Thursday March 1, 2007

Take two minutes now to take a quick and easy step to help secure state arts and cultural funding. An initiative for $2.47 per capita for the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.

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  1. Jonathan    Thu Mar 1, 05:57 PM #  

    Subsidizing owners of baseball teams is a bad idea but subsidizing artists is a good idea?

  2. alesh    Thu Mar 1, 06:02 PM #  


  3. alesh    Thu Mar 1, 11:42 PM #  

    Sorry, that was intended to be flip. I believe it’s correct for at least two reasons (there may be others):

    A1. Subsidizing the arts contributes to the culture of our community, which is widely held to be a good thing on many different levels. Sports make such claims to culture as well, but in the case of arts the case is much stronger.

    A2. There is compelling evidence that public investment in cultural institutions is actually in the community’s financial interest. The evidence regarding sports stadiums is compelling in the other direction.

    Two other points that are less relevant but maybe worth mentioning:

    B1. The government rarely subsidizes “artists” directly. The money usually goes to presenting organizations, which may or may not pay artists directly (in the case of performing arts they usually do, in the case of visual arts they usually do not).

    B2. Professional sports are big business which would have no trouble making a profit even if all government “help” was removed. Conversely, almost all arts institutions are non-profit, and cuts in government funding would result in loss of programming if not replaced by philanthropy. The arts institution who’s operating budget comes from ticket sales alone is exceedingly rare or nonexistent.

  4. Jonathan    Fri Mar 2, 10:28 PM #  

    Ah, but I don’t agree about arts/artist subsidies benefiting the community. So how do we decide which causes to subsidize — does the majority get to force the minority to subsidize the majority’s favorite interests? There will always be more favorite causes out there than there is tax money to subsidize them.

    Also, there’s a long history in art, as in every other subsidized activity, of govt funds underwriting crap. Either the money pays for art that pisses off most of the people whose taxes pay the subsidies, or the subsidized artist produces worthless, bowdlerized pap that’s intended to avoid offending anybody. Look at the history of the NEA, which oscillates between these tendencies.

    He who pays the piper calls the tune.

  5. alesh    Sat Mar 3, 04:49 PM #  

    I’m not the one to try to make the case for the objective benefits of art to society, because I couldn’t do it justice, but be advised that the case is fairly persuasive. You can disagree about the cultural benefits, but you don’t get to disagree about the financial benefits — those are things that get measured by researchers (one statistic that sometimes gets cited, but which I can’t reference, is that each $1 spent on arts funding generates $4 in benefit).

    Look, if there were broad libertarian reforms surging through our government, I’d support them, and I’d accept reductions or eliminations of arts funding as part of them. But the fact is that the size of our government, and the scope of idiotic things it funds, is growing (to unprecedented levels under your boy GWB, btw), and no such reforms are even being seriously proposed by anyone. That being the case, you bet the people who believe in the positive effects of the arts are going to lobby for the funding. Are we the majority? No. But there’s enough that we occasionally get thrown some scraps.

    OK, now on to your NEA example, which is absurd. The NEA has a long track record of of funding universally acknowledged high-quality institutions. Once in a while, some right-wing idiots make a public scene by taking one particular work which happens to be controversial, getting up on their hind legs, and making an embarrassing stink about our government supporting this crap.

    What they don’t tell you is that the NEA may be providing 1 – 2% of the budget of the museum that showed the work, which also showed hundreds or thousands of other pieces that year.

    And in fact that’s how the majority of arts funding works — the government or private agency identifies high-quality institutions (hello, they’re pretty easy to spot) and gives them money. And within the organization, executive and artistic personnel (who make the decisions re what to show) are usually independent, too. So you have layers of isolation between the funding and the ultimate choices of what gets shown. That’s the system, and it works pretty well.

  6. Manola Blablablanik    Sat Mar 3, 05:56 PM #  

    Just adding several things to Alesh’s comments.

    You can’t compare the professional sports industry to art, Jonathan. I know from personal and professional experience (as a former dancer and a fundraiser) that there simply wouldn’t be the kind of money pumped into institutions, companies and individual artists if it weren’t this way. I wish it weren’t so, but that’s reality. Sports and sex sell. Art doesn’t.

    I can’t even begin to tell you how many wonderful dancers and choreographers there are in this town whose work you don’t see more often because of financial constraints. And they’re getting some money, but it’s never enough.

    Don’t forget that their are tax benefits for everyone involved. Donors get deductions but also the institutions themselves become tax-exempt when their 501 c 3 is accepted.

    Unless you have an individual patron willing to give you a lot of money, you won’t be able to stay afloat as an individual artist or a company, museum, whatever … and besides, even if that individual exists, they’re going to want you to be a non-profit so they get their deductions. Many individuals and companies start foundations for this reason.

    Who decides? Well it depends. If Toby Ansin gives Miami City Ballet money to commission a work from Villela, that’s what it’s earmarked for. But in all my years in the field, I never wrote one grant where the company had to totally sleep on the director’s couch and kiss ass.

    MOST of the time, you tell them what you’re going to do with their money. A happy marriage occurs between funder and fundee when you are able to write a grant that conforms to their mission. That doesn’t mean you’re selling out, it just means that it’s a good match.

    If you’re an full-scale opera company, you don’t apply to foundations that only support chamber ensembles, etc; But of course, if someone is seeking opera companies to perform contemporary work and that doesn’t fit your repertoire, you might think twice about expanding if it’s a billion dollar grant.

    Also, keep in mind that COMMUNITY OUTREACH is a major factor of fundraising. If you don’t give to your community, you won’t get money, period. You have to prove both by accounting and final reports that you did indeed do something that filled some cultural gap in the commmuniy. This is really across the board, both with goverment and foundation grants. I suppose you could argue that this is how they make you “pay” for your grant, but who cares? It benefits the company, museum whatever for building its audience and it brings art to people who normally wouldn’t be exposed to it.

    And sometimes, there is great serendipity. The NEA launched an arts and technology when the New World Symphony was just tossing the idea of Internet2 around. I wrote that grant and got them the seed money for the stuff that they’re doing now. (Yeah, I’m damn proud of it … ) The serendipity here is that in these kind of grants that encourage a new thing, the field changes and there is a great deal of experimentation and evolution. Funders will pose a question: can this be done? And then companies ask themselves, hmm? maybe? great idea? let’s try.

    I could go on forever. Funding from private and public sources is really what keeps culture moving in this world. It would not happen like it does in sports if it weren’t for this protocol.

  7. Jonathan    Sat Mar 3, 07:37 PM #  

    Seems like you guys are arguing that art is good and therefore should be subsidized. Isn’t that a non sequitur? Many things are good that should not be subsidized. I like to go out to dinner. Should I be given tax revenues to do so? After all, my going out to dinner benefits multiple people besides myself. And if more people got subsidized to go out to dinner the societal benefits would be even greater, right?

    There are some other problems with your position. First, it’s wrong (“sinful and iniquitous” in Jefferson’s words) to compel citizens to pay for things they disapprove of. I don’t disapprove of all art, but I certainly disapprove of some art and why should I be forced to pay for it?

    Second, what I take to be your economic argument, which sounds like the same argument as is used to justify stadium subsidies, counts only the (optimistic, projected) benefits of arts subsidies and ignores the costs. If the mayor sends some of those nice Miami police officers to take $1 from me for arts subsidies (a use of force that appears not to bother you), that is $1 that I cannot spend on something else that would have had its own multiplier effect. Why would that dollar yield $4 in net benefits if it’s spent by govt bureaucrats rather than by me? It doesn’t make sense. (If it made sense, socialism would have been a big success.) And the fact that the govt already does that kind of thing on a big scale is no argument for doing more of it.

    Why should I respect the preferences of bureaucrats and arts enthusiasts who show such contempt for my own preferences in spending my own money? Screw them. If people want to raise money for the arts they should do it by persuasion rather than force.

  8. alesh    Sat Mar 3, 08:33 PM #  

    Wow Manola, thanks for adding that.

    Jonathan~ That’s the standard Libertarian argument. There’s a standard anti-argument, but I’m sure you’re familiar with it. I concede that you win on principle, and in fact there are some very prominent art people (philanthropists, in fact!) who agree with you.

    But the same argument goes for a lot of other things the government does, and in some of those cases it’s money wasted to make a political show of something. So long as that is the case, us art people are going to push for government arts funding anyway.

    (BTW, note that while the same argument is used to justify sports stadiums, there the argument has been discredited.)

    If people want to raise money for the arts they should do it by persuasion rather than force.

    Yes, your tax money is taken from you “by force.” Sorry about that! But we’re pretty well down the road where the roles of the government is restricted by what the Constitution says it can’t do rather then by what it says it can do. So to some extent, yes, the majority gets to take your money and use it for stuff that you don’t approve of, and maybe stuff that Jefferson wouldn’t approve of.

    But while you win on principle, you loose on the pragmatics. The amount they’re pushing for less then is one percent of one percent of the salary of someone who makes $25,000. And it’s getting you many, many cultural programs (many of them aimed at kids) that would otherwise cease to exist.

  9. Jonathan    Sat Mar 3, 09:28 PM #  

    So if someone says getting beaten by cops is tough luck and serves the guy right for making trouble, that’s a matter of principle, but if someone says the govt shouldn’t shake us all down to subsidize your favorite activities, then that’s just the way things are? I don’t see what’s pragmatic about my being taxed to pay for someone else’s programs. If I wanted to use them I could pay for them directly. The only reason to tax me is because you know that I wouldn’t pay for them. I agree that this is a pragmatic arrangement for the people who get to spend the money. For the taxpayers it is anything but.

  10. Manola Blablablanik    Sat Mar 3, 11:01 PM #  

    Jonathan, government aside, I think the issue here is not paying for shit you don’t care about, but paying MORE for shit that’s already making money up the wazoo … which is exactly the issue with professional, advertising-sponsored major leagues …

  11. mkh    Sat Mar 3, 11:10 PM #  

    Jonathan, you are certainly entitled to your principles, but this really is an unwinnable argument, by either side. Eventually it will devolve into discussion of the libertarian ideal and lose touch with reality altogether. So let’s cut to the chase. You go ahead and say all taxation is evil, I’ll say the invisible hand is as real as the tooth fairy, we agree to disagree, and move on.

  12. Jonathan    Sun Mar 4, 10:42 AM #  

    Manola: I don’t want to be taxed for sports or art. I can just as well support either activity voluntarily, if I wish.

    MKH: Does it not come down to the morality of forcing people to pay for things? Forcing people to pay for services like national defense and courts, that are necessary but have diffuse benefits and are subject to free riding, seems like the lesser of evils. Forcing people to pay for goods and services like baseball and art seems to be in a different category. To put it another way: I can justify, as the lesser of evils, punishing people who refuse to pay taxes for defense or the courts, but how can you justify punishing people who refuse to pay taxes to subsidize art?

  13. M Vickers    Sun Mar 4, 12:38 PM #  

    If the Miami Art Museum promises to raise money from private donors they should honor their word and raise money privately. (Hello. Where is the $210 Mil you promised to raise?)

    There are rich people in Miami. They are able to give money.

    Art is big business.