Thursday, February 24, 2005

Can art fornicate peacefully with mammon?

In one of those "did I just read that?" moments, I found an L.A. Times/San Francisco Chronicle article about the turmoil that a Rand Corporation study is causing about how to sell the idea of art funding to local and state governments: Arts funding study causes stir. The crux of the argument is this: should the idea of art funding be pushed from the idea that it helps to create jobs and money (which Richard Florida has been trying to push) or should the idea of funding art simply be tied to the idea that it's good for the public aesthetically. Reading over Florida's ideas, I'm pretty sold on his thoughts. It makes sense not just for artists, patrons, bohos, etc. who want to see this happen anyway but it's also very sensible in a very basic economic way. As of now, many arts organizations are also sold on the idea and trying to push for support based on Florida's work.

Arts groups are mad because it's being suggesting that we only need more of the arts in our lives to feed our soul and spirit, regardless of financial considerations. Wouldn't you think that they would embrace this idea instead of shun it? Art and commerce have tussled for centuries and a study like this basically says that there's no need for this fight.

Are these groups really suffering from so much tunnel vision that they don't see the problems with their approach? In an ideal world (which this one definitely ain't), there would be all the time and means for any artist to realize any project that they'd like. Obviously, this almost never happens because of money. If the Rand study is to be taken to heart, this would mean that the municipalities should just pony up funding because it's in the interest of every citizen to support something regardless of immediate monetary returns. Would that be so bad?

The only problem with this approach is that it's not realistic in this day and age and that's the problem that the arts groups have with the Rand study. In Canada and Europe, there's much more widespread support for a larger range of arts but in the States, NEA and PBS are frequently attacked by self-appointed cultural conservatives who look for a liberal agenda even in cartoons. Even though the NEA is looking to expand its work, part of what its pushing is Shakespeare plays. I have no beef against the Bard but shouldn't there be more of an emphasis on modern American art? Shouldn't someone like playwright August Wilson be just as worthy of government support? Canada actually supports some of its rock bands with funding. Honestly. I'm not holding my breath for that to happen in the U.S. but I just wanted to point out about how behind we are with supporting the arts.

The smartest strategy I would think would be to adopt the Rand suggestions along with the Florida model, which is what the art groups are suggesting themselves. That way, if you can't convince the elected officials to loosen the purse-strings one way, you also have another way to appeal to them. Maybe some of the arts groups are suspicious of the Rand model because they think that the politicians are a bunch of artistic morons or if they do have any interest, it's not with much of anything that came after the 1950's- if you're truly brave, check out Orrin Hatch's recording career or the Singing Senators. Listening to the droning talking heads (not the band) on the Sunday morning news programs, I don't doubt this and would go even further to say that most (not all) of our politicians will have little interest in these ideas unless the Florida model is shoved in their face, which is to say that they're thinking about dough. So go ahead and flash dollar signs in front of them but also appeal to their aesthetic sense too. Hell, some of them must have souls, right?


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