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The Everlasting Arts Patronage System

Anthony Dean-Harris
Editor-in-Chief / @i_ADH

The arts are a patronage system. We've heard it time and again. Hell, I've repeated it more than once or twice. It's one of those harsh realities that we in the jazz community face all too often and lament quite openly from time to time. Typically it's in the usual talk among musicians about disappearing gigs or how no one buys music anymore. Due to the current political climate, both George Colligan and Ethan Iverson made a variation of the pitch in regards to Mitt Romney and his stance on the NEA over the course of the same 24 hours. While we may know that patronizing the arts requires support from all sorts of avenues, we still fundamentally know that art needs support because people make it and those people still have to live and still need resources to keep making more art.

Over the next few months, I'll be tackling this idea more head on than my usual pontification. This week is KRTU Jazz 91.7 FM's 2012 fall fund drive, wherein I've been spending at least four days out of this week dashing to ringing phones, answering the call of those primarily in San Antonio, Texas, who are acting as patrons to the arts, ensuring that there's a great place to find jazz in this fair city. The Line-Up, a central plank of Nextbop and likely the means in which Seb and I found each other in the sea of the internet in order to become bros for lyfe, would not be if it weren't for KRTU, and I'm continually thankful for the station and all the access it has provided me to springboard everything else I've done through Nextbop. Since I started editing Nextbop about three years ago, the two have always worked hand in hand to make sure the best of jazz today could spread not only to the city of San Antonio, but also all throughout the world. If it's possible for you to pledge a donation to KRTU over the next couple weeks, I'd greatly appreciate it and you would be doing your part as a patron of jazz, ensuring the genre has a place in the world to spread itself.

Yet, this site will also be asking for your patronage fairly soon. While we're more than half a year away, we're once again playing with the idea of putting on a day party in Austin this coming March during the South by SouthWest music festival, and we're determined to pull it off this time. We're still very early in the planning stages, but Kickstarter will likely be the means through which we gather the funds for this event. As this means of bringing this patronage system directly to the people becomes more and more prevalent, it was only a matter of time before we tapped this resource ourselves. It's certainly going to be a challenge to put a project like this together and it's definitely a challenge for me because asking most people for things is a task akin to me asking if there are some molars in the backs of folks' mouths they'd like to part with. However, I'm well aware that these are the things that need to be done in order to acquire the resources to spread art to folks. While I may strongly believe that music criticism is an art, this is a situation where I'm working to present the work of others (who just so happen to be in the middle of one of the most densely packed music festivals [both in its official and unofficial capacities] in the country). This is an activity firmly rooted in the arts and it follows the same rules of the patronage system.

When we think about the ins and outs of the patronage system, the idea of the institution is always present but we mustn't forget that it's still made up of individuals who navigate this system as they so choose. There are those who are responsible enough to buy their music in record stores and pay for all the shows they attend and there are those who will ask for additional backing musicians to play for free and will find little trouble in finding musicians who will agree to those terms. Somewhere in the middle of that range, many of us reside, perhaps paying our covers at the door but torrenting (or Spotifying) and album or two.

This system always has been and always will be, even if the medium changes. While we cannot believe that everyone will follow the same rules, we should all at least try to remember that the structure is there. There are folks out there who will make things and who want to world to see them, but making things requires support -- financial, critical, and emotional. Some folks are willing to give their support, others aren't. Some believe that giving support in exchange for creation is reasonable and others aren't willing to make that same transaction. This always has been and always will be. We're all in this community in the various, fluxuating aspects in which we are producers and consumers of the arts. We could all hope that we'd treat one another fairly in this system, but we know that just won't happen. The system, for good and for ill, always has been and always will be.

Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio. More of his writing can be found at his blog, In Retrospect and you can also follow him on Twitter.