Saturday, October 16, 2021

The Canary Test

Artists are the canaries in the economic coalmine. submitted PHOTO

Artists are the canaries in the economic coalmine. submitted PHOTO

Artful Life

Tara O’Neill

Artists are the canaries in the economic coal mine. When the financial world starts to wobble art is the first to get sliced from budgets: federal & state budgets, school budgets, and, of course, individual budgets. Individuals will pass over that original work of art, those theater seats and concert tickets; public funding is gone, or tragically diminished, for schools, museums, and arts organizations.

However, we’re also the first solid clue when things start to pick-up. Being part of a large, multi-disciplined arts community, I can truthfully report a steady increase in art-buying. Month by month by month we may read newspaper headlines claiming housing is up, housing is down; jobs are up, jobs are down; the DOW, the banks, building vs. buying, they all bounce up and down a variety of charts. Truth is, the yo-yo stops with us.

Five years ago the heartbreak of foreclosure was epidemic, if you didn’t lose an investment, I’m willing to bet you know someone who did. Businesses were closing their doors up and down Main Street, USA. Well, the people who bought those foreclosed homes – homes they never would have afforded if they weren‘t, sadly, linked to someone else’s loss – have been popping up in furniture stores, renovation shops, and yes, art studios & galleries. New businesses are flowering in once empty plazas – thanks to reduced rents and motivated landlords – and all those new offices, restaurants, salons, etc., need…you got it…ART.

True Story: Mr. G lives in Ohio, where he has specialty automobile dealerships, and has had a secondary home here on Marco for about 15 years. Mr. G usually comes to the island several times throughout the year, he often bought a piece of art from me, or one of my colleagues, nothing extravagant, just a special something for one of his homes or his office. I haven’t seen him in about three years. His businesses were in peril, he was forced to lay-off employees and resume the helm of day-to-day operations. No trips to Marco Island, and certainly no non-essential purchases.

Mr. G was in my studio last week and I was delighted to see him, he is my client, and my friend. He was able to steer his dealerships to safety, has re-hired several members of his previous staff, took a loss on some real estate, but was able to keep his primary residence, and his Marco Island condominium. And when he brought up the topic of commissioning an oil painting my throat got all lumpy. Not because he was giving me business – okay, not just because he was giving me business – but because it meant he had made it. He and his family weathered their storm, and, because of this, people have jobs. Me included.

So maybe the canaries aren’t singing their heads off or buying vacation nests – but I’m hearing a lot of very promising chirping all around me and I see bright eyes focused on the upcoming season. A nice contrast to twelve months ago, when many, artists, galleries, and non-profits, were just hoping to keep their heads out of the cat’s mouth.

If you are a supporter of the arts, remember: when you buy art that is created here, you buy from artists that will be returning those dollars back into our local economy. Sweet. I mean, Tweet.

Tara O’Neill, a lifelong, award-winning, artist has been an area resident since 1967. She holds degrees in Fine Arts and English from the University of South Florida and currently has a studio-gallery at the Artist Colony at the Esplanade on Marco Island. Visit

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