I had a conversation with an established business leader recently.
We were talking about some connections The Arts Partnership could help him make to the arts community. It was an exciting conversation because he has a lot of irons in the fire, and the potential for many artists to benefit from the dialogue felt very possible.
But then he said something that I haven't been able to shake: "Dayna, I don't know much about how this works, so I guess I'll just ask: how do YOU get paid? I mean, how does The Arts Partnership benefit from this type of work?"
In my eight years with The Arts Partnership, no one has ever directly asked me that. I've had hundreds of conversations with people who want to connect to artists, want to know my opinion on this or that or want to use The Arts Partnership as a resource, and all of that is great.
But as I so often say about people offering "exposure" to artists in lieu of pay, "You can't eat exposure." The same is true for the work we do at The Arts Partnership.
Conversations don't put food on my or my staff's tables; helping businesses see the value in working with real artists doesn't pay our bills. Of course, we do this work because we are passionate about it, but it's also our job. And people should get paid for doing their jobs.
It's a rare professional in any field who will give more than a cursory moment of time to an offhanded question that should be asked during billable hours. And that's appropriate.
I remember being with a local doctor I know in a social setting once. I had a concerning mole and asked her if she would just look at it quickly. She was happy to comply, and gave me great relief when she said it was nothing to worry about.
That little moment of generosity with her expertise has prompted me to use her clinic for other treatments because I so appreciated her willingness to put my mind at ease. And of course, I have paid for subsequent treatments and visits.
One of the hard things about the arts is that they can be abstract and difficult to "bill." Questions like, "How long did this take you to paint/make/memorize?" and "Why would I pay this price when I could get something just like this at (name your big-box store) or watch it on (name your streaming program) for way less money?" immediately diminish the years of expertise artists build up as well as the inherent talent they possess in the first place.
To continue my medical example, think about a doctor looking at the back of a sore throat and immediately knowing it's strep. That took seconds of time, but we are billed for their years of looking at sore throats as well as their ability to write a prescription. No doctor's note, no prescription. Period.
The Arts Partnership is like that doctor. We are often the key to connecting artists and arts organizations to the larger community. Do we give out advice free of charge? You bet. But do we also need to be paid for our expertise and resources to get you to the arts? Absolutely.
Here's to paying professionals of all stripes for their expertise, their talents and their ability to make a difference in our lives, and that includes the arts.
Dayna Del Val, president and CEO of The Arts Partnership, writes a monthly column for Life. For more information on the arts, go to theartspartnership.net.