Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Is there a creative economy in Second Life?

In the context of a maillist discussion, this video was posted, sparking my comments as below.

SLCC 2011 The Creative Economy In Second Live by Sitearm Madonna aka James Neville from Sitearm Madonna on Vimeo.



It is interesting to note that Richard Florida moved to Canada, citing in part the Canadian national and Toronto civic understanding of the role of the public sector in supporting cultural assets for the creative economy. Second Life by contrast is a very libertarian, free-enterprise environment with extremely limited public support for the inworld arts community.

Different art forms are able to support themselves more or less in a free market system depending upon costs, popularity, and market fluctuations in ticket prices or art sales. Only the "lowest common denominator" in the arts are able to survive solely on earned revenues: pop music, mass-market films, etc. The economic formulas for successful museums, orchestras, opera companies have been remarkably stable for more than 100 years and across national borders although the form of public support may vary. In one nation it is all direct grants, in others there are mail discounts, some offer tax breaks for private/corporate donors or subsidies to concert halls for the provision of free or inexpensive facilities. I can expound in a lot of detail on this topic (and have elsewhere). In 1881 when the Boston Symphony was founded (the first professional symphony in N. America) the Board proposed a business plan to the City of Boston that showed only 50% of revenues coming from ticket sales. The rest of the income was to come from government 25% and private/corporate donors 25%. With slight variations, that is the formula for a successful orchestra today. If government support & private support goes down and you raise ticket prices, people stop coming. If you reduce costs by using lower quality musicians or a cheaper hall, people stop coming. There is no way to beat the formula in the long run. (God knows I have tried, like every other artistic manager in the biz.)

Second Life arts is full of dedicated volunteers, curious arts experimenters and trial projects. It is not home to many arts projects that are professional and sustainable. (I can't name one.) Every year that I have run Music Island, I have seen colleagues leave Second Life because their efforts have not been sustainable. Sometimes they leave happy for the good experiences and sad to not be able to continue, other times they leave bitter and disillusioned. Reasons for disillusionment vary. My own series is made possible because I elected to work parttime because I found SL music interesting and restorative. The cost to me and my family was about a $25,000 reduction in income annually for the past two years. Had I taken that step in order to launch.... oh... a chamber series in a Toronto church, I have absolutely no doubt that I could have raised more than enough from Canadian arts foundations & others to pay myself and the artists. However Second Life is a different animal. RL arts funders are interested in RL arts projects in a particular location featuring local or national artists. International virtual projects are too "far out", outside the scope of the funders, and on top of that Linden Lab seems intent on sending a marketing message about the world that is not welcoming to education and culture, but rather highlights the social and game-like elements. Within the virtual world itself I feel there is little understanding by Linden Lab of the vital role cultural assets have played in making the community attractive to its creative class, the damage that has been done to that creative class by driving out educators and non-profits, and the number of arts series, like my own, that are running out of steam. The libertarian philosophy that seems to be at the core of Linden thinking is that if something is worthwhile it will be able to raise its own funding in the free market. History refutes this view. Historically the arts have only flourished with the support of the King, the Church, or democratic governments. I'm not sure which of these the Lindens are most like, but whichever, there is little public arts support available within SL.

I'd like to add that I am far from bitter or disillusioned. I made my own decisions and I have found the generosity of the musicians that perform at Music Island, humbling and heart-warming. We are all here for the music and the fans, but persevere despite the Lindens and the crass free-enterprise, commercial & adult-entertainment community they have fostered.

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