With it being Labor Day, which for many is the official end of the summer, it's a time to look ahead to the Fall and figure out how to finish 2016 strong. This fall I'll be preparing and rehearsing Cinderella en España with Seattle Opera starting in January, and my Cantor/Section Leader position at St. Mary Magdalen ramps back up this Thursday. I also will be debuting an All-American Recital at the end of this month, and have other potential performances after it. Just like my last post, I'm hoping for more, but am anxiously engaged in whatever I'm working on and happy with what I have.
In the arts world we had a little issue last week with a Wells Fargo ad we felt went over the line. Below is the infamous ad that sparked quite an outrage in our community. This issue needs a little unpacking, because perhaps we (the art community) overreacted.
First of all, artists of all kinds are passionate about their art to the point they will often live in poverty, give up many "normal things" of life in pursuit of it, and realize how important it is in every culture. Think about the following for a second if you are a non-arts person. Would you make a career of your 9-5 job knowing it brings constant judgement from both informed and uninformed people (many of which you've never met), a constant influx of income, almost never feeling you've "arrived" and can coast to the end, seeing people on popular talent competitions who haven't gone through the training/ups and downs you have make millions for a few years until they are used up by their agents, having to deal with unending amounts of competition and rejection in your field to the point that it's been said that if you get work from 10% of your auditions that's considered successful? Perspective is important in this issue.
We are often looked down upon, seen as weird, told we should get a real job, and that we should do our art for free because anyone can theoretically do it. I would venture to guess that the vast majority of people having issues with the ad are those who went to college for the arts, and many of them going into decent amounts of debt to have advanced degrees in music, dance, theater, art, etc... Even with that experience and training, we are CONSTANTLY told to do things for free. Would you expect a doctor, dentist, chef, plumber, construction worker (especially one you just met since when we tell people what we do they always ask us to sing) etc... to just do things for free? Good luck with that.
So when we see ads like the one above we are reminded yet again how society doesn't value the arts like they should or at least we feel they should. This isn't the first time a major company does an ad campaign that either flat out or subtly says, "the arts aren't a real career choice, get a real job/back up job". Naturally, when this was discovered, our community took to the Twitterverse and Book of Faces and expressed our anger or at least disappointment at the lack of oversight. Not only that, but every time something like this happens there's the irony that an artist of some sort, whether collegiately trained or not, is the one who made the ad. The fact they didn't say anything might say more about job security as an artist than anything else.
Buuuuuuuuut..... was this the right reaction? At least the anger part? Last year, Wells Fargo contributed $93 Million towards the arts, culture, and education. Who knows what the percentages were between the three categories, but at least we can say there was a significant effort. Due to that, my thought is they weren't likely being malicious on purpose. They clearly are shelling out cash to us or organizations we associate with and we shouldn't bite the hand that helps feeds us, right? Perhaps our knee jerk reaction wasn't the right one.
Was it poorly worded? Yes. Should someone have seen the potential slam to us? Yes, and that's mostly because you have to assume there are artists working on it. Should we be outraged like some of the videos we see of the worldwide atrocities across the globe? I don't know. Is a very poorly worded ad that continues a stereotype that we are sick of dealing with on the same level as for example the human collateral damage of war/terrorism? How about childhood poverty? Or other social injustices? That's for you to decide. I understand everyone has their causes they care deeply about, but perspective is important.
In case you're wondering, Wells Fargo did change the ad and it's message could be seen somewhat the same way if you want to interpret it that way, but it not a slam to the arts at least. The effort was appreciated. Hopefully they and other companies will have better oversight in the future.