Looking on the bright side, capitalism encourages invention, innovation, entrepreneurship, and the increase of individual wealth i.e. personal survival, through individual ownership versus dependency on a government system for funding and implementation of ideas. However, the entrenched poor have long been suffering under its brutal neglect; and as the 2008 financial collapse is demonstrating to now struggling middle class Americans, capitalism is a system that cannot work alone in order to properly sustain a nation. While income over expense is essential for businesses to operate, an individual’s decision making process is influenced by much more then the data derived to fill our profit and loss statements, balance sheets or makes up the gross domestic product.
In order to sustain/balance wealth accumulation so it does not result in sudden financial loss and communal hardship, creating a stream of income to develop a gift economy might help. Gifts could be defined as business ventures that connect employees to the heart of what motivates them to work in the first place– to support the local economy so it will in turn support them to lead as fulfilling a life as possible. Most lives involve family and friends and therefore this deepens the need for a shared support network. This is true whether one works for an international conglomerate or a local restaurant.
Some examples of non-work related life influences that inform our decision-making processes while at work: birth, culture, death, disease, family/home life, love, political turmoil, quality of public education in our neighborhood, weather, change in weather, wildlife and natural eco-systems we are exposed to. We have all heard the word dysfunctional — and a lot more since the collapse — to describe a work place environment. What is not functioning? I propose that instead of the heat, electricity or water being out (essentials not to be addressed here), Americans need constant exposure to creative outlets while at work.
An idea I had was to bring art exhibits into offices on a rotating basis. For example, in a mid size office in New York City, the client would agree to rent the paintings of four artists over one year. Each artist would hang four paintings and they would stay up on display for three months. After three months time a new artist would come in. A full-year package would cost $10,000-$12,000 , possibly more, possibly less, depending on the client’s profit margin and the renown of the artist. The artists would receive supplemental income, exposure and potential buyers of their work.
The clients would benefit from having quality art to inspire them to think creatively, keep them connected to the areas of their lives they cherish more than work, as well as help them develop detachment from their work load in order to master it with ease. Perhaps best of all, the office staff enjoys the knowledge that four artists in the community are being supported through a monetary exchange that indirectly influences the financial bottom line, but is not owned by it. The message is: directors want the company to be successful in order to take care of its employees, as well as its stockholders. Multiple four artists by 200 offices per city—duplicate the model in big cities across America, and what you have is a cross-sectional slice of the American work force (artists, installers, operational staff) benefiting from a small business endeavor.
Last year I ran this idea by artists, gallery owners and a couple of financial professionals. Most often the idea was met with enthusiasm and with time (something I don’t have much of) I might have gotten it off the ground. A convincing concern I heard was that a business endeavor like this wouldn’t get enough support in a weak economy, because employees would resent their employers investing in art while they were losing their jobs or getting benefits cut. A point well taken, however, in NYC at least, many businesses are not downsizing and $10,000 is a small amount to spend. Client-based start ups of lesser means might find art rental more attractive than paying fees for a curator to decorate their walls and more fun. One might consider if paying artists a modest amount to earn a living, since artists are people too, might be worth the investment, even while some programs in a business are losing money, to create a more sustainable economy over the long run.