Thursday, August 11, 2011

Do you like living in a world where people you know do stuff?

I've recently come to dislike the giant corporations that surround us. Not for the reasons you might think, though. In large part they've created an attitude, automatic to their existence, which defies logic, goodness, and a healthy way of living. Seems, as soon as people think about what they want to buy, they march into a big store and look for it.

A quick disclaimer here. People are more than welcome to make any choice that they want. If somebody should read this and choose to disagree, I welcome that. I am only venturing to prove logically that this is not the better way to live (in relation to other options). Also, sometimes the big stores can bring some benfits, I'm not saying it's all bad.

I would propose to you that the big corporate attitude has given us less variety, less quality, and taken our money in the process (by our, I mean myself and the people of my city). I realized this on a trip to the drug store the other day to buy soap. Inside the store, the shelf was filled with many brands of soap, no doubt, but they're almost all the same! How many different brands do we need a "Mountain View" scent, and "Spring Morning" scent? (What the heck does mountain view or spring morning smell like anyway?) If I had gone and found a soap shop I would be willing to bet that there would be dozens more variety, not only in scent, but in the type of soaps (what they are made of) and they'd all probably be a higher quality! True, it might cost me slightly more, but here's the catch. When you buy something made locally, more of your money stays in your community. You buy soap from your neighbor who makes soap and then when he wants whatever it is you do he comes and buys it from you. That extra little bit that it might have cost my bottom line actually translates into a much larger amount of my total purchase staying in the community and sustaining myself and my neighbors in the long run.

Rough math example*: Let's say it costs me 3 dollars to buy 1 bar of soap at a local shop, and 2 dollars at Rite Aid. Where does the money go? Employees, overhead, product. For a big chain like Rite Aid, of course the employees are your neighbors, so that money stays here. But who owns the building? Rite Aid? Where are they? And who else is in the company? So part of your 2 bucks is going to some corporate office in who knows where. Another part of your money goes to the soap company in who knows where. Only the money paid directly to the employees is likely to stay in town.

If you purchase from a local shop, as before, the employees keep their share of the money in town. Is it a private building owned by somebody locally? That money would stay in town. Do they buy their supplies from somebody locally? That money would stay in town.

So, for every 2 dollars of a Rite Aid bar of soap, maybe 1 dollar stays locally? For every 3 dollars for the local soap, maybe $2-$2.50 could stay locally?

And if your neighbors have more money, then they can buy more things that you make. Or they can help support more goings on in the community, events, products, people who need help, etc.

(As an aside, I am willing to bet that communities that figure out how to all start working together locally will all ride out the economic downturn much better than those who don't. Seems hard to grow the total value in your community when you're sending your money across the globe as everything is getting harder to sustain.)

 Now everyone is saying, what does this have to do with art?! Plenty. I would also like to disclaimer this by saying this is not a pity party, nor is this a pitch to guilt anyone. I'm not interested in selling anyone on why they should buy my art. It should be evident. If they like what I've done, or want to commission me to do something important for them, and they see value in it, then they'll hire me or buy something.

So, what does this have to do with art? The same thing applies. If you want to live in a world where you have quality soap options, you have to support the people in your neighborhood working their ass off for the soap. If you like living in a world where musicians play music on the street, you've got to put a little change in their tip jar. If you like living in a world where people are making art, you have to buy art when you're looking for it.

I've been at the First Thursday Art in the Park for the last 4-5 months. Sales have been slow for me but they have also been very slow for almost everyone else I have talked to and seen out there. Everyone seems to be having a hard time. Do people like living in a world where the First Thursday Art Walk exists? I'm not entirely convinced that they do. The reason being that I don't think people think about supporting a local artist when they want art. Just like my first thought the other day wasn't to find a local artisan making soap, but to go to Rite Aid.

I'm convinced people want art. Why else would there be giant painting reproductions available in the furniture section of Fred Meyer, or in the frame section of JoAnn Fabrics? How about this? You can buy a giant picture at Ikea for $150. You know what else you could do with $150 bucks? Hire a local photographer to take a photo (of anything you want) for you and print it out! If you spend $150 bucks at Ikea, how much of that stays in your community (and if you buy it off of the website, the answer is only a fraction of what they paid the guy who delievered it)?

If you're a unique person living in your own space that is any way that you want it, why would you ever hang up something generic? At the Art Walk, I know there is several photographers selling prints of their work for under $50. Easily competitive with anything you could buy at Wal Mart or Target. If you wanted a painting or drawing on your wall, wouldn't a painting or drawing of a subject that is emotionally close to you be many times more powerful than anything some yokel rips off of an industrial printer in God knows where?? Why wouldn't people prefer an original work of art?? So why was I inclined to behave this way? Why are we, in general, inclined to believe this way?

Is it really worth a few dollars here and there to cheat yourself out of a quality product, more options, and supporting your neighbors? To some people it might be. That is fair and I am ok with that. But, by and large, thinking locally should start to become a part of our decision making process. I don't know about you but I want to live in a world where my neighbors are craftsmen and musicians. I want to live in a place around creative and industrial people who create quality goods and services. This means that I have to consider looking for somebody locally who produces a good or service that I want. At least consider buying your food from a local farmer at a farmers market, rather than QFC. Consider looking for a soap shop next time you need soap, rather than Rite Aid. Consider hiring skilled neighbor for a small job, rather than phoning the catch-all corporation who dispatches the worker. Next time you want something to hang on your wall consider hiring an artist to make something exactly like what you want, rather than buying a generic something or other screened off by a department store.

The title of this post is maybe a bit misleading. Regardless of the choice you make, people in the world will be making stuff (and you'll know they're from taiwan). Whether they're in your community, whether the stuff is any good, and whether you have any choices are the real things you can impact with the way you behave.

So if you want your neighbors to do things, you've got to support them when they do (and when it fits into the kinds of things you're looking for). Next time you're looking for something, start by looking for somebody in your community who provides that good or service.

*I went to art school. All math guaranteed to not be completely accurate

One example of something local to support if you're into it - The Maple Valley Creative Arts Center is putting on a play by local poet/playwright Ed Corrigan called "The Ave". It's about a homeless woman on the Ave, up in the U-dist by UW. Local play by local peeps about local things. All proceeds benefit the Arts Center, which is a non profit that promotes art in the area.

You could spend the same amount of money one night going to a movie and get some generic experience. Or you can spend your money watching local peeps do something original that you'll never see again, and support your community at the same time. Choice is yours. Maybe I'll see some of you at the play on the 18th!


  1. Appreciate all of your thoughts about staying local. Not only does buying within our community support and sustain it in the long term, it allows those involved to create a more active and attractive space in which to exist. Consider how much time and effort go into the creation and execution of community sponsored events (such as art walks, farmers markets, plays, open mics, music in the park etc. Much of the energy comes from people who don't get paid. Volunteers if you will. These could be board members or just one day helpers. But they believe in something so much that they are willing to take time, our most precious resource, out of their day to make it happen. For the betterment of whoever wants to attend! Often, for free! If you can't monetarily contribute donate your time to something you are passionate about and keep it going.
    Artists (all varieties)are passionate. Support them. The funny thing about art is that no one asks artists to make it at first. They probably weren't always supported in what they wanted to do. But they do it anyway and, remarkably, some succeed. And art isn't easy. But feeling or loving a work is. So stand behind the person who gave you some emotion in our often detached lives by sustaining their dream however you can.
    The general support of community based projects and art forms will continue to make our home (where ever that might be) unique and our own. If we can't be proud of where we live, what's the point in living there?

  2. Dearest Anonymous,

    Too right you are. If we enjoy something that somebody does, we've got to support them. Else how would they be able to continue doing what it is that they do?

    I loved the last sentence. You make a great point. Problem is, I can't live quite where I want to, so I'm working on building a ship there. Give me time...give me time. In the mean time, I am enjoying Seattle though, and trying to make this a nice place.


  3. NPR Article from a while ago: Knowing What You Buy