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Commentary: Art can boost economy; economy can open door for the young

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 30, 2009 - Art is said to mimic life -- this is seen especially in times of economic strife. Not only does economic hardship show up on canvas but it also shows up in the architecture of society. But we must not forget that during tough economic times there are always the positive aspects. This is true, now more than ever, in the art world.

When times are tough, art may be viewed as a dispensable item, however, it is a crucial one for the livelihood of so many Americans. In fact, this year President Barack Obama included art in his administration's stimulus package, which included $50 million to the National Endowment for the Arts.

Many can debate whether or not the government should get involved in the vitality of the art industry, but this administration considers it a necessary part of helping to jump start economic growth. Approximately 2 million artists work in the United States and this stimulus package will contribute to decreasing the unemployment rate. Americans have seen similar types of government involvement in the past that helped to spring board the industry. For instance, Franklin Roosevelt's 1930s New Deal legislation created 5,000 jobs for artists.

Ironically, it is the economic downturn that promises something for emerging talent. The recession has allowed some young artists to display their works at high-end galleries because these galleries, for the most part, may not now be in a position to invest in expensive works of art. Thus, new young talent can break into a highly competitive industry that was once only penetrable by a select few.

It is also one of the most exciting times for the young or new art collector. With up and coming artists popping up in galleries all over the country, the young art collector is given the opportunity to not only invest in the artwork but watch the career and reputation of its artist. They are following how the artist's work compares to other pieces, what kind of recognition and publicity are he or she is receiving and what kind of artists they are inspired and surrounded by.

In the past six months, we have seen a renewed interest in art as an investment. This can be seen not only as a glimmer of hope for the industry, but for the economy as a whole. As inflation returns, rare art, similar to gold and other commodities, increases in value. As people remain hesitant with investments, fine and rare art can be one of the most rewarding and best diversifications.

Whatever the status of the art industry as a predictor of United States economic status, it is seen by many past and present administrations as an important cultural barometer. Art in any form -- a painting in a gallery or statue in a courtyard -- is the pulse of a culture. It's not only magnificent to look at, but represents the history of where we've been and how far we've come as a society. Art has created our national identity.

Looking at artists during the Great Depression provides a gateway to the past. It is a history, that most analysts say has repeated itself but only time will tell. One will soon be able to turn to the artwork that comes out of this recessionary era of 2008 and 2009 and see if it echoes that earlier time.

David Kodner is an owner of Kodner Galleries, Ladue.

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