The Unsolicited Endorsement: Direct patronage

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by Anthony Harrison

For centuries, artists supported themselves on the gracious gifts the wealthy bestowed upon them.

The Borgias, murderous bastards though they were, encouraged artistic development during the Renaissance. Mozart relied for some time on the aegis of the Habsburg Empire. Beethoven wrote some of his best work on the backing of aristocratic families. Even as recent as the mid-20th Century, the Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter — a member of the Rothschild family — supported such bebop luminaries as Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk; Monk even wrote a song named for her. Even in the Triad, Betty and Ella Cone were known patrons of the arts.

Then again, we’re living in a different time, I suppose.

The planned Tanger Performing Arts Center in Greensboro may gesture towards “supporting the arts.” But tickets for off-Broadway shows costing $120 won’t help the local arts community; until it’s clear all art will be welcome, despite ticket sales, it will simply stand as a bourgeois monument for which donors can pat themselves on the back.

And mowing over a venue generations old — the former home of Solaris and later Boston’s House of Jazz & Blues — certainly won’t warm you up to local artists.

Again, if you want to truly help the arts, give money to the people actually creating art in your community instead of building a complex meant to bring temporary talent from abroad.

Some in the Triad understand this concept already.

The Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County gives small arts grants to artists in need. Their total grant pool draws from $10,000. One example includes when Winston-Salem playwright Suzana McCalley received $500 in support of her play, A Goddess Tale.

That’s patronage. That’s directly allowing artists to exercise their craft.

It stands in the way of our capitalist, wealth-obsessed society. But that’s really giving supporting the arts.

And it could go even further.

Instead of funding arts programs and councils and having donations funnel through into a pool, patrons can support artists they enjoy even more directly. Naturally, patrons could buy paintings or sculptures from their favorite artists. Patrons could fund studio time for musicians or bands. If a patron felt especially generous, they could set up some kind of artists’ community and housing.

Give money to the arts no matter what, I implore you. However, the point I’m attempting to drive home is this: If you want to support the arts, support an artist.