Over at the Nonprofiteer, she makes a typically astute argument for framing the debate over public funding of the arts. (And changes her previously held position against public funding for the arts in the process.)
Of course you’re indifferent to public funding for the arts, you dodo; you live in Chicago, where major performers and exhibitions will show up anyway. Public funding for the arts isn’t for Chicago–it’s for Bloomington.
And she remembered growing up in Baltimore, which is not a small town but which waited for months between visits of major dance companies; and she remembered the thrill of seeing those dance companies for the first time. And she realized (0r remembered) that that’s the real point of public funding for the arts: to make available to everyone the thrill of exposure to first-rate art.
Now here's the real problem with how we talk about arts funding in the US. To my mind, it is much like the downfall of much of the art in the US. It is all about the artists.
No one really cares about why an artist deserves money except for those in the arts. Really no one does. A factory worker who's out of a job and about to lose his or her home couldn't care less about artists getting handouts. Someone trying to get buy on minimum wage working a series of shit jobs probably has very little sympathy for artists also scraping by.
If there argument for arts funding does not include non-artists it will fail every time. So when the inevitable comparisons to the NEA four come up, or the piss christ is referenced etc., there are a few responses you can make. One would be about the importance of artistic expression for the artist. Why the artist works for him/herself and no one should be allowed to censor that work. And they can come right back with the fact that not paying for something is not the same as censorship.
You could argue why the arts are important to NYC, Chicago, LA etc, and they can come right back with the fact that government funding or not, there will still be art in major metropolitan areas.
The same tired arguments about why artists are important will continue to fail for the same reason they always have. It's about us, not them. But they are the ones being asked for money. Shouldn't we be able to say why it would help them, instead of how we mostly talk about how it would help us.
I think of my parents. My father couldn't care less about most contemporary "art"*. My mom could not care less about her tax dollars paying for an artists overpriced Manhattan apartment.
Now Chuck, my father, enjoys a lot of the arts. He does, but he'd never admit it. He likes to listen to classical music, and likes paintings etc. However, the image of the artist is in his mind a four-letter word for someone shitting on a canvas and trying to take his tax dollars for it. And there are more than enough things that need money for him and his wife Lynn to worry about in Leslie, Michigan.
My mother is supportive of the arts. She was even supportive of me choosing the arts as a career. There are more than enough things for her to worry about that need money in Cisco, Texas.
My father hates the government. He will never be supportive of public funding for the arts. If he was to learn that the Piss Christ is not actually representative of most of what is actually being done, he wouldn't tell others not to support the arts. And if there was something nearby for him to see, he's probably actually go.
If there were more artistic events to attend in Cisco, Texas, not only would Patty, my mom, probably go--dragging along my stepfather and step-sister Candace--but she could also probably be swayed to call her congressman to support the arts more.
My stepfather Pat has seen three plays in his life. He liked all three. All three were in Chicago. They live in Texas. If there were plays for them to see that didn't require driving for two hours and paying outrageous ticket prices, they would attend regularly.
We need to shift the debate away from why arts funding matters to arts organizations and artists. We need to talk not about why arts funding matters to artists, but why it matters to Chuck and Lynn, why it matters to Pat and Patty.
*He would use far more colorful language to describe it.