Why attack artists?

My Sunday piece on the inhabitants of the Tannery Arts Center brought about more than a few comments both attached to the article on line and in my e-mail in-box. Surprisingly, the themes of much of the responses were depressingly the same: that artists are parasites and moochers, and that the Tannery is just a state-sponsored Animal House.

It’s frustrating to have to state the obvious, but apparently it needs to be stated: Artists, like any other group of people, can’t be lumped together as all of one kind, and yet so many people have no problem in doing just that, in way they would never characterize other groups of people such as teachers, or Christians, or carpenters.

Most of the artists I know are hard-working entrepreneurs, self-employed people who get up every day to figure out how to make their business run better. The Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County came up with figures to state what artists and other creative people contribute to the local economy, equating to millions of dollars and thousands of jobs.

It’s perfectly legitimate to oppose and speak out against government-sanctioned projects on either principle or financial grounds. But too often that opposition takes the form of cheap broadside attacks against people who don’t deserve it. The truth is that the government gives assistance to wide swaths of the population from homeowners to farmers, and often government policies and subsidies make possible many of those private, entrepreneurial businesses we value in this country. Enjoying that tasty all-beef burger for lunch? Thank government corn subsidies that make it affordable.

Artists also shape the identity of a town or a community in distinctive ways. Santa Cruz is what it is, due largely to musicians, writers, painters, sculptors, actors and other artists. Too often the criticism aimed at them has nothing to do with government policies or taxpayer debt. It has to do with petty resentment, an unfortunate by-product of our culture.


29 thoughts on “Why attack artists?

  1. I’m actually sorry I feel this way, BUT… I too get up every morning and try to figure out how to make my own small business run better. And I like to believe that I contribute to the identiy of our comunity. And as far as ‘lumping’ them together, isn’t that what has been done by offering them,those with the title of ‘artist’, subsidized housing and workspace? Sorry, but it really bugs me. Who decides who contributes more than others? Maybe if so many other small business/entrepreneurs weren’t struggling right now…..

  2. It’s the idea that we pick out groups and give them support in terms of living arrangements and working environment.

    There are many people trying to make a living and they feel that it is not fair that we do what I presented in my first paragraph.

    I can’t go to my landlord and say “I would like to only pay $400 a month since I only make this much money and I am ‘special’ because ???”

  3. So, do “political scam artists” qualify as “artists”?

    I’m just SURE that this government-subsidized enterprise will generate copious amounts of tax revenues so the rest of us can stop working to fund the city’s and county’s latest great idea.

  4. Are you kidding when you say we “would never characterize other groups of people such as teachers, or Christians, or carpenters”? Teachers are all dreamers for believing that they canmake a difference in todays society where we prioritize prisons over education, Christians are all nuts for believing in a superstitious “god”, and carpenters, don’t even get me started.

  5. Well, with all the defensive posturing…maybe they are mooches…time will tell. One thing SC does NOT need is more subsidized anything. All the artists I’ve known were self-reliant and sufficient…they never sought nor were they offered a BREAK!

  6. The issue truly stands:, The real shame in this city is the Tannery residents. They “The artists” cannot and will not stand on their own two feet. I have many friends that are artist and they would never take a hand out. They survive with two or three jobs, pay full rents and all their own bills. Why are these Tannery people considered eligible for social programs? That is what must be defined. Simply saying you are a artist should not be a eligibility factor for free housing.
    Is it that mark they attach to themselves to, that labels them as “artists”? Why do they qualify according to Santa Cruz standards and not the truly needy? Why are the needy being ignored by our city?
    I and so many others, like my family getting by on less then 20K a year, and paying all our own way, never asking for help.
    I find it infinitly pathetic, that here in Santa Cruz, with our large homeless population that needs assistance, ,children living out of cars, starving elderly, thousands having not enough food to eat, or shelter, they those that are so needy, are ignored for a few of these so called “artists” types. The people that live there should be ashamed of themselves. We are ashamed of this situation and of our city council, and we will continue to speak out about it. Its our right as Americans, to voice our opinions. Everytime I drive by there and have to see that , I am simply disgusted. The real insult, is that across the street,at our homeless shelter, are probably thousands of homeless that could get on their feet with housing asistance. Santa Cruz, should be ashamed. This situation is clearly wrong.

  7. Wallace – boy did you gauge that wrong. Forum trolls aside, check out what people are saying. There were even tidbits of support there amongst the valid concern raised by readers. Ultimately, time will tell. But if early indications are a barometer, the tannery will just become another breeding ground for drugs and slackers. THAT’s a big problem with these housing projects.

    Awesome art? Bring it on. I’ll applaud the creativity coming out of there, but condemn the BS. Apologists notwithstanding.

  8. Wasteful government project that reinforces an unobtainable dream for dreamers. Why not a car mechanics colony or a mathematicians colony? Not dreamy enough? It will soon devolve into a drug infested ‘animal house’ because of the permissive drug culture in the city. Sorry, I won’t be buying the art because I have two kids and a mortgage to pay, stick figures of daddy will just have to do. Maybe you can get some valleys to decorate their beach pads. Maybe you can tell us why the environmental and height regulations were so quickly overlooked and ignored.

  9. The tannery is NOT free housing. Everyone living there had to meet strict federal affordable housing qualifications before they had to prove to a committee of arts professionals that they were qualified to call themselves “artist”. Unfortunately, unlike his earlier articles, this week Wallace wrote of artists in disbelief that they qualified. I believe the point he was trying to make is that the artists are so unaccustomed to being offered a BREAK that they can’t believe something this good is happening for them. The artists at the Tannery range in age from people in there early 20’s to folks in there 70’s. Many have been making art for 30 plus years. All are very, very thankful to this community for the beautiful live/work spaces. “Animal House”? Time will tell.

  10. Per Wallace:
    “Most of the artists I know are hard-working entrepreneurs, self-employed people who get up every day to figure out how to make their business run better.”

    And some artists have the connections to be government approved, and have to (both by circumstance and necessity) work less hard than the other artists by government fiat. Why work harder if it costs you more – it’s a friggin’ intelligence test. Keep your income low (or hide the income you do make) or you have to move, and pay more to live. Only the dimmest among us would make that choice.

    For the record, I haven’t seen anyone criticize ‘artists’, only those who would partake of a government handout ‘just because’ (and moreso the government that offered it.)
    Think of the logic! All of these people were required to be artists before they moved in. Thus they created their art while paying to live, just like the rest of us. Suddenly, they have lower bills, and a government mandated requirement to maintain a low income, lest they be force to move.

    And the cost? Zero. No contributions of art or time to the community. No pledges to donate or participate. Only a requirement that their income remains low. Ludicrous.

  11. I read the comments after articles in the Sentinel and it just seems to be a dumping ground for local redneck uneducated and un-witty sarcasm. Neanderthals and philistines will attack what they don’t understand or appreciate. Without the arts in all forms of expression our American way of life would be very boring. It would be like Communist China or Communist Russia back in the days of conformity. No music except State music, no art except State propaganda. And everyone would dress the same. And their wouldn’t even be a comments section in the State paper. And no political cartoons. The arts are our way of life: movies, cartoons, pop culture and high culture, car design and fashion design. We should promote the arts because people like the Taliban and Al-Queida hate us for those values. Our society is an invention of 18th and 19th and 20th century writers and artists who left us unique expressions of our culture. Art is a living breathing continuum of creative powers and should be encouraged in kids and everyone. These brain dead commentators should get a hobby, anything, they just might learn something about life.

  12. I talked to an artist living there once. She laughed as she told me her and her boyfriend aren’t even artists. They lied to get the place. How many more did the city let slip through?

  13. The Tannery Arts Center will have its share of victories and defeats… no doubt. There will likely be births of many kinds as well as some deaths. Just like all the rest of life all around us. The sour diatribes above sound like typical whiner mentalities that are the fallout of a downward tumbling economy spiked with a hit of jealousy. One disenfranchised group gets it’s act together and the other equally disenfranchised groups complain rather than to follow the lead. Kinda like the lyrics to that old country favorite… “it’s hard to kiss the lips at night, that chew your ass out all day long”.

    Artists do improve the quality of life in our neck of the woods… and simultaneously create new jobs and a boost to our local economy. Every time there is a festival of some kind here in town, be it visual, musical or of the spoken word… the economy all around us benefits. In doubt? Attend one and see for yourself… and become a bit more appreciative of the creativity we are so fortunate to have in our midst in the process. When was the last time a gathering of realtors or cpa’s made you feel better? Think about it. Now let’s kiss and make up!

  14. Mark… you took the words right out of my mouth… no wonder they tasted so good! I think I could fall in love with you… and I my lip balm is yummy too! Wanna make out …I mean up? Third floor Tannery South… I sleep on top of Kirby. Come up and see me sometime.

  15. I’m Moweth:
    “Without the arts in all forms of expression our American way of life would be very boring. It would be like Communist China or Communist Russia back in the days of conformity. No music except State music, no art except State propaganda. ”

    And the solution to this problem is… State sponsored art??

  16. I don’t think Santa Cruz deserves artists. The quaint community of idealists, dreamers, artisans, hippies is basically gone, replaced instead by Silicon Beachers, technocrats, neocons, and the soul -lessly superficial.

    Let Santa Cruz just become another box store by the beach, filled with angry consumeristas focused more on listening to Rush Limbaugh and right wing talk radio versus actually celebrating things in life that aren’t just things.

    Many of the truly talented artisans have had to leave Santa Cruz, unless they are trustifarians, or have a sugar daddy or mama to support the outrageous cost of housing in Silicon Beach. Those that do remain aren’t supported very well by the community, so why keep fighting it? There are other places where artists are actually valued and where the local communities value them versus looking at them as something you wipe off the bottom of your foot.

  17. I love the arts, as most people do. But it’s too easy to claim sour groups when you’re spending other people’s money. Gang violence? Yep, against it too. Not sure that a taxpayer-subsidized arts colony is going to end gang violence. Education, jobs, and economic advancement are the cure for gang violence, not another feel-good misappropriation of taxpayer dollars. I’m not against the artists. Anybody would be stupid to turn down such a good deal. I’m against the political elite that loves to spend other people’s money on warm-and-fuzzy projects instead of addressing real, pressing problems.

  18. Thomas is right. Santa Cruz is not very supportive of its artists. Just look at the lack of galleries. Look at the cost and the gauntlet one has to go through to participate in Open Studios. $950. per month doesn’t sound like subsidized housing to me. That’s what my friends pay at the Tannery. An organized, well-meaning group of artists, and professional business people worked incredibly hard for several years to get the Tannery project funded and built and with the enthusiastic support that it deserves it will only benefit our community. So quit your whining and open your eyes and hearts.

  19. I suggest that everyone who thinks artists are moochers and parasites should immediately stop watching television, going to movies, listening to music on the radio, reading poetry, or going to any live art, music, or dance events of any kind. Don’t like it, don’t support it.

  20. “One Tannery resident told me that he once decided to go to the adjacent building to borrow a screwdriver from a friend during one of the weekend celebrations shortly after the Tannery opened. He didn’t get back to his place until 4 a.m., and by then he was in no condition to operate a screwdriver.”

    And you wonder why people are pissed at this government sponsored Animal House….

  21. Granted, Santa Cruz is an expensive place to live. But, there are plenty of empty, foreclosed houses in Stockton, Modesto and places like that and a ‘real’ artist could create anywhere. The place doesn’t have to have abundant marijuana available or a boardwalk and ‘weirdness’ that is almost uniformly the same. There is an odd sameness everywhere in Santa Cruz that would put a planned retiremnet community to shame.

  22. I for one, will not patronize any of those Tannery Arts welfare recipients.

    We don’t provide government subsidized housing for police, fire fighters and teachers, who cannot afford to live here. Better to subsidize these artists who are NOT essential for a functioning city to survive. Crime is going up.

    These freeloaders can move to Amsterdam and take those financially irresponsible hippie politicians with them. Government will buy what tey cannot sell…

  23. It is a strange world these days. Most of us in the last year have lost much financially, jobs, careers, homes, and investments.

    I too in the last two years have been underemployed which made me qualified to live at the Tannery. But, I do work six or seven days a week at writing, painting and teaching. Most of us here at the Tannery are working two or three part time jobs, or working in two or three arts to financially survive. My story is not unusual, and others artists with young children have a harder time than I.

    I have been self employed for twenty plus years, so I am not eligible for unemployment. So when this opportunity became available even for self employed people I was excited. Most all of the people living in the Tannery today stood in line for 24 hours to get a number, went through a five month qualifying process, presented their art to a screening committee and most yes like myself have been through financial hardship.

    The Tannery Residents are creating events for the community, i.e. the Grand Opening, which we did for the whole of Santa Cruz. We had a $200 budget for an event with an expected turn out of 5,000 people. The artists who could provided food in their apartments, presented their art, danced, read poetry and played their music and sang. We love giving back. We also have participated in First Friday in May at the Dead Cow, and had an Open Mic last Friday open to the community.

    We are brand new as a community, just five months old. Give us time.

    We do so appreciate living here and having this opportunity to create the Tannery Arts. I hope that Santa Cruzians will come and enjoy all we have to offer in future events.

  24. I lived in a beautiful house for twenty years. After my mother lost one of her two jobs, and after our home was foreclosed, we really had no idea where we were going to live. Our income could not support us in Santa Cruz. When we heard about the Tannery, we were so relieved to get the opportunity to be a part of the community. My mother worked tirelessly to get us in, and it was not easy. Now that we live here, I am incredibly grateful to be in an environment where art is appreciated and fostered. Here at the Tannery, I have seen and met so many people from so many backgrounds, from the ages of 5 to 70, and I really appreciate living in a positive, diverse community where we all have art in common. We now live in an apartment that we can afford to pay for. However, getting the rent paid is not a piece of cake. We work hard, can afford to live here, and do not have much money when the bills are paid. I think that every person deserves access to affordable housing, and I think that it needs to start somewhere.
    Danielle, age 20

  25. I just got a chance to view some artwork produced by the WPA project during the Depression. I’m glad they had the foresight to fund arts during that time when it would have been so easy to let it go.

  26. I’m stunned to read these comments. The city’s commitment to the Tannery lofts is a fine example of “enlightened self-interest” for the City, for, after all, a center of art in which artists are living, creating and exhibiting is a tourist attraction…the processes of art, the creative process is fascinating to people who come to see artists carving marble, pulling an etching print , casting plaster, throwing pots, it’s been done in communities with great success…and this is a community with a reputation of being a center of arts and, quite intelligently, the city hopes to use that to create another attraction for tourists. Let’s face it, a few hundred garage mechanics would be absolutely unique in the world, but maybe not such a powerful attraction for anyone with a good mechanic already…whereas one artist is never enough…
    Other countries support artists with stipends and subsidies, the US doesn’t. When it did, during the WPA…just look at the heritage that program left, our own post office, Coit Tower, scores of extraordinary treasures in our own Bay Area are STILL attractions. During the Johnson Administration’s “Great Society” there was a highly successful program hiring artists to work for nonprofits for community benefit projects–and this helped great nonprofits get off the ground, doing publications, videos, music, teaching, doing art therapy, telling people’s stories…and they made a big difference. I know, I was there.
    C’mon Santa Cruz, in a time of trouble, don’t resent those who get a little help, rejoice that help exists, and reach out.

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