Don’t support the arts
The words we use are important. As someone who has been on both sides of the editor/writer relationship, I know how passionate people can get about individual word choices, how substituting one verb can entirely change the meaning of a paragraph and alter the perception of an entire piece.
The same holds for any conversation. Every time you start a conversation (or a discussion, or a debate…), the way you initially frame the topic has an effect on everything that follows, whether you intend it or not. And even if that effect is tiny at first, it grows every time you return to that subject.
How often have we talked about getting more people to support the arts? By we, I mean people in the media, or people who work in the arts sector, or people who pay taxes and wonder whether that money is actually helping to make a better world. The answer is somewhere between “a whole lot” and “so, so many times.” Which is good. It’s a discussion worth having. But, I’m increasingly convinced we’ve been using the wrong verb. (And maybe the wrong noun, but I’ll save that one for another time. In short, “the arts” is a vague and overly intimidating phrase.)
There are so many good verbs we could be using with art. Making art. Discussing art. Attending. Enjoying. Experiencing. Thinking about. Engaging with. Watching. Listening. Even just recognizing the art that we walk by every day. The whole reason we talk about “supporting” the arts is that artistic experiences enrich people’s lives; they broaden perspectives, provide entertainment and social interaction. That’s what gets us excited about art. That’s why we put so much time into making sure that arts experiences happen—all those great verbs.
And then we turn around and ask people to support events. To support the community. We’re replacing all of those exciting, passion-generating words with an obligation. A chore. A duty. Support the arts. Eat your vegetables. It’s not going to be fun, but it’ll make you a better person.
That’s bad enough—no one responds well to having an obligation pushed on them—but it’s also a distancing word choice. If people are supporting the arts, they aren’t a part of the arts, and audiences are absolutely part of the arts. When you’re asking for their support, though, it implies that they’re helping you do something, rather than taking part in something themselves. It makes it an issue of charity, with someone else subsidizing an artist’s ability to do crazy artist things and not have to join the real world.
Basically, what I’m saying is that we don’t want people to support the arts. We want people to have their minds blown and their worldviews shaken; we want them to have the kinds of experiences that only art can provide. If they’re doing that, they won’t have to think about the fact that they’re giving their support—it’ll just happen.
And it’s not like that’s something that artists don’t already know—the whole reason the support discussion comes up is that people are doing everything they can to provide those experiences, and they’re frustrated. So, absolutely, there will be times when “support” is the right word. Just… a little less often is all.