Somehow, I feel like every connection post I’ve written this year has touched on how much the government should pay for the arts. This will be the first, however, that is entirely about that.
The first article closed with a comment from Leonard Garment’s letter (on the behalf of Nixon) that “arts [should] be divorced from political considerations.” I found this interesting, considering the entire topic of discussion is how the arts tie in to the government—and the government might happen to be a little bit political. The letter talked about how Nixon was an advocate for government patronage of the arts, but at the end claimed that Nixon did not want to make this a part of his campaign, because arts should not be involved in the political sphere. This is really odd to me. I feel like that’s like saying that what we do with the earth shouldn’t be a part of the campaign, because it isn’t political, it’s scientific/environmental. Not every part of a political platform/campaign has to do with obvious “politics” like defense, social security, supporting veterans, etc. Many other things are considered necessary parts of a platform/campaign but are not so “political” – things like protection of the natural environment, energy sources, and social/civil rights. So why is funding of the arts any different?
The next thing I found odd was the difference between the two letters on the success of the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities. McGovern said it had not fulfilled its promises, and that the US was spending too much on the Vietnam War. Garment, on the other hand, said the plan was very successful because of Nixon’s contributions. (Since these positions vary so much to support or put down one candidate, how is funding of the arts not political?) Something that Garment said confused me—he cited the fact that the government grants only cover up to 50% of art’s costs as a success of the program, claiming it kept the government reinforcing the arts, rather than establishing them. If the question at hand is whether or not the government is funding art enough, isn’t it more of a failure that it will only fund a maximum of 50% of the costs?
The question of whether or not art is as important as other governmental responsibilities also came up frequently. In both articles, it was stated that the government did not fund art enough because it had more important preoccupations like defense and welfare programs. Personally, I do not think that art is crucial, and I definitely agree with what the Italian finance minister said about it—“I don’t know what all the fuss is about. After all, you can’t eat culture.” The countries in Europe largely cut their arts budgets because they had more pressing matters to put their money into, such as recovering from debt. Some, however, simply cut it because the government fell into conservative control. In cases like this, it is only sad. Much more than simply art production is affected by budget cuts—museum workers in Hungary faced salary cuts of 20%; museums closed down in several countries; artists are forced to either leave the country or take on a different job in order to make enough money just to live. I didn’t mention much of my personal opinion in this “Connection” post, but I think the US should increase its budget for the arts, as should other countries. However, I don’t think they should make sacrifices in other more vital programs in order to find this money for art.
Kristin Hines - Student artist at Maggie L. Walker Governor's School