Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Question to Ponder...

How much should the arts be publicly supported? In times of economic difficulty (like now), should public money be used to fund public art displays (and by that I include dance, music, etc - all the arts), or should other societal problems (like funding health care for the poor, for example) come first? In other words, how much responsibility should the gov't take for funding the arts, as opposed to private support?
(submitted by Suze G.)


Pam said...

I think "other societal problems" should come first. Funding for the homeless, hungry, battered, etc. should come first. But, I can't help but think the whole damn system needs to be overhauled. Our money is going towards a TON of things I don't approve of (like war, for one example), so although I don't think funding the arts should come before feeding the hungry, I do think it should come before a lot of other things.

As a side note, I've always thought the WPA ( sounded like a really cool thing. I probably learned the most about this New Deal government agency, which created employment for millions of folks during the Great Depression, from the movie, "Cradle Will Rock" (, which specifically concentrates on how these programs employed musicians, actors, and visual artists. It was certainly far from perfect, but I can't help but think a better example of how to distribute funds than our current plan.

Jake said...

Yeah, wow. Public support (of anything) is such a messy issue. Leaving aside farm/oil/business subsidies, trade tariffs, or any of the myriad other ways we "publicly" distribute funds that do not address social issues, I'm completely ambivalent about whether the arts should be publicly supported at all. On the one hand, some of the most creative and amazing work comes out of places where art subsidies are plentiful and artists don't have to worry about market demands. On the other hand, by what right should artists not be beholden to the market? Witness the remarkable amount of crap that passes itself off as art with a government grant attached.

I do believe, however, that vigorous support for the arts is intrinsic to addressing other social ills, and can't really be separated. Take education, for instance. It's the single most important thing that I think absolutely must be publicly funded. But when we don't enrich people with skills in and appreciation for the arts, that education becomes valueless as the sense of connectivity that people gain from the arts is lost. And as people lose that connection to "things bigger" then other social problems rapidly spiral out of control.

If arts were publicly supported throughout the educational system, I don't think there'd be as much of a need for "support" for the arts. What those arts would look like, in that scenario, are probably quite different from the current set-up as well, though, which would almost certainly threaten the ivory tower power base of those defenders of "the arts". :)

Suze said...

Yeah. What Jake said :)

Scott said...

I totally agree with Jake (and thus Suze) about education, and how it needs to be a much bigger priority, and how arts education should be a huge part of that. And that good public education would solve many of our nation's woes, undoubtedly. Yay for public education!

But I also want to toss a hat in the ring for good ol' government support of the arts. I'm for it. All the way. Even for the "remarkable amount of crap" that Jake mentions. I'd like to support that with my tax dollars too, please.

Lest you think I'm being facetious, I'm totally not. The amount of tax money per person it would take to totally overhaul our arts funding in the US and create a big upsurge in creativity would be less than a dollar. (I saw that stat somewhere reputable, but I unfortunately can't remember where...) And I think art as a huge force in transforming our culture and intellects is worth a dollar more in our taxes.

I'm generally a fan of taxes. I mean, not that I enjoy doing that paperwork and sending in that cash. But I feel pretty strongly that to be a really excellent, responsible nation of people, we should take care of our least fortunate, protect the rights of our minorities, create a lasting legacy of human rights and art and culture...

But yes, I'd like to give a dollar to support good art, bad art, offensive art, boring art, and so on. In order to create a body of wonderful art, our nation is going to need room to make many missteps along the way. I support that. I support giving some pocket change to let artists make some horrid blunders, in order to allow for artists to make some spectacular, soul-transforming work too.

If this puts me in the derided "ivory tower" category Jake tossed out there, then so be it. Though I'd like to point out that my family and I hover around the poverty line and live in a brick apartment building, not an ivory tower at all.

Also, just as an aside, if the market were to be the sole indicator of what is good art, then I believe our greatest artists would be Thomas Kincade and Kenny G. Not that I have anything against those artists (cough cough) but I believe we need other forces than the market and majority preferences to play a role. I'm a big fan of preserving the minorities (and lesser-known artists) rather than going with the majority.

I'm also seriously ranting. Sorry!