Why art should be publicly funded
September 21, 2013 12:46 AM   Subscribe

Why Art? Australian ABC Arts critic, theatre blogger and author, Alison Croggon, looks at public funding of the arts - and argues for more of it.


"In a survey that looked at participation in visual arts and crafts, music, dance, theatre and literature – that is, the key art forms supported by the Australia Council – 38 per cent of Australians describe themselves as art lovers, for whom the arts are an integral part of their lives. Only 17 per cent report estrangement, believing that the arts attract pretentious elites, and a tiny 7 per cent feel no connection at all. Overall, 93 per cent of Australians reported engaging with the arts in the previous year. In 2009, more people attended art galleries (11 million) than went to the football (10 million)."
posted by crossoverman (40 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Vested interest argues for funding of interest.
Interesting.
posted by converge at 2:18 AM on September 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


Vested interest produces independent research that indicates that Australia's attitude to the arts has changed from the tired bogan stereotype.
Actually interesting.
posted by jaduncan at 3:30 AM on September 21, 2013 [14 favorites]


Sure, art is great.

But regarding govenmental funding, is it necessary so that artists get (more) money or so the public gets access to accessible art? I don't really give too much creditibility to arguments that are based on the former.

As there is a limit to Australian government funding, I think a good argument should show why funding the arts is more important than say...spending money on refugees.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:31 AM on September 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


As there is a limit to Australian government funding, I think a good argument should show why funding the arts is more important than say...spending money on refugees.

Did you read the article?

I think the argument is that the government shouldn't be cutting arts funding whilst simultaneously throwing money at, say, the racing industry.
posted by Salamander at 5:16 AM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or giving it back as tax rebates on plasma-screen TVs
posted by acb at 5:16 AM on September 21, 2013


I think the argument is that the government shouldn't be cutting arts funding whilst simultaneously throwing money at, say, the racing industry.

Pointing out that the government wastes money on horse-racing too is a terrible argument for arts funding. It reminds me of Mefites who always head over to MetaTalk and argue that their awful comment shouldn't be deleted because an even more egregiously bad comment was allowed to stay due to some moderator oversight. I don't like rent-seeking by the horse-racing industry or by elite arts institutions.

I think there is a place for arts funding, but it should be focused on seed funding for innovative, entrepreneurial initiatives, and emerging and experimental artists. I'm skeptical that the big, rich rent-seeking arts institutions that serve up tired old ballets year after year for rich white straight couples from Mosman and Toorak should be funded out of the taxes of the taxi drivers getting $8 an hour to drive them to the Opera House.

I'm dubious whenever wealthy, white elites push their concerns to the top of the list. Frankly, at a time when the new Australian government has cut foreign aid to the bone, it's embarrassing.
posted by dontjumplarry at 6:19 AM on September 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


Why art? Art comprises our souls. Why publicly fund art? To infuse a country with more soul, to transform an age into a lasting monument.

Think of the Renaissance. You may first think of technological advancements (good for you). Some may think of the politicians (Borgias, others). Most will think of da Vinci or Michelangelo.

And the work of da Vinci and Michelangelo? Much of it was funded by the state (or church-state at the time).

Someone might argue few artists are da Vinci or Michelangelo. You need to support a mass of creators to have the ones who rise to the top. You need to promote a culture of the arts to have arts.

Is it important? More important than 99% of the ephemeral issues that get funded.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:20 AM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Vested interest argues for funding of interest.
Interesting.


I'm reminded of Nation's Stray Dogs Call For Increased Wino-Vomit Production.
posted by acb at 6:28 AM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


And the work of da Vinci and Michelangelo? Much of it was funded by the state (or church-state at the time).

You have a fairly romanticised view of who the major institutional beneficiaries of arts funding are.

Putting on a moth-eaten old production of Gilbert & Sullivan for rich retirees is not exactly like painting the Sistine Chapel.
posted by dontjumplarry at 6:39 AM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Putting on a moth-eaten old production of Gilbert & Sullivan for rich retirees is exactly like painting the Sistine Chapel. Supporting art is supporting art.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:48 AM on September 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hitler was an artist, and maybe if he had proper funding he wouldn't have gone into politics? I'm just saying.

Alternatively:

Hitler was an artist, do you really want to fund those types of people?
posted by blue_beetle at 6:49 AM on September 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Pointing out that the government wastes money on horse-racing too is a terrible argument for arts funding. It reminds me of Mefites who always head over to MetaTalk and argue that their awful comment shouldn't be deleted because an even more egregiously bad comment was allowed to stay due to some moderator oversight.

What? It was a reply to your comment that implied there was some kind of binary choice between spending money on refugees vs spending money on the arts. Radical thought: maybe the people supporting increased funding for the arts also support increased funding for refugee organizations?

Your argument only makes sense if you start from the premise that the racing industry and the arts are both complete wastes of money. I disagree.

The government can't just spend ALL THE MONEY on a handful of Most Important Causes and go, 'Oh well, screw the arts for this financial year, then, give 'em zilch'. That's not how it works.

I'm skeptical that the big, rich rent-seeking arts institutions that serve up tired old ballets year after year for rich white straight couples from Mosman and Toorak should be funded out of the taxes of the taxi drivers getting $8 an hour to drive them to the Opera House.

Okay, now I know you didn't bother to RTFA. 'The arts' isn't all ballets at the Opera House, by a long shot.
posted by Salamander at 6:58 AM on September 21, 2013


OTOH, if art is left to the marketplace, you get kitsch. At the high end, you get status-symbol works whose raison d'etre is more as an extremely-high-denomination currency for the super-rich (and many of which are hoarded in high-security warehouses as such), and further down you get Thomas Kinkade's glowing cottages and the sorts of unit-shifting crowd-pleasing banalities that litter poster shops, with the rest being filled by advertising and marketing (from actual advertising projects made as works-for-hire by artists needing to pay the rent to not overtly commercial content sponsored by lifestyle brands trying to build cachet with affluent 25-34s, which generally tends towards a mildly edgy, calculatedly respectably indie-cool like a dozen Brooklyn buzzbands who sound very current and more or less alike).

Of course, there'll be art outside of the marketplace, but it'll be closed scenes; groups of those sufficiently well-off (by virtue of parental trust funds or similar) to conspicuously produce art for consumption by each other, to be exhibited at private parties. Art as a very insular, incestuous cultural discourse that doesn't go beyond the confines of a cocktail party (or an electro-rave in a warehouse).

Add some art funding and this changes. Artists can produce art that isn't panderingly commercial and that reaches a broader audience. Add professional curators who aren't branding/marketing people and you have the basis of a dialogue about the human condition and how it is reflected in the nation's culture, shared experiences and identity/identities.
posted by acb at 7:03 AM on September 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


Of course, a discussion about the nation's identity is bad news to conservative politicians (like the mob ruling Australia now), and this is not on. Identity is to be passed down didactically in heroic myths of noble soldiers and sportsmen guided by the grace of God, not discussed by people (often with dubious politics) who went to art school.
posted by acb at 7:05 AM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


"TIFF shows that arts funding can be an investment. It’s not merely money lost in the name of cultural vibrancy (which isn’t to say that economic arguments are the only valid ones)."

"Canada's rising profile, however, is the product of a system deliberately structured to veer from the Hollywood model. In sharp contrast to the way of working in the United States, Canada has a filmmaking process that assigns a prominent role to national government agencies, which identify and nurture promising talent through official programs, vet film proposals, and help finance the making and distribution of those projects deemed to be the most interesting artistically."

Why does Canada fund musicians? "The government recognizes the importance of a cultural spend for a cultural identity," Ms. Ostertag said. "I think that we struggle as Canadians for our own Canadian identity. American dominance is so prevalent wherever you go." Part of maintaining the nation's place on the cultural map, she added, "is happening through identifying ourselves through the success of other Canadians."

"What unites us together is language, culture, the arts, the ability to talk, communicate one to another, and my God do we ever do that and do it well. We punch so far above our weight when it comes to the arts, culture and creativity. [...] And arts and culture is so important to Canada no only because of all the great success stories... but also because it's critical to Canada’s economy. It’s equally important for those of us who area advocates of the arts to make sure that we stand up and stare down those who are enemies of investing in the arts, and to make sure we beat them back with sound arguments and judgments." - Canada's Heritage and Official Languages Minister James Moore

"The most comprehensive study on the contribution of the arts to the Canadian economy is Valuing Culture: Measuring and Understanding Canada’s Creative Economy, published by the Conference Board of Canada in August 2008. The Conference Board estimates that the economic contribution of the cultural sector is $46 billion annually, which represents 3.8% of the total GDP. [...] Taking into account indirect and later round effects, the Conference Board estimates that the economic print of the cultural sector is actually $84.6 billion or 7.4% of the Canadian GDP. This multiplying effect in the cultural sector means that for each dollar produced by the sector, $1.84 is added to the GDP."

"Further, investment in the arts and culture results in maximum impact on the Canadian economy because the sector consumes primarily domestic goods and services. The expertise and equipment directly and indirectly required for artistic creation, production, and distribution in all areas of culture are available within Canada. All across the country – from Montreal to Vancouver, in Stratford, Moncton, Saskatoon and Kamloops – well-structured and efficiently organized artistic and cultural organizations, supported federally by proven funding programs, stand ready to immediately launch projects that they have been unable to proceed with because of a lack of funds. It is clear that massive investments in this sector will accelerate the flow of money – which is essential during a recession – and increase its share of GDP, which stood at 7.4% in 2007."
posted by oulipian at 7:18 AM on September 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


Meanwhile, across the ocean, American children overwhelmingly gain skills and good memories from museum field trips, yet they're in danger of being defunded and tested out of existence.

There are a lot of ways that funding the arts matter.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:23 AM on September 21, 2013


Wait, Canada still funds musicians/artists? I thought Harper tore down all parts of the government fulfilling liberal/progressive ideals, scattered their ashes to the four winds and sowed the ground beneath the ruins with salt.
posted by acb at 7:34 AM on September 21, 2013


We need public art for the same reason we need public parks. It keeps people sane. A city without art is a dreqry, soul-deadening thing. Most public art is government-funded. Funding art is basically a way of funding a society that is worth living in, that is spiritually nourishing to its members. It doesn't all have to be good, either. Some of the most engaging artwork is terrible, and I engage with it by thinking it's stupid. It's still better than nothing, just like a piece of shitty graffiti is still more interesting than a blank warehouse wall.
posted by Scientist at 8:07 AM on September 21, 2013


if art is left to the marketplace, you get kitsch.

True. Conversely - as Robert Hughes has argued - over-funding by governments can lead to the production of useless art that nobody wants, made just to get money. (He cites the Dutch government ending up with warehouses full of "art" that they couldn't give away.)

But the comparison with racing and mining is apropos. For years Australia has dispensed insane amounts of cash to special interests while starving the arts community. Loosening the purse-strings just a little would do a lot. But the new government is unlikely to make this a priority.
posted by outlier at 8:09 AM on September 21, 2013


I don't understand why this argument would originate in Australia. Just as an example of one genre, the visual arts are a fundamental aspect of the economy, engaging almost all Australians, and a vigorous economy of visual arts collectors exists. This is the fundamental basis of the Australian economy, driving progress in techology as well.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:17 AM on September 21, 2013


Hitler was an artist, and maybe if he had proper funding he wouldn't have gone into politics? I'm just saying.

An artist already made (partially with government subsidies) a movie about that.
posted by cardboard at 10:32 AM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Isn't funding artists already feeding the poor?
posted by Zalzidrax at 10:40 AM on September 21, 2013


One branch of the American government that should be better known for sponsoring the arts is the CIA.

...now it is confirmed as a fact. The Central Intelligence Agency used American modern art - including the works of such artists as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko - as a weapon in the Cold War. In the manner of a Renaissance prince - except that it acted secretly - the CIA fostered and promoted American Abstract Expressionist painting around the world for more than 20 years.
...
Why did the CIA support them? Because in the propaganda war with the Soviet Union, this new artistic movement could be held up as proof of the creativity, the intellectual freedom, and the cultural power of the US. Russian art, strapped into the communist ideological straitjacket, could not compete.


The Long Leash Program. You might want to read the whole thing.

The CIA...subsidised the animated version of George Orwell's Animal Farm...sponsored American jazz artists, opera recitals, the Boston Symphony Orchestra's international touring programme. Its agents were placed in the film industry, in publishing houses, even as travel writers for the celebrated Fodor guides.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:02 AM on September 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think there is a place for arts funding, but it should be focused on seed funding for innovative, entrepreneurial initiatives, and emerging and experimental artists.

Jesus, do we have to talk this way about everything nowadays? I mean I like experimental art but really all that's keeping the bile in my hungover stomach at this point is that you didn't say "disrupt."
posted by en forme de poire at 11:57 AM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am not against arts funding, but I do have major problems with the Arts Council Australia and the way funding is typically dispensed. Arts Council and its subsidiaries are riven with client-patron relationship and barely obfuscated nepotism, which often results in the lion's share of funding going to, frankly, bourgeois art for the well-heeled, distributed through a very tight network where the same people are on the same boards etc etc. I speak from experience; I worked as a journalist covering the sector for several years.

I feel that discussion of museums and galleries is somewhat of a smokescreen, in that the funding they get is relatively small, and under absolutely no threat. The vast majority of galleries in Australia are commercial enterprises. The same goes for most art - the accessible arts get hardly any funding. Most of it ends up with entities like Opera Australia, etc. They suck up funding like a fucking Dyson, yet they have barely any community outreach, and ticket prices are such that only rich or middle-class people can actually enjoy it. Terrible Australian "literary" writers like Vennero Armano that *nobody* reads manage to eke out a career on grants whilst talented genre writers are disdained - or it goes to people like Tim Winton who don't need it.

For example, musicals are far, far, far more popular in Australia, but they virtually never get grants. And nor do most amateur or semi-pro theatre troupes, and other forms of accessible art that is far more embedded in and invested in community.

This is what shits me about the funding.
posted by smoke at 4:08 PM on September 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, the arts are totally publicly funded.
posted by chronkite at 4:44 PM on September 21, 2013


Some interesting ideas came out of Theatre Network Victoria's (TNV) annual theatre sector forum this week in Melbourne. Much of it was how to expose theatre to a wider audience - to utilise theatres in suburban and regional areas, bringing theatre to the audiences, rather than asking them to travel into the city, for example. This led to a discussion about the local sporting club model; people watch AFL football on television and travel to the games, but many also support local football teams in their area. What if we tried to do the same in the theatre sector? Encourage people to travel into the city (not just for Melbourne Theatre Company shows, which are like going to the Grand Final cost-wise, but also to smaller more affordable venues), while also developing the skills of theatre-makers in their local communities.

As pointed out by Croggon, the LNP funds a Get in the Game initiative for local sporting clubs - and local sporting clubs are often feeders of football playing talent to the AFL, while also generating a lot of goodwill on a local level. Why not try a similar thing with theatre-makers? Many (most?) local councils in Melbourne have large auditoriums/theatres which could be utilised on this level; they often are used to tour smaller theatrical productions considered good commercial ventures but locals would also support local theatre-makers, because we all like to know people involved. Just like people support local footy teams because they know people playing or coaching or umpiring.

As for funding "experimental" art, there was also discussion at the TNV event about adopting the science model - expecting that experiments aren't always going to work, but appreciating that those experiments may lead to things that will work. It's easy to get outraged about art that we consider a failure - even though beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But experimentation is also a way to test the form and then use some of those more outlandish ideas to strengthen or diversify more mainstream work. Also, the more people who are exposed to work that is considered transgressive or experimental, the more open-minded they are likely to be about a whole range of things within the arts sector. Which will drive attendences and art-making. Just as science experiments that fail will often lead to experiments that succeed.
posted by crossoverman at 6:02 PM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm all for public funding of the arts, but this: "In 2009, more people attended art galleries (11 million) than went to the football (10 million)" is pretty disingenuous. Vastly more people watch football on television than physically attend the games. There was a sold out game on in Perth last night that would have had 40 odd thousand at it, while 30 times that were watching at home.
posted by markr at 6:31 PM on September 21, 2013


Vastly more people watch football on television than physically attend the games. There was a sold out game on in Perth last night that would have had 40 odd thousand at it, while 30 times that were watching at home.

But those two this aren't the equivalent of one another. Paying to go to a game is similar to paying to go to a gallery. Watching the football at home is the equivalent of watching a TV show or a film on TV.

I wonder how many people watch Australian TV drama weekly as compared to watch football on television. I know the Grand Final is usually the biggest TV audience of the year, but how does it compare week-to-week to TV drama?
posted by crossoverman at 7:16 PM on September 21, 2013


Some data:

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries
, which airs on the ABC, is funded by the ABC, Film Victoria, and Screen Australia (source).

On 24 Feb 2012, it apparently had 1.1 million viewers, just shy of the asserted viewership (30 x 40,000) of the sold out football game mentioned by markr.

By way of comparison, State of Origin 3 this year peaked at 4.85 million viewers (national average 4.195 million) (source).

I don't have good numbers on weekly football averages, but this article in the Australian has Fox Footy's live audience for all AFL matches at only 225,000. Peak viewership of big games appears to be 1.2 to 1.3 million.

I was surprised. Amazing what actual data does for your understanding of an issue.
posted by But tomorrow is another day... at 9:05 PM on September 21, 2013


By way of comparison, State of Origin 3 this year peaked at 4.85 million viewers (national average 4.195 million) (source).

Again, let's be careful to compare like-to-like. That 4.195 is the average national PEAK for State of Origin 3. For the night, across the country its viewership was 2.586 million. So the third game in a three game series doubled the premiere episode of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries (which generally doesn't do 1.1million viewers - more usually around 8-900,000).

I'm not even suggesting that the viewing figures of all Australian scripted TV beats all viewership of all Australian sport. Just that the cited stats about paid attendances are a fair comparison.
posted by crossoverman at 10:17 PM on September 21, 2013


In 2009, more people attended art galleries (11 million)

I'm having a really, really hard time believing that around 1 in 2 Australians (give or take) went to an art gallery over the last twelve months. Was that 11 million individuals? Or a million people visiting their state gallery once a month?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:43 PM on September 21, 2013


(Or eleven million school children dragged therein against their wills?)
posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:43 PM on September 21, 2013


I think we're agreeing with each other, crossoverman.

To be clear, I just picked something arbitrary to go look up data on, and was surprised by the results (that Miss Fisher was so high, and that regular footy is so middling). I wonder what other feelpinions I and others hold that don't match reality?

obiwanwasabi, I looked up the report cited in the post's first link. I can't find a reference to football attendance or art gallery attendance in either the summary or the full report, nor can I find the quoted 11 million or 10 million numbers.

Either those figures are from somewhere else, or someone's playing silly buggers. Or I suck at using CTRL-F and/or reading.
posted by But tomorrow is another day... at 11:02 PM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Some public funding of artists is fine.

Funding for structures housing art, and visited predominantly by well-off citizens, should not come from the public.
posted by MikeWilson at 11:42 PM on September 21, 2013


I'm having a really, really hard time believing that around 1 in 2 Australians (give or take) went to an art gallery over the last twelve months. Was that 11 million individuals? Or a million people visiting their state gallery once a month?

Well, equally, are the 10 million Australians who went to the football, just 1 million people who went to their own teams' home matches for the season? Because I equally have a hard time believing that 1 in 2 Australians go to the football every year.

Regardless, that's the attendance numbers - the number of times galleries or football matches are frequented, not whether it was that many individual persons.

As for the stats, the 11m v 10m stat is reproduced here - with links to two ABS reports on attending cultural venues (PDF) and sports (PDF).

I still can't see the 11m v 10m stats in those PDFs, but my rudimentary understanding of those ABS stats suggests - 4.5m visit art galleries per year and 2.8m attend AFL football matches.
posted by crossoverman at 11:59 PM on September 21, 2013


Well, equally, are the 10 million Australians who went to the football, just 1 million people who went to their own teams' home matches for the season?

I don't know. That's why I asked. I like to see units in research, especially when they're comparing one thing with another thing.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:34 AM on September 22, 2013


Well, that's not really how surveys work. Even ones conducted by the ABS.
posted by crossoverman at 4:15 AM on September 22, 2013


The survey questions are of the form "I am going to read out a list of art forms. Please tell me which of the following have you personally participated in or attended in the last 12 months".

obiwanwasabi, the answers to your questions (and more!) are in the links to the research.

The ABS report shows a big gap in attendance between AFL and the next sport: horse racing, particularly by men. And netball is a lot further down than I expected. But this is attendance, not participation. AFL is watched more than played, losing out to lots of other sports.

Stopping now lest I lose more hours playing with ABS data cubes. Again.
posted by But tomorrow is another day... at 2:36 PM on September 22, 2013


I don't have good numbers on weekly football averages, but this article in the Australian has Fox Footy's live audience for all AFL matches at only 225,000. Peak viewership of big games appears to be 1.2 to 1.3 million.

Most viewers are on free to air, so a game with 225k on Fox might have 800k on FTA. The game I mentioned was around 1.26 million on FTA plus 400k on Fox. It was a final, but balanced out a little by no large Melbourne clubs playing. Average for non-finals this season is around 450-500k total with 9 games a week. So around 4 million a week.

Here is a summary of a typical week (actually, perhaps a slightly strong week, but you can see the averages there). I'm not trying to make any sort of point here, it's just some numbers for anyone interested.
posted by markr at 3:25 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


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