22 February 2009

Government Funding of The Arts (ii)

Establishing universal health care in this country (the right thing to do anyway) would do more for art and artists of all stripes than $50 million dollars of government "support" ever could. If you don't believe me, take note of the frequency of benefit concerts for uninsured or underinsured musicians who have run up staggering medical bills. As it stands right now, any discussion of the practicality of freelancing starts and ends with health care.

I have spoken unfavorably many times of the unwieldiness of a term as broad as "The Arts," and yet if our aspiration is truly to do something that benefits art and artists across the board, then we have to identify concerns which are shared across disciplines and media. I can think of no more glaring commonality among artists of all kinds than that there are precious few full-time jobs with benefits available that allow them to focus solely on their art.

For whatever reason, talk of supporting The Arts tends to revolve around organizations rather than individual artists. Perhaps it's related to the notion of doing of what's best for the many rather than the few. But sheer numbers aside, it's hardly worth remarking upon the unfortunate condition of "institutions" per se, so pervasive and devastating are their effluents. The idea that the individual artist might avoid being burdened with extra-artistic grunt work undertaken simply because they have no other source of income or benefits is more attractive on the surface. If that is, in fact, the goal, then universal health care is a must, and until it is achieved, everything else is merely nibbling around the edges.


Nick Zielinski said...

You are correct. What is going to help the "Arts" community more? Universal Health Care (which would make freelancing a feasible option for those who want it). -OR- Sending Doug Little to the World Saxophone Congress in some far-off land... again.

Not only could you argue that the former is much more helpful, you could probably argue that the latter is actually hurting the "arts" community.

I think any government funding for the arts has to be either dolled out lottery style (ping pong balls and an air blower and a magnet) or in equal amounts to every single member of the community (universal healthcare, btw, achieves just that). Another possibility would be retirement plans for artists... This takes the impossible job of judging the value of a piece of art or a body of work out of the hands of the bureaucrats and makes the process fair... I will maintain this position until I actually get a grant from the government... then I will praise their all knowing generosity and their keen eye for greatness.

Stefan Kac said...

There's some serious poetic justice in the idea of merely dividing the money up evenly among all those who claim to be artists. After all, the current dialogue is framed as if all art were created equal; why not make good on that delusion?

It would cost the government more to process the applications and mail out all those checks than the checks themselves would be worth to those who received them, and undoubtedly, thousands of imposters would go undetected, since we can't define what is and is not art, but it sure would lay bare the hypocrisy inherent in arguing in favor of arts funding in a style-, content-, and medium-neutral fashion, then distributing the money to only a few regular suspects.

On that topic, NZ, I just have to chuckle at your continued fearlessness in naming names (of people we know, or I do, at least) in your comments here. I don't keep up with Doug much these days, but I'll stick up both for him and the State Arts Board on one account, and that would be the Motion Poets Jazz Workshops of the late '90's, which quite frankly had a major impact on me as an aspiring jazz player.