick of it, it’s game on.

I’m a little disturbed that there’s a group of people who are so uncomfortable with that notion or so unfamiliar with it.

Power to the people, both in the organizations and in the marketplace of support for organizations. Let them work it out. Start worrying when people start creating new arts organizations and start abandoning them in droves.


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