The Top 10 Places to Be an Artist

It’s not easy being an artist. Most of those who try to make a living from their creative pursuits either never pull it off, or just barely squeak by (ultimately requiring supplemental income from a different job altogether). But depending on where you live, you might have an easier time dedicating yourself fully to your craft without sacrificing your standard of living. Consider the following ten countries or regions listed by AlterNet as some of the most artist-friendly in the world.

1. Germany: Germany’s cultural budget was approximately $1.63 billion USD in 2013. According to Ian Moss, research director of Fractured Atlas, Germany’s art funding in 2007 equated to roughly $20 per German citizen, which “dwarfs the 41 cents per red-blooded American provided by the NEA. What artist wouldn’t want to live there?” Moss told Huffington Post. Since the 1970s, Germany has implemented a federal program for art purchases and the collection of contemporary art in a bid to support artist organizations and bodies. In fact, publicly funded cultural institutions are used to educate people to promote interest in art. In 2013, the German culture budget rose by 8 percent even despite an overall federal budget decrease by 3.1 percent.

2. Northern Ireland: The Arts Council of Northern Ireland announced it will award over £13 million ($21 million USD) to arts projects through northern Ireland, including theater and literature for its tiny 1.8 million population. The Arts Council is the development and funding agency for the arts in Northern Ireland. It distributes public money and National Lottery funds to develop art projects and events throughout the country for both individual international artists to perform in Ireland as well as organizations.

3. France: France has always had a vast appreciation for art and culture, which it considers almost holy. Home to some of the most prominent art displays in the world, French museums generate over 20 million viewers a year. The budget of the French Ministry of Culture for 2013 was close to €7.4 billion ($10 billion USD) with €3.5 billion ($4.73 billion USD) dedicated to the cultural field alone.  Despite such a large distribution, these figures actually represent a 2.3 percent drop in art, which has prompted protests and strikes across the country in recent times.

4. Sweden: The Swedish Arts Council is a government authority that implements national cultural policy by allocating generous funding to performing arts, music and literature. Every year, huge sums of public money are dished out to punk rock and indie music bands, which AmericanRepublicans have criticized. In 2011, the Swedish government spent 2.60% of its central government spending on culture alone. The Swedish Arts Grant Committee allocates approximately 100 million SEK to the arts ($15 million USD) for its modest 9 million people. Moreover, the Nordic Culture Fund supports artistic and cultural cooperation between all the Nordic countries. The fund goes a step further, even supporting architecture, design, visual arts, performing arts, film, literature, music and multicultural projects.

5. Australia: In Australia, government expenditure for the arts and cultural activities in 2011-2012 period was estimated to be approximately $7 billion for a population of only 22 million. In 2013, the Australia government confirmed an additional $75.3 million in funding over four years to support Australian artists and art organizations. The government supports the arts in Australia through a number of programs including arts training bodies, music, film festivals and also includes radio and television. Each state in Australia has an Arts Council that provides the majority of funding. In 2008–’09, cultural funding by all three tiers of government averaged $311.77 per person in Australia.

6. Finland: In Finland, the Ministry of Education oversees arts and cultural funding and directly supports individual artists through extensive cultural and professional training schemes supported by the central government. In 2011, government expenditure on culture was €33 million ($44.61 million USD) for its 5.3 million citizens with €14 million ($18.93 million USD) spend on individual artists alone. Remarkably, Finnish visual artists are entitled to receive a five-year salary paid by the Finnish Art Council.

7. England: The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is responsible for the arts in the United Kingdom, funding art through Arts Council England, which merged with other arts boards to distribute grants and National Lottery funds to support “good causes” in the arts. At present, the National Lottery has provided a benefit of £165 per person ($269 USD) in London compared to £47 per person ($76.64 USD) for the rest of England, which has angered British residents about unfair regional distributions. In 2012-2013 alone, DCMS funded 16 major national museums and galleries totaling £447 million ($728 million USD) according to The Conversation.

8. Uzbekistan: In 2004, the Forum of Culture and Arts of Uzbekistan Foundation was established and is the largest public organization in Uzbekistan dedicated to reviving and funding the arts. The Forum provides financial support for young talent and craft dynasties and has generated increased international support with offices all over the world including Moscow, Beijing and Paris. The group organizes annual festivals like the Youth of Uzbekistan Festival of Fine Arts and joint opera concerts, which generate major public participation. Even during the Soviet period, the government gave extensive support to the arts, built cultural centers and paid the salaries of professional artists. Unfortunately, government censorship issues have impacted various art projects, which have restricted most art festivals to the capital of Tashkent. Nonetheless, the fund continues to organize state-endorsed exhibitions and support its artists.

9. Mexico: Mexican artists can pay their taxes with artwork in an “art-for-amnesty” type exchange, according to USA Today. Since 1957, the Mexican government has offered artists a deal where if they are able to sell five artworks in a year, they can offer the government artwork in lieu of tax payments. Under the scheme, the government displays the art in museums and government offices and loans them out for special exhibitions. Participants must register with the Tax Administration Service and submit their work to a jury to prove they have actually shown or sold artwork. To date, there are around 700 artists registered and the Mexican government has amassed 8,000 works of art.

10. The Balkans: The Balkans Arts and Culture Fund (BAC) provides funding for the arts with a view to strengthening and promoting artistic cultural development in the Western Balkans specifically to bridge broken relationships in the former Yugoslavia. BAC is financially supported by the European Cultural Foundation and the Open Society Foundations as well a number of other European cities like Amsterdam and Budapest which largely back the arts in their own countries.

Minus Uzbekistan, whose government is notoriously authoritarian, most of these countries aren’t bad places to live overall.  Perhaps it’s no coincide that most of them have long cultural heritages that make preserving and encouraging artistic expression vital. In fact, in many cultures art is seen a universal birthright to be cultivated by society as a whole through public funds, rather than as a private or market commodity.

If you’re wondering how the U.S. fares for artists by comparison, consider that three years ago, funding for the arts hit a record low, constituting only 0.28 percent of the government’s non-military budget; in that same span of time, local government spending on art also dropped by 21 percent. Private funding has always declined by around nine percent, albeit let dramatically but nonetheless troubling given the lack of alternative support elsewhere.

What do you think? Are the arts a public good that the deserve government funding? Or should their funding be left up to the market?

 

Twenty-One Children and Their Bedrooms From Around the World

PolicyMic is featuring the engaging works of James Mollison, a Kenyan-born, English photographer based in Venice whose 2011 photo book, Where Children Sleep, collects photos of various children and their sleeping quarters. It was meant to draw attention to each child’s “material and cultural circumstances” and to put perspective on the class, poverty, and the diversity of children worldwide.

I strongly suggest you check it out here; it’s well worth your time. Some of these images are pretty powerful, highlighting the vast discrepancies in standard of living between (and within) countries around the world. Many of the subjects have a lot of personality and character as well (which is no doubt why they were chosen.

Lessons of Hope from

Life is beautiful, extremely beautiful. And when you are old you appreciate it more. When you are older you think, you remember, you care and you appreciate. You are thankful for everything. For everything.”

My temperament. This optimism and this discipline. Punctually, at 10 a.m., I am sitting there at the piano, with everything in order around me. For 30 years, I have eaten the same — fish or chicken. Good soup, and this is all. I don’t drink — not tea, not coffee, not alcohol. Hot water. I walk a lot with terrible pains, but after 20 minutes it is much better. Sitting or lying is not good.

That was Alice Herz-Sommer, the world’s oldest-known Holocaust survivor, in a 2006 interview with the Guardian. died in London this past Sunday at the age of 110. Most people her age (or even younger) would hardly be as sprightly and enthusiastic, yet despite both her years and her tremendous personal tragedy, she remained this way to the end. As NPR noted:

Bear in mind: In 1943, Herz-Sommer and her husband, Leopold Sommer, and their son, Raphael, were sent from Prague to a Nazi camp for Jews in the Czech city of Terezin. According to The Guardian, “she never saw her husband again after he was moved to Auschwitz in 1944 and many in her extended family and most of the friends she had grown up with were also lost in the Holocaust.”

According to the BBC, Herz-Sommer and her son “were among fewer than 20,000 people who were freed when Terezin was liberated by the Soviet army in May 1945. An estimated 140,000 Jews were sent there and 33,430 died there. About 88,000 were transported on to Auschwitz and other death camps, where most were killed.”

Even amid the unspeakable misery and despair of a concentration camp, she did everything in her power to keep hope alive. As shown in the Oscar-nominated documentaryThe Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, Herz-Sommer, then already a pianist, joined others to perform music in order to lift the spirits of prisoners.

On the film’s website, Herz-Sommer was quoted about the role music played in her life:

She speaks with great pride and passion of playing more than 100 concerts inside the concentration camp and she likens that experience, both for the performers and their imprisoned audience as being close to the divine. Alice is unequivocal in stating that music preserved her sanity and her life — while bringing hope into the lives of countless others. To this day Alice never tires of saying ‘music saved my life and music saves me still.’ “

The film’s creators added an even more remarkable observation:

Despite all that has befallen her, Alice insists that she has never, ever hated the Nazis, and she never will. Some see in her tolerance and compassion a secular saint who has been blessed with the gift of forgiveness, but Alice is far more pragmatic — she has seen enough in her life to know all too well that hatred eats the soul of the hater, not the hated.

I’m at a loss on how someone can be so liberated of hate and despair despite so much tragedy (indeed, her son had died abruptly in 2001, but years later she remained no less positive about life). Even as she approached the end of her 110-year-long life, she remained a passionate and accomplished musician — in fact, she was also the oldest pianist. Here is a brief but touching video of how she was still touching lives even at a 109.

Eight Cool Photos of the Monuments Men

I’m not sure how the upcoming film will turn out, but the real-life story of the “Monuments Men” is certainly amazing. I wish I had the time to get into it, but here’s a brief summary: in 1943, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) program — whose staff was known collectively as ” Monuments Men” —  to help rescue art and cultural property from obliteration or looting during World War II.

Previously, there had been academic and cultural institutions working to identify or protect European art that was in danger of destruction or plundering. But as the war intensified and the Allies advanced into occupied territory, these groups realized that military and government support was needed, and took their concerns to Washington to spur action. At its peak, the MFAA unit comprised 345 men and women from 13 countries, which included a mix of servicemembers and some of the foremost curators, art historians, museum directors, and other cultural figures.

By 1945, the group sifted through more than 1,000 stashes of art to identify and save an estimated 5 million pieces of artwork and cultural items, mostly stolen from wealthy Jews, museums, universities, and religious institutions. Even six years after the surrender, a smaller group of about 60 Monuments Men continued scouring Europe as private art detectives. Most of the unit would go on to serve in universities, museums, art galleries, and archives across the world.

Anyway, you can check out some of these great photos here. I hope the new film, which I am interested in watching, does this amazing and under-appreciated effort justice.

Project 562

That’s the name of an excellent project up on Kickstarter launched by Matika Wilbur, who aims to collect photographic stories from citizens of every federally recognized tribe in the United States. Not only will this gather the vital narratives and perspectives of a marginalized and under-appreciated group,  but it will result in books, exhibitions, and curricula that will educate generations for years to come. Here’s a great summary of this initiative by the ambitious Wilbur herself:

Last December, I sold everything in my Seattle apartment, packed a few essentials into my war pony, and hit the open road. Since then, I’ve been embarking on an epic adventure: Project 562.

For the past year I have been fulfilling the project’s goal of photographing citizens of each federally recognized tribe in the United States (there are now 566). Most of the time, I’ve been invited to geographically remote reservations to take portraits and hear stories from a myriad of tribes, while at other times I’ve photographed members of the 70 percent of Native Americans living in urban settings. My hope, is that when the project is complete, it will serve to educate the nation and shift the collective consciousness toward recognizing our own indigenous communities.

Imagine walking through an exhibit and realizing the complex variety of contemporary Native America. Imagine experiencing a website or book, that offered insight into every Tribal Nation in the United States. What if you could download previously untold histories and stories from Apaches, Swinomish, Hualapai, Northern Cheyenne, Tlingit, Pomo, Lumbee, and other first peoples? What if you had heard those stories in grade school?

Such a task hasn’t been undertaken since 1906, so we’re long overdue for a contemporary and vital recollection of America’s misunderstood indigenous heritage. Indeed, as the project’s official mission statement notes:

Project 562 creatively addresses and remedies historical inaccuracies, stereotypical representations, and the absence of Native American images and voices in mass media and the national consciousness.  I believe that there is an open space that is yet to be filled- that space is authentic images and stories from within Native America. My work aims to humanize, the otherwise “vanishing race”, and share the stories that our people would like told. In this respectful way, I have been welcomed into hundreds of tribal communities, and I have found that people welcome Project 562, because they are ready to see things change. Conversations about tribal sovereignty, self-determination, wellness, recovery from historical trauma, and revitalization of culture will accompany the photos in captions, video, and audio recordings.

The time of sharing, building cultural bridges, abolishing racism and honoring the legacy that this country is built on is among us. Project 562 is that platform.

You can learn more about the project on Upworthy or visit the official Kickstater page here, where to can see more videos, photos, and details, and donate whatever you can before February 21st. Thankfully, Project 352 has already garnered nearly three times its funding goals, which means we can expect an even more beautiful and in-depth collection of stories and photos.

Gustav Klimt’s Death and Life

“Death and Life”, by Gustav Klimt. Begun in 1908 and completed in 1916.

This painting is unique in that it portrays death with a sense of hope and acceptance — instead of feeling threatened by the figure of death, the humans seem unconcerned. Even the personification of death doesn’t seem particularly menacing, comparatively speaking.

Klimt was near the end of his life at the time — he would pass away two years later — and the painting has been interpreted as reflecting his acceptance of mortality. Indeed, he chose to depict moments of pleasure, beauty, youth, and serenity among his subjects.

Captain Phillips and the Complexity of Somali Piracy

Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks in the title role, was recently released in theaters with much critical and financial success. I haven’t seen the film myself, although I had heard vaguely about incident on which it was based. Unfortunately, though perhaps unsurprisingly, the film hardly reflects reality, mischaracterizing the titular captain as being far more heroic than he really was, and taking considerable liberty with how the whole event played out.

All that aside, the more unfortunate misconception will not be about Captain Phillips’s character, but about the background and circumstances around the hijacking. Given that the film is intended to be a fast-paced thriller, there wasn’t much effort to provide a context for why piracy is endemic in that part of the world — which for the sake of entertainment, would be an acceptable omission to make, were it not for the fact that most Americans learn about other parts of the world through the variable perspectives of filmmakers (Indeed, given how much our society consumes entertainment media, it’s usually the dominant influence on all sorts of ideas and values.)

As an article in Slate noted, piracy off the coast of Somalia stems from a number of factors, many of which are the responsibility of the outside world:

For instance: In the film, Muse [the pirate captain] briefly mentions foreign vessels coming to take away the fish off the Somali coast. Viewers new to the subject may not know what to make of these remarks, but they refer to what many observers believe was a precipitating cause of the uptick in Somali piracy roughly 20 years ago. When the regime of longtime Somali dictator Siad Barre collapsed in 1991, the country was plunged into ongoing violence between rival armed groups and left without a central government capable of defending the country’s economic interests—including the “exclusive economic zone” off the Somali coast. Fleets from Europe and Asia quickly moved in, depleting the supply of fish.

As an African Development Bank report from 2011 put it, “Fishermen, dismayed at the inability of the central government to protect their country’s EEZ, and at the number of foreign fishing vessels illegally exploiting their traditional fisheries, took matters into their own hands. Initially arming themselves to chase off the illegal foreign fishing vessels, they quickly realized that robbing the vessels was a lucrative way to make up for lost income. Seeing their success, land based warlords co-opted some of the new pirates, organizing them into increasingly sophisticated gangs.” (There have also been periodic reports of toxic waste being dumped off Somalia’s shores, including by the Italian mafia.

Unlike pirates in most parts of the world, who specialize in stealing goods on board ships, Somali pirates nearly always hold ships for ransom, sometimes for months at a time. (The Maersk Alabama incident depicted in Captain Phillips was unusual in that the crew fought off the pirates after they had already boarded.) Shipping companies were generally willing to write off pirate ransoms as the cost of doing business. This ransoms could reach as high as $9.5 million though they were generally around half of that. So it’s not surprising that the pirates in the movie aren’t impressed by Phillips’ offer of the $30,000 in the ship’s safe.

By 2008, piracy had grown into a $50 million per year industry in the country. In 2009, the year of the Maersk Alabama hijacking, pirates carried out 214 attacks, leading to 47 hijackings. By 2011 it was up to 237, though the number of successful hijackings decreased.

In other words, piracy is driven by a combination of political instability, economic collapse, and sheer desperation, all of which have been compounded by the external plundering of one of the last major sources of food and income.

None of this justifies piracy of course, but it does highlight the nuance and moral complexity of these sorts of phenomena — as in most issues in international relations, the causes and motivations are rarely clear cut or black and white. Piracy thrives largely in impoverished and lawless areas for a reason. Lacking any sort of opportunity, many Somalis simply don’t have a choice.

From what I’ve read, Captain Phillips does make an effort to show some of this nuance, and apparently portrays the pirates’ plight somewhat sympathetically. Regardless, my issues is less with the movie and more with how portrayals of the outside world in entertainment media is so often taken at face value…an issue for another day.

Mapping the World’s Most Popular YouTube Videos

It’s self-evident that the internet has done much to bring different cultures together, helping to facilitate or event create trends that transcend boundaries and languages. This is especially the case with social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, through which people can access each other’s posts, videos, music, and other outputs freely and easily.

In order to better understand this cultural globalization, the MIT Center for Civic Media that has launched What We Watch, a website which tracks global video watching trends based on collected public data from YouTube’s Trends Dashboard. Through its neat interactive map, you can view how culture spreads through YouTube videos, and can even pinpoint where a particular video is trending and which countries and regions tend to share the most similar tastes.

Foreign Policy has an article on the project that includes a few interesting case studies — for example, some videos (such as Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball”) seemed to be popular across many different countries, while others were limited mostly to those with shared languages and cultures. The results are pretty interesting:

While Argentines, Colombians, Mexicans, and Peruvians tend to watch the same videos as one another, Portuguese-speaking Brazilians are outliers in Latin America, having more in common — at least when it comes to YouTube — with Australia, Canada, and Sweden, among others (though not, it seems, Portugal).

Turkey — that bridge between East and West — favors popular videos in Europe, like this One Direction video, to those in the Middle East, which include several clips from Arab Idol and a music video by Elissa, which was trending in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Oman, and Saudi Arabia, among others. (Admittedly, language likely plays a significant role here.)

The project is in part a way to find videos you might not have come across in your own country. But the map’s creators also want it to capture how culture spreads: Which videos blow up, and what paths do they take? Just how did the Dutch start watching a video by Alfaaz featuring Yo!Yo! Honey Singh, for instance? Why do some videos, like this ridiculous British ad for cereal, never win over a global audience,while this very sweet ad for Google Hangouts has garnered widespread global popularity — except in the United States, which appears to be its intended target?

Two countries that could serve as bridges, researchers found, are the United Arab Emirates and Singapore –  both notable as small countries that share a lot of content with a wide range of nations. Both have large expatriate populations as well as large numbers of “guest workers.” “We can imagine a video popular in India making its way to Yemen through the United Arab Emirates,” researcher Ethan Zuckerman wrote.

It’s pretty neat stuff, and definitely worth checking out. You’ll also get to view these most popular videos yourself, so you can better see what your fellow global citizens are into — and whether you can relate!

Behind the Veil: Visions of the Islamic World

The Economist’s cultural columnist, Prospero, recently reported on a fascinating new exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts that seeks to offer a nuanced and intimate view of the Islamic world as presented by its own denizens. The premise had already piqued my interest, but the review is even more encouraging.

“She Who Tells A Story” collects the work of 12 contemporary female photographers and film-makers from the Middle East. At a time when American and European views of the Islamic world tend to be filtered through a lens of fear and anxiety, these images offer a more nuanced portrait of a culturally complicated place.

Take for example the giant triptych that opens the show. “Bullets Revisited #3″ (pictured top, 2012) by the Moroccan-born Lalla Essaydi depicts an olive-skinned woman draped across a sumptuously bejewelled bed against an ornately tiled wall. The image recalls the sensuous odalisque paintings of Western art history—a clichéd view of Eastern opulence that Said railed against in his 1978 book “Orientalism”. But closer inspection reveals that the bed in the photograph is made from shimmering bullet casings; the tiles are too. The woman’s body is covered in scar-like calligraphy. This enticingly exotic subject of Western fantasy may well be a corpse.

In the “Today’s Life and War” (2008) series by Gohar Dashti, an Iranian photographer, a couple pursues a relationship amid the detritus of a battlefield. They eat supper in front of a tank. Their laundry is strung along barbed wire. Their wedding car has been reduced to a burned out shell. Shadi Ghadirian’s “Nil Nil” (2008) series features still lifes that juxtapose combat boots with red stilettos, a grey helmet and a colourful head scarf, a grenade and a bowl of fruit. These works suggest not so much the atrocity of war but the day-to-day reality of living with it.

Largely narrative-driven and eschewing strict realism, these photographs are measured in their anger and melancholy. Newsha Tavakolian’s “Listen” (2010) series, for example, features portraits of professional Iranian singers who are forbidden to perform in public. She photographs each of them mid-song; with their eyes shut, their faces filled with tenderness and passion, these singers look a bit like classical busts articulating an ancient, nameless pain. Few photographers have used the silence of the medium more gracefully, and to such powerful effect.

The following are some of the samples of the exhibit:

As the writer concludes, this showcase does a great job of humanizing much-maligned and poorly understood group, as well as giving Muslim women a much bigger voice than they’re often credited with. I for one have learned by experience that indulging in the culture of other people — their music, cuisine, film, literature, and art — erodes much of the anxiety and distrust with which we reflexively respond to them. Culture is humanizing, it gives us a common ground to understand one another, and it allows us to see the value in groups or societies for which we have little or no understanding of.

As an agnostic atheist and secular humanist, I of course have disagreements about the Islamic view of the world (as I would with any religion). But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate its cultural and scientific contributions, or that I can’t connect with the raw human element that makes up any given ideological, social, or cultural group. It’s important to see the nuance in all things, and part of that begins by opening our minds to something as simple as an art piece, musical composition, or conversation with the “other” in question.

For those who won’t be able to see the exhibit in person (I being one of them), you can purchase a book that compiles these works here. I’ll definitely be saving up for it.