Arts Support: It's not about "rotating pastel lights"

Chris Jones, chief theater critic for the Chicago Tribune, posted a passionate and well-argued commentary yesterday. In the midst of the debate over the very oddly worded Coburn Amendment (the Willamette Week referred to Senator Tom Coburn as "batshit crazy" in their op-ed piece on the issue, Jones argues that the arts community needs to make a better case for Federal support. Here's an excerpt, with a link to the full piece at the end.

"In the recent debate over the Barack Obama administration's economic recovery bill, proposals to spend government money on the arts have become poster children for pork. It is time for the American arts community to confront its stunning political ineptitude. It has arrived at a place where there seems to be no one to make its case; no one, at least, free from the taint of self-interest. After all, the argument that the labor-intensive arts are not job-creation engines is patently absurd; they just fuel different kinds of struggling workers, workers unaccustomed to bonuses. Their role in generating billions of dollars in ancillary economic activity for stores, restaurants and the travel business has been proven in bucketloads of surveys and analyses. In less than 75 years, the arts have gone from the single largest priority in a government stimulus package to a toxic joke, with a popular special amendment keeping them out. It is a stunning turnaround. How did it happen? Artists must shoulder some blame. Too little attention has been paid to making the long-term political case that culture is important and accessible to ordinary people and thus worthy of financial support. The arts have thrown up precious few, articulate, clout-heavy American leaders of their own. That needs to change."


Unknown said...

Arts advocates can't win this zero sum game, so we need to play a bigger one. Somehow, European countries manage to provide much greater per capita public subsidies to their arts institutions and still provide more accessible health care and other social safety nets. Why can't we?

Answer: our regressive tax system. Arts are always going to lose when placed up against, say, health care. But the true competition comes on the revenue side -- it's not the symphony vs. the homeless shelter, but rather both against tax breaks and tax structures that allow (often incompetent) financial managers to buy second yachts and third mansions and $1.2 million bathroom remodels. Is a hedge fund manager or currency trader creating any actual, tangible economic value at all, much less lasting cultural value, as our best artists do? They should be paying much higher taxes, and that money could support the cultural contribution of the arts.

The arts community needs to be politically involved at the point of discussion and campaigning when political candidates are running on no-tax or tax cut or regressive taxation platforms. By the time they scurry up to the public meetings and hearings that are deciding only what leftovers are going to be cut, it's too late. The real battle happened months or years earlier, when tax policy was being determined.

Unknown said...

I think the arts community figured that with Obama in office they didn't have to worry about much of anything and now it's too late. With everyone and their brother holding their hands out, there's very little pie left to go around and who is going to get screwed? So called frivolities like the arts, that's who.