April 15, 2003
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Patronage and Peril

Dan Bricklin justly rebukes Big Music in his essay, "How Will Artists Get Paid?" He argues that

an ecosystem which looks to a mixture of the traditional amateur, performance, patronage, and commission forms of payment is a requirement. Depending upon rigid enforcement of performance payments will disrupt the balance.

As Bricklin observes, publishing is not the only business model for artists. However, it remains the best business model for artists, the business model that gives them the greatest independence and dignity. Patronage is better than starvation or giving up, but the zealots (not Bricklin!) who want to save art from commerce would return it to the Prince and the Priest, making artists subservient one more to the whims of government agencies and the desires of deep pockets.

It's nice to have a grant, but it's nicer to have lots of grants; it's good to have the support of your management, but it's even nicer to have the support of customers. If your funding, however lavish, depends on one or two powerful people, how free can your work be?

Bricklin's case study of Buskin and Batteau cuts both ways. He sees a healthy ecosystem that gave two talented folksingers a variety of job opportunities. I see two talented performers who spent the 90's writing jingles to sell Chevies and recruit kids to join the US Army.

Not long ago, I heard an interview with Pete Seeger in which he recalled a long car ride he took "with Martin" (Luther King) back in '57. The Reverend mentioned a song he'd heard Pete sing the previous night. "That song really sticks with you, doesn't it?" The song, of course, was "We Shall Overcome."