"It is time for the American arts community to confront its stunning political ineptitude"

So says the Chicago Tribune’s theater critic Chris Jones in an opinion piece yesterday on the shocking prohibition on funding for the arts in the stimulus:

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.

The contrast in priority with the last comparable American stimulus package is simply breathtaking. Funded by the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935, FDR’s Works Progress Administration made the arts a priority. Federal Project Number One was, believe it or not, the largest of the WPA’s endeavors.

Its mission was to give more Americans the chance to experience what Roosevelt called “a fuller life.” Its legacy—from invigorating murals to landscape paintings to the careers of Arthur Miller or Orson Welles—is everywhere you look.

In less than 75 years, the arts have gone from the single largest priority in a government stimulus package to a toxic joke. It is a stunning turnaround.

I think this is a very timely, and very pointed criticism. Why must we view art in economic terms? Why does nearly every article or mention of a work of art also discuss it’s potential market price? Art has some powerful non-economic benefits which are not always easily measured, and the arts community needs to do a much better job making its case.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

2 thoughts on “"It is time for the American arts community to confront its stunning political ineptitude"”

  1. This seems to have about absolutely nothing to do with antiquities, and to be inappropriate for posting here.

    But I’ll attempt to answer your question anyway. The arts must be viewed in economic terms because they aren’t free. And if our government has found reduced funds for the arts in the past fifty years, perhaps it is because many Americans find some art produced in the past fifty years to either be absurd, or to be patently offensive. Certainly not all art, but if grants and subsidies must be content neutral, then many, like me, would rather see no funding at all.

    Van Gogh, Miro’, Picasso, what do they have in common? They didn’t whine that the government would not pay them to create. And if they struggled to live because they could not support themselves, they still created.

  2. Thanks for the comment and your readership, though as to your comment about the appropriateness of this post, I must disagree and reserve the right to post on any topic I find of interest. In any case I think it does fall squarely within the scope of cultural policy.

    I think you may be missing a broader point which is that the antiquities trade in the US may suffer some problems because it has primarily been driven by private funding and collecting, with relatively little government oversight.

    In more general terms, cultural policy is simply not a primary political issue in the US, and I think it is productive and useful to ask why.

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