WRITERS PEN | REPORTINGS & ESSAYS

Why art and finance need to reverse roles

Michelle Baltazar

The chasm between art and finance became clearer to me after a whirlwind trip to Adelaide for the annual Cabaret Festival.

When you’re in the presence of greatness in art, you bathe in its light. Swim in it. When you’re in the presence of greatness in finance, it casts a shadow on your own survival. Drown in it.

The capacity for arts to accomodate great talent is infinite. For finance, it is finite – there is a market share that gets divided and someone else’s lion’s share means barely any for another. Not so with music and arts.

No question arts has its own encumbrances, bedevils and crutches. But if it boils down to it – to the core of who we are, how we feel and how we treat each other towards achieving one greatness or another, a million fans in arts versus a million dollars in finance, I’d say arts wins hands down.

Lea Salonga featured in The Australian Filipina mag

Governments and fundraising networks need to give artists more financial support to nurture world-class talents, such as Lea Salonga (pictured here performing for the first time in Australia at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival).

Why then, does the arts community get scant funding when directly compared with finance-based activities. One suggestion is that arts is seen as a fringe activity. It doesn’t drive the economy the way the finance community does. One less painter is a far lower price to pay than one less banker – or so it seemed in the past.

But now we are staring at a cursed hour – a time when many investors witnessed their savings turn into dust, a time when even the smart ones got it horribly wrong.

There’s a famous quote running around on the back of one company underestimating how much money it has lost. It goes something like this, “a billion here, a billion there, before you know it, you’re talking real money.” Smart accounting is not new, but even those with enough smarts can’t massage the kind of financial blackhole that many finance houses could face if Europe implodes.

Yet a billion here, and a billion there for arts – lunch money in finance – have the capacity to transform lives in ways money can’t buy. A quality of living unmatched by lower and lower interest rates.

I think we’ve got it all wrong. The flow of money needs to be reversed. Someone needs to turn the tap off and hose down any delusional thought that an economic recovery – likely 5,7,10 years from now – can ever make up for the chronic underfunding in arts. Someone needs to hose down the idea that becoming a millionaire will always make you feel like a million bucks.

What price do you place on poetry that sparks a revolution, paintings that make people fall in love, or music that mellows your anger.

There’s a lesson to be learned from the economic crisis we find ourselves in. Yes, Australia doesn’t feel it as much but overseas, people have lost their jobs and savings because of botched investment decisions made by someone else on their behalf.

Let’s take a break. Let’s challenge convention. Let’s put arts in front of finance and not the other way around.

Imagine a world where the arts community gets the financial support it truly deserves. Maybe then there would be no global financial crises to deal with, because there would be no financial greed nor dysfunction to fix in the first place.


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