Today on my morning subway commute, I noticed some EMT workers walking past me with all their gear. I did not pay too much attention, I was in a hurry to get to work, however as I got to the other end of the platform, I was met with the overpowering smell of bleach. I looked down and discovered an MTA worker moping up a red substance. It took my brain a split second to process that for the first time in my entire NYC subway travels, (10 years and counting,) I was seeing blood getting wiped away.
This this might not seem very dramatic to some, NYC is a big city and certainly stuff does happen here – and in this particular occurrence, with no sign of police on the scene, I assume the blood was not the result of an act of violence. But it spooked me nonetheless, especially considering just last week on the same platform, I watched a man escape from the clutches of a transit cop, and handcuffed, jump down onto the R/W track and disappear. He was soon followed by about 10 bewildered looking cops. The escape managed to shut down the entire N/S subway traffic for a good 20 minutes. In my 10 years of subway riding I have seen some strange things, but in Giuliani & post-Giuliani NYC, this level of mayhem is rare. But I have noticed a chance since the collapse of Wall Street this fall, things are no longer just frayed around the edges, but starting unravel.
In the past 2 months, I personally have had several rather intense and fraught encounters. And several people have told me stories, that have really made me question if we are on the verge of a collective breakdown. One story, involved a person leaving an incredibly hostile, threatening phone call, fueled by professional jealousy. The anonymous caller felt the need to tell her, she was ugly and other choice expletives, which no matter how much you may dislike a person, are never appropriate to use. Another friend had someone take the time to send them an email, basically just to tell them that they thought their photography sucked. This person did not even remove their name from the email. Another person received an email that was an angry, three paragraph tirade, and by anger, I mean personal, venomous, attack. What is going on people!!!!! When did this type of behavior become acceptable? I cannot ever remember so many negative, random acts of hostility. However, considering the current economic horror show, I am not surprised.
To me, one the first priority’s of the Obama administration should be to institute a qualified non-political commission to investigate the incredible malfeasance in Wall Street and in banking which has led to this global recession/depression. Because as much as we should focus on recovery, most people are suffering from feelings of incredible anger, and a sense that they are powerless to do anything about it. When you read that the wives of mega hedgefunds managers, CEO’s & investment bankers, are struggling to make do with their housekeepers coming 5 days a week instead of seven, or buying one pair of $700 Manolo’s, instead of three, it is hard to not want to burn down the whole of Greenwich, CT. Perhaps this is why so many people are acting out on strangers. Someone must take the brunt of our collective anxiety, fear & anger. Of course, these feelings are destructive and the exact opposite of what will help to lift us out of this economic disaster. I think most of us, would feel a lot better, if we considered pooling our resources and supporting each other to survive this period of instability.
The art world has been particularly affected by the economic crisis. One could easily argue, that when a roof over ones head & food on the table become issues, art tends to drop down on list of importance. But abandoning art and artists at this moment, could have a profound effect on how we interpret and think about this moment in culture. So now more than ever, it seems crucial that the art world pull together to make it through the storm.
On great example of this is the the Humble Arts Foundation. They just released their Collectors Guide, which they are in the process of distributing to the art industry and collectors. (full disclosure my work is featured in the guide.) And while artists did pay a fee, once they were chosen to be included, it was modest, and was paid in two installments. Humble footed almost the entire production bill themselves. And by distributing the guide in the art world, they are giving every artist in the book incredible exposure. Now, they very easily could have used the guide as a way to make money for the foundation, but they are choosing to use it as a tool to showcase artists, just like their group & solo shows do.
What impresses me most about this choice is that we are all in extremely difficult positions. Gallery owners have incredible overhead to meet, artists have fewer outlets and opportunities, and non-profit’s donations are drying up. So if there has ever been time to consider how we can work together, this is it. If not, when this crisis is over, there will be dramatically fewer players left on the field. Some may argue that this is a good thing, but keep in mind, that fewer galleries, museums and organizations mean fewer opportunities for artists. And while yes, the art market has been over-hyped, over-saturated and over-indulged for sometime, leaving it to starve to death now, is no panacea.
So if you find yourself feeling like venting, take a few moments and consider what you could bring to the table rather than what you can knock off of it.