The Performing Arts and the Economy (2009)

Naama Zahavi-Ely

In times like these, when millions are out of a job or losing their homes, how can one ask fellow-citizens to donate to luxuries like art, rather than help people make a living?

One could argue that the arts are not a luxury but a necessity. My point is far less lofty. I would argue that by supporting the performing arts, we are in fact creating and sustaining jobs - worthy and deserving jobs.

Performing artists, by and large, don't work for the sake of money. The hard labor and the long and costly training required by their professions rarely win adequate compensation in purely monetary terms. Artists choose their professions for love: they love music and ballet and theater, and they want to share that love with you. They want to share with you their music, their acting, their dancing, their vision of a great masterpiece that cannot come fully to life without being performed. In order to do so, they need to make a living. And some of them manage to make their living by performing art.

Without an audience, there can be no performing arts. One can't put a production in a drawer, like a poem or a painting waiting to be discovered in better times, and one can't perform in a vacuum. So, if you love music - if you love theater - if you love opera - if you love ballet: please do your part. Please come: if you can't afford expensive tickets, buy the less expensive ones. Please support your local companies, and the national companies we all benefit from. Please enable the musicians to transport you with their music, the actors to perform their magic, the ballerinas to soar, the directors to create their alternate reality, one evening at a time. Please give an opportunity to those who work behind the stage -- the organizers, the builders of sets, the lighting directors, the costume-makers - to do their part. They are skilled in making wonders out of almost nothing; but they do need to be given the opportunity to work their wonders.

If you support the performing arts - by attending and buying tickets, and by offering donations - you are sustaining jobs that cannot be exported overseas. There are few profiteering middlemen in the performing arts, either on the stage or behind it: the gleanings are too slim for those not moved by love of the arts. By supporting local companies, you enable dedicated artists to continue sharing the excitement of live arts with you and with your loved ones. By supporting the large, national companies such as the Metropolitan Opera or the Martha Graham Dance Company, you help make the arts available at the highest level to yourself and to millions of others.

Every symphony orchestra or local opera company that folds is a major loss. Beginning performers must start somewhere, and so must choreographers, directors, and set designers. If there are no smaller companies for them to begin and develop in, we may find ourselves years from now starved at the top. Even with up-to-date broadcasting like the Metropolitan Opera in HD, which I love and urge you to attend, there is no substitute for a live performance. But for that to happen, one needs to have performing companies within reach. Each such institution holds intangibles that can be lost irretrievably: a hands-on tradition of the craft passed from veterans to newcomers, a spirit of collaboration, an artistic vision, a place in the lives of families.

So - please do your part. Come to concerts. Applaud your favorite opera diva or divo. Support young artists' programs. Donate if you can. Let Shakespeare go on living, and Euripides, and Sophocles. Let Don Giovanni keep up his catalog of ladies, and Musetta charm her admirers. Let them transport you to a world where there is no recession, and help them preserve the ephemeral thread of the performing arts, one evening at a time.

Thank you.