As CEO and founder of the Exchanghibition Bank, I spent a lot of time researching money. As part of this research I realized that, in its current form, money seems to play the role of a ubiquitous philosopher’s stone. Not only does it quantify everything, but it can also transform any quality of life into a measurable quantity of cash – or rather digits on a computer screen. At the same time, not all values and qualities are easily converted into piles of banknotes.
All too often, we neglect the importance of spiritual, social, and moral values. After all, what we really value in life is usually ‘priceless.’
Exchanghibition Bank asks: What is the largest value the presence of artists adds to a city’s worth?
Imagine a city without art. What is missing? Now, add a well-known image to the equation. Like Venice, Paris, or New York. Like Bilbao or Tirana, Albania, where the local mayor decided to spruce up the functional, grey and brown apartment blocks with abstract works of art to inject some life into the city. Need I say more?
What makes a city a city is the hope and opportunity to earn and spend money among many people concentrated in a small area. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, such temptations have drawn millions from rural areas to the concrete jungle. So, here we are. Living in a city. And then what? We earn and spend money. And then what? We hope to make more, so we can spend more. And then what? We measure our success on the scale of poor to rich. And then what? Where is the true value beyond our fogged-up fixation on cool cash?
Art is a reaction. Artists react to a problematic situation that affects the well-being of human nature. Wherever people have the time and energy to feel it, the collective spirit manifests. In a city, we typically face the challenge of limited time and energy. Our attention remains fixed between A and B. Between earning and spending. So, city life naturally provokes a reaction from artists.
Art is a reaction, a counter action, an opposite of money. Like soft to hard. Like heart to thought. Like intuition to calculation. The artist in the city is an individual who believes in the existence of a collective spirit and a value more closely aligned with the purpose of life than with money. Artists may be anarchists, but they each feel a bond between all the people on earth. This makes artists so important to a city. They are in a position to feel – and they possess the desire to act.
Art remains an ongoing struggle. Artists need to struggle and challenge themselves in order to feed the belief that what they do is the right thing for others. And their struggle and strife is also with the power of money in society. As part of their battle, these artists aim for attention. Whether this is small or great does not matter since art can endure over – or transcend – long periods of time. Even the attention of a single individual could spread to thousands. If not today, then tomorrow. Artists are aware of this and they work with this awareness. Artists speak to the heart of individual citizens and their message is, “you are not alone.” We are here – and in this – together. And we have to make the best of it. The best for all of us, that is, in terms of being kind. Being good. Being aware. Being alive. It is not complicated. It is simple. Art is simple. Money is extremely complicated.
Ever since 1997, I have reacted. As an artist in a city. And by introducing a currency made of original art. Artmoney. The currency is made by hand and spent directly in the shop. Today, there are more than 1,200 artists in 42 countries creating and spending Artmoney.
All photos, incl. the header image, Lars Kraemmer