In yesterday's Parade Magazine (a Washington Post Sunday insert), Susan Fine writes an article titled "Can Art Save a Mall". Naturally I read it. And, I'll admit, I initially thought, "Hey, this could be good."
Ms. Fine reports how some large scale mall owners have responded to filling the growing number of vacant stores in their vast interior malls. They have approached artists and art groups and offered the empty spaces at very low rents for the short term holiday season. Better to have spaces filled than leave them empty, right? This is a great idea. Like all retailers, artists and artisans often depend on the heightened holiday season sales to make or break their year. And I can't think of another bigger magnet attracting shoppers than the prototypical American mall. Artists get the enormous exposure only a mall during the holiday shopping season can give and they don't have to bust their bank to get it.
Other than the indignity of an artist setting up shop next to a Cinnabon or a Spencer's Gifts or a cell phone kiosk, I'm still thinking this is good. And Ms. Fine reports it's a win-win opportunity too.
But wait... Ms. Fine defines win-win as the artists draw in the crowds ("come to the mall and see a poor starving artist at work"), and the increased crowds will in turn up the cash register totals in the other real retail stores in the mall.
That's not win-win. That attitude is only win… for the mall, not the artist. Ms. Fine proves this one-sided attitude in the article’s final paragraph where she says,
Art instead of commerce isn't new.
Art IS commerce. When will people get it? Art is not free. You can't just use art as an attraction without considering it as a retail venture. Artists spend their time, energy and money making art for it to be sold. The exchange of money is a good thing.
Here’s the real win-win: An artist makes a beautiful object; someone appreciates it's beauty; they buy it and it gives them pleasure throughout their life; the artist now has money to eat, pay rent, and make more beautiful things. That's what I call win-win.