State arts funding plunges
December 30, 2003 8:36 AM   Subscribe

State arts programs have been one of the biggest casualties of the widespread budget crises of 2003. In total, state spending for FY2004 has decreased 23%, led by Missouri (entire budget - 100% - slashed), California (91%), and Florida (78%.) Meanwhile, Congress, to its credit, has awarded a modest increase to the NEA. Will private funding take over, as the Libertarians hope? Or is state funding an essential propellant of local economies?
posted by PrinceValium (47 comments total)
 
Real art is what people pay for. All the subsidized arts would benefit from being thrown onto the open market. Opera would lose its bloated staging, and scale down to more of a chamber form -- and we'd get what we really to to the opera for: music and singing. We'd suddenly learn who are today's REAL classical composers, because they're the ones people would pay to hear. All the subsidized fakes that people hate would disappear overnight, and have to get real jobs, or start writing music that people actually like. Painters would have to start painting pictures that people actually believe are worth money, theatre groups would have to take a page from our brilliant TV writers, and start writing plays that pleased rather than preach or annoy. Poets would have to... Well, you get the idea. In conclusion, the arts are a service industry. Please your audience to the extent that they will pay you money for what you do, or get a job.
posted by Faze at 9:42 AM on December 30, 2003


"Genuine creativity doesn't require a subsidy," Dasbach said. "Truly creative artists and musicians have built a $37 billion entertainment industry fueled by purchases and voluntary contributions from consumers, not by forced taxation.

The mere thought of cultural scene with only "products" that consumers want to "purchase" scares me.

There are so many things in the world that can never be profitable. Or at least their cultural value can never be measured in dollars (or in any other currency). That point was nicely made in the last link.

That said, I've got to admit that government arts funding tends to focus on large cultural establishments such as opera, ballet, classical music and museums. Don't get me wrong, I love opera and classical music. We need them too, but the demand for funding is usually most urgent in small freelance art groups (modern dance, jazz, folk music etc)...
posted by hoskala at 9:50 AM on December 30, 2003


In conclusion, the arts are a service industry.

See also Poetics For Dummies.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 10:05 AM on December 30, 2003


Arts funding SHOULD be one of the first things to go in budget-slashing times. All of the bleeding-heart liberals "progressives" who whine about cuts to healthcare, unemployment, roads, etc, would do well to realize the difference between government subsidies of life-saving programs (which, although debatable in theory, do sometimes keep people from dying and being able to afford food or care) and "arts" programs that have no business being funded by tax dollars in the first place.
posted by davidmsc at 10:06 AM on December 30, 2003


While this is sad, I have to agree with the wisdom of choosing essential things over luxuries when money is scarse.
posted by spazzm at 10:27 AM on December 30, 2003


Please your audience to the extent that they will pay you money for what you do, or get a job.

There are some forms of art, for example modern dance, that require years of professional practice. And a single coreography takes about a month to prepare. There is no way that could be done professionally without arts funding.

Do we need contemporary dance? Is it essential?

Certainly not, but I still prefer to have it around. (And is the U.S. budget crisis really that bad?)

I once read a report, that claimed that every €uro invested in arts comes back.

Simple economic equations just can't measure the value of rich cultural life.
posted by hoskala at 10:36 AM on December 30, 2003


Personally, I see Bush's bloated and self-enriching 2004 military appropriation as "non-essential" spending.
posted by ubermesh at 10:46 AM on December 30, 2003


OK, cut arts funding all you want. But the next time I hear you complain about the poor quality of music, TV, film, or any other artistic endeavor, don't be surprised if you get a knuckle sandwich from yours truly.

Are the arts necessary for life? No, they are not. Are the arts necessary for living? Absolutely.
posted by tommyspoon at 10:49 AM on December 30, 2003


Um, money wouldn't be scarce if we didn't have a couple of ill-advised tax cuts in the past few years, and(, on preview, as ubermesh said,) an expensive discretionary war.

Here's the problem when saying "do stuff people like, or get a job". Public arts funding subsidises art, to some extent, so that *everyone* can afford to experience it. If art became something that is only supported privately, then poor schmucks who don't have a lot of, or any, discretionary income would have no chance to experience it. In short, non-public support of art is elitist.
posted by notsnot at 10:50 AM on December 30, 2003


hoskala, modern dance would not disappear. It would simply lose those attributes people don't like, and undergo a formal evolution, until it crossed the threshold into profitability. This would probably force it to go through an era "gangster capitalism," where dance companies would think they have to inflate their sexual content to appeal too the masses (a mistaken belief, in my opinion). Whatever dance eventually would become, I cannot say, but it would be altogether healthier, and dancers, choreographers and audiences would feel better about themselves -- if indeed, they still exist once its all over.
posted by Faze at 10:52 AM on December 30, 2003


our brilliant TV writers

ROTFL!!!
posted by rushmc at 10:55 AM on December 30, 2003


In short, non-public support of art is elitist.
notsnot, I like your counterintuitive spin on this. But even with government subsidies, high culture is too expensive for average incomes. Without government subsidies, the cost of attending a performance of opera, dance or classical music wouldn't rise out of the reach of the average consumer, the whole arts apparatus would simply collapse, and rise again -- if at all -- in some more affordable format, i.e., opera without elaborate sets and large orchestras; chamber and dance concerts in the home; more statues, fewer "sculptures". Where would the next generation of musicians, dancers, painters, etc., come from, without government subsidy? If people really want them, they'll come from somewhere...
posted by Faze at 11:05 AM on December 30, 2003


If artists did only what people would pay for, we'd have nothing but Britney Spears.
posted by callmejay at 11:05 AM on December 30, 2003


I think a lot of the problem is separating the wheat from the chaff. Most folks would have no problems having an arts budget go to supporting museums, but feel offended at the idea of money going to some "prick of a painter". What determines the staying power of art and its contribution to society? Is it immediate profitability/popularity? How much does the passage of time change things?

At the risk of sounding snobbish, art and entertainment are two different things in my mind, which is a real shame. Art isn't always popular. I don't think it always has to be, otherwise no one would try anything new (be it out of evolving creativity or an aggressive challenge to the status quo).

Still, I personally try to make as much of it as enjoyable as I can. I wish art was more popular. But it's such a fucking uphill battle sometimes. I know so many people who just love the Lord of the Rings soundtrack, but it never occurs to them to seek out the symphony for similar work. "Here, have some free comps, you'll love the program," I say. "No," they reply. "Classical music is boring." WTF can I do against that? (Gamely plug away is what I do, but it's a horrible stigma to get over. And I'll freely admit the high-and-mighty attitude of some of my current patrons is one of my biggest obstacles to recruiting new blood.)
posted by Sangre Azul at 11:10 AM on December 30, 2003


callmejay has it exactly right. If artists will only produce what people already know they will pay for, then we will only have tired retreads of known quantities. Think of arts funding as an R&D expense. It might be profitable in a pure free market absent government funding for existing commercial art forms to survive, but the cost to develop new forms is a considerable barrier to entry to that market. By funding new artists on an essentially indiscriminate basis, we increase the likelihood that good new art will be created in the first place.

[Oh, and I dispute the contention that stripping the opera of sets and orchestras will make it "better."]
posted by monju_bosatsu at 11:13 AM on December 30, 2003


I work for an art museum that relies on private donations and a pretty healthy endowment for funding. Before this, I worked for a quasi-state organization that received its operating budget from the state legislature. Of the two, I think the private model seems to work better. The level of funding is reasonably stable, and the key to keeping the place open lies in persuading people that art is worth their money. When I worked for the quasi-sate org, there was a predictable cycle of boom and bust depending on how a handful of state legislators felt; and there were at least two massive rounds of layoffs when the state had to adjust the budget.

It seems to me that state funding is sort of like crack to arts organizations... it seems beneficial at first, but before long you get hooked on it, and suddenly your amount of control over your own destiny starts shrinking pretty drastically.
posted by COBRA! at 11:14 AM on December 30, 2003


It would simply lose those attributes people don't like

I like to see attributes in Art that I don't like. I feel that sometimes it is the very meaning or ART.

There is already art (=cultural products) that please the audience: the entertainment industry.

Government should be funding alternatives for that.

if indeed, they still exist once its all over.

Yes, indeed.

*humming: There's no business like showbusiness....*
posted by hoskala at 11:15 AM on December 30, 2003


Faze, art is not design.

Design is creativity for the commercial sphere. Art is for something else. A professor of critical theory has a nice analogy that I like, "Designers make nicer, prettier, rugs. Artists pull the rug out from underneath the observer." The commercial sphere takes care of the former, like movies and tv and some theater. But the latter is harder to get people to pay for (historically speaking).

I think that with few exceptions (Shakespeare, and the patroned artists of the Renaissance), most art is not all that commercially successful at the time of its creation. Artists are "out there" ahead of culture/society to some degree. This perspective by its definition makes it hard to be successful commercially. But it doesn't make it less useful.

In your purely economic formulation for art, how can you account for the lost work that will result from artists striving only to make enough money to eat? As the leaders and drivers of culture that artists are, how should they be compensated when the people that they're helping are a generation (or perhaps many generations) in the future?
posted by zpousman at 11:16 AM on December 30, 2003


On preview (that I didn't see), what monju_bosatsu said.
posted by zpousman at 11:20 AM on December 30, 2003


I hear you complain about the poor quality of music, TV, film, or any other artistic endeavor, don't be surprised if you get a knuckle sandwich from yours truly -- tommyspoon
Mr. Spoon, you certainly won't hear me complain about the poor quality of music, TV, film or other artistic endeavor. We are currently living in the greatest age that the arts have ever known. Industrial design has made everything we use more beautiful than anything in history (see Virginia Postrel's new book); movies, TV, and commercials are photographed more beautifully than the most beautiful frames of Kurasowa and Lean; network TV, from "West Wing" to "King of Queens" is more superbly written than anything that has ever been written for the legitimate theater in modern times -- every sitcom on today's TV, even the crappy ones, is brilliantly written, compared to "Love that Bob," "Ozzie and Harriet," and others from the "Golden Age of Television."
I don't think muc of rap and hip hop, but I can see that it represents the greatest explosion of popular poetry in this history of humankind. Without a single government subsidy, rap has achieved the dream of generations of socialists and given voice to the aspirations of poor and working class minorities (like 'em or not), and made many of them stupendously rich in the bargain. As far as modern dance is concerned, you may want to tune into MTV or BET sometime, and see that the screen is jammed with dancing bodies nearly every second of the day. Hip hop must employ zillions of highly disciplined, highly choreographed dancers -- all of whom seem to be capable of incredibly tight synchronous movements. Hip hop is the very thing that many subsidizers had hoped to bring about -- real multicultural popular art -- all of it without one penny of direct government money. I mean, I hate it with a passion, but you have to give credit where credit is due.
posted by Faze at 11:23 AM on December 30, 2003


The National Endowment for the Arts was founded in 1965. It's received roughly around $110 million a year since its inception. Multiply that by 38 years and you have $4 billion. And that's roughly the total cash flow it's received throughout its existence. Or a little less than 40 cents a year for every American taxpayer.

Meanwhile, Bush gets his $87 billion bailout bill for spending this year, much of it hied away for abstractly worded defense spending.

And it certainly doesn't help that idiot fronts can't stop yapping anytime their J. Edgar Hoover-style ticklers get caught in a bunch.
posted by ed at 11:30 AM on December 30, 2003


The articles found here might suggest some reasons that government should invest in the arts. If you want your city to become the kind of chuffing economic engine that produces libertarians as fast as it produces wealth, government subsidies for the arts might be a good place to start.

Here's the most glib article in the lot, for the impatient.
posted by putzface_dickman at 11:48 AM on December 30, 2003


True, art spending should come after more important things, but then again this situation is a result of "starve the beast" economics. Intentionally running a deficit forces the government into a situation where they have to cut off as many programs as possible (medicare, arts funding...etc..).

Should the people have to pay for dance performances that they never see is something else.

"King of Queens" is more superbly written than anything that has ever been written for the legitimate theater in modern times.

you've never left your house have you?
posted by destro at 11:49 AM on December 30, 2003


you've never left your house have you? -- destro
On the contrary, I probably consume more legitimate theatre in a given year than 98 percent of all American males, and I can confidently report that one episode of "King of Queens" (which I think sucks) has more laughs than the entire lifetime output of Moliere, Shakespeare and Shaw combined. This is not to say that those three guys don't have a lot to offer... but their comedies are just not funny. America produced some funny plays and screenplays in the 1930s and forties, but today's sitcom writers have learned from them, and supercharged every aspect of their craft. They've also deepened it tremendously in terms of content, expanded its formal reach beyond anything dreamed of by the avant garde theatre of years past, and found a way to pound this excellence out week after week, year after year. Let's face it, popular culture today is so incredibly powerful because its so incredibly good -- or at least, it very successfully meets the needs of its audience. High art needs to plug into that same energy, which it won't get by scrounging around for subsidies.
posted by Faze at 12:09 PM on December 30, 2003


Faze is comedy gold.

Oh, and zpousman and monju have it right.
posted by bshort at 12:15 PM on December 30, 2003


The real losers won't be bloated operas or museums that showcase prick painters who fling dung all over Our Blessed Lady. These sorts of big-city institutions will have private and corporate patronage to buffer their losses until the next Democratic Congress. (Not to mention that high-art commodities offer a very decent ROI. Fine Art investments have outpaced equities lately, according to this dubious article.)

Take a look at Missouri Art Council's grant recipients for last year (pdf). There are a large number of small grants to community arts projects and arts tutoring -- and these are the sort of programs that I suspect will be the first to disappear. Perhaps some of that money would have been better spent on subsidized cable TV for Missourians, but when little Faze comes home with a macaroni painting that's all fucked-up and weird, don't say I didn't warn you.
posted by eatitlive at 12:16 PM on December 30, 2003


This faux-pragmatic approach I hear from Faze and others presupposes that the cultural life of a society operates with the same hamfisted dollar-in-dollar-out mechanics as the entertainment industry. Idiotic non-starter.

"King of Queens" is more superbly written than anything that has ever been written for the legitimate theater in modern times.

What an embarrassing thing to have said.
posted by squirrel at 12:17 PM on December 30, 2003


Without a single government subsidy, rap has achieved the dream of generations of socialists and given voice to the aspirations of poor and working class minorities (like 'em or not), and made many of them stupendously rich in the bargain.

You have very little idea what you are talking about.
posted by sudama at 12:24 PM on December 30, 2003


You have very little idea of what you are talking about -- sudama
Very few, if any, rap or hip hop artists have been recipients of government arts grants, as far as I know. That may have changed. Nonetheless, the growth of this chanted poetry from the streets of the Bronx to a multi-billion dollar international creative industry is the greatest arts story of our time -- a far more revolutionary development than the overturning of salon-type painting by impressionism, post-impressionism, and cubism, the Paris premiere of "Rite of Spring," the publishing of "Ulysses," or anything else since the maybe the birth of jazz. For the first time in history, poets are getting rich off their work. When has this ever happened? For that matter, hip-hop dancers are getting rich, sit com writers are getting rich. The world today is packed with very wealthy artists. Our culture is swamped with great novels, great movies, great TV -- even professional wrestling is better than ever. Who has time to see or read it all? Yet we do not live in a great age of new operas, new instrumental music, or dance -- and why? Because these arts are not thrown upon the marketplace, where they might develop into something more dynamic.
posted by Faze at 1:11 PM on December 30, 2003


For the first time in history, poets are getting rich off their work. When has this ever happened?

Are you looking for a Socialist example, in particular? Brecht got rich off The Threepenny Opera. I don't think he was the first poet to ever make money, though.
posted by eatitlive at 1:24 PM on December 30, 2003


I don't think rap is the first genre of music to make a few poor but lucky musicians filthy rich.
posted by romanb at 1:32 PM on December 30, 2003


Brecht got rich off The Threepenny Opera -- eatitlive
Brecht got rich off "Threepenny Opera" because he had the stupendous good fortune to have met up with a genius composer named Kurt Weil. After their brief period of collaboration, Brecht went on to produce some of the most mind-numbing, tediously didactic plays ever to be taken seriously by non-Marxists, and some of the most condescending theory (the need for alienation, for instance) ever laid down on the boards. Brecht, by the way, produced his wretched plays for state-subsidized theaters in Communist Eastern Europe (and even these sponsors couldn't stomach them for the most part). Meanwhile, the brilliant Kurt Weil moved to New York, where he joined up with the gloriously un-subsidized Broadway theater, and began churning out one after another brilliant show tune, thus rendering himself a benefactor of society, a contributor to the gaiety of mankind, and honored name wherever songs are sung. Today, Brecht is widely acknowledged to be a plagiarist, mountebank, coward and spouse abuser, and not fit to kiss Weil's piano stool.
posted by Faze at 1:40 PM on December 30, 2003


Let's face it, popular culture today is so incredibly powerful because its so incredibly good -- or at least, it very successfully meets the needs of its audience.

Assuming that the second half of the statement is true, the first half has no relevance. The same statement could be made about the Medellin drug cartel in 1980.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 1:41 PM on December 30, 2003


I don't think rap is the first genre of music to make a few poor but lucky musicians filthy rich -- romanb
My point, Mr. b, is that these people aren't musicians by any stretch of the imagination. They are poets who recite to rhythmic accompaniment -- just as Homer was said to have done, in the days of prehistoric Greece. Of course, they are lousy poets, by my lights. But then, all poets are lousy today. What's better, to be a lousy poet who makes tons of money and makes a huge audience happy, or a lousy poet who starves? By the way, I don't think the numbers being made rich by rap are in any way small -- especially compared to the previous generation of rock, rap and soul singers. Many of today's rappers have real business savvy.
posted by Faze at 1:50 PM on December 30, 2003


Actually, I have to agree with Faze. Scary Movie 3 has more laughs than anything written in the history of theatre. What most people don't realize is that laughter is actually a fairly recent invention. It was developed by a little-known scientist named Hugenthorp who left his Bavarian home and fled to New Jersey. He got a job quickly. Like many foolish people who worked under Edison, Hugenthorp promptly had his work stolen and patented under Alva's name. Before Hugenthorp's progress, however, not one soul who walked the earth before 1930 was capable of laughing. This did, of course, affect theatre. As well as several other mediums. And it has been estimated by several laughter experts that laughter's relatively recent inclusion into human emotions led to the rise of facism later that decade. Perhaps millionsn of lives would have been saved if only laughter had not been allowed out of the floodgates. Or perhaps the tragic costs were a necessary part of human progress.

There has been great debate in recent years over whether these claims are true. But consider the slim array of phonographic records which contain laughter. No, back then, people knew that the only way to go through life was to live in a no-nonsense, all-too-serious world, never once cracking a smile. And the best thing about it was that public funding for the arts was considered just as frivolous as existence.
posted by ed at 1:50 PM on December 30, 2003


I work with a handful of government-subsidized nonprofit after-school arts programs for K-12 kids, some of which are currently under the axe with thanks to mentatlies like that of Faze. In my work, I see the difference that early exposure to fostering environments and structured creative programs can make on developing self-esteem and talent. Anyone who claims that there is no relationship between government-supported arts programs and, to use his example, the rise of hip-hop is uninformed.
posted by squirrel at 3:04 PM on December 30, 2003


I think an art's success (fiscally) hinges on the cost of production. Music production and video production have been revolutionized by digital technology, allowing anyone to compose, produce and publish their music quickly and easily. Opera, ballet and theatre require a community of artists to come together - dancers, performers, musicians, designers, technicians - and so require a greater outlay of expense - and greater risk to the investor and artist. The latest remedy has been to create theatre that people already know they're going to like since they liked the movie (Lion King, Hairspray, etc). Before that it was novels and before that it was legends.

I think the big miss of arts in education is that the processes of performing arts is one of collaboration - rather than a more traditional athletic focus on competition. That you don't 'win' a play or symphony - it's you and your talents versus the text.

State-funded arts are a tough sell and I still cringe that a great play has to cost more than a movie (and I've produced plays as well and know how it is to lose some dough trying to make my plays affordable). Still, federal and state support may have not helped the greatest artists create their blockbuster masterpieces - but it sure as hell helped them learn their craft to then make a gaggle of investors rich (I'm thinking specifically of the Works Progress Administration but Angels in America wouldn't have been produced without the support in funding from workshop to development to production by countless state, federal and private organiations).

We are one of the few 'developed countries' in the world without a national theatre, a national symphony or a national dance company and that is a true pity and tragedy. I can't find the source but we have one of the lowest art-spending per capita in the world (again, 'developed countries'). What synapse connection aren't we making?

I do agree with the sentiment above that arts funding too many times goes to the great big institutions so they can do their one black play or their one gay musical or their one latino poetry slam for the season - rather than directly funding the artists themselves. Arts organizations start off using funding and 'popular work' to create riskier work but then find they have to keep doing more and more of that work to keep a profit - which ends up diluting their work.

We want to take the arts to people? Quintuple the funding so anybody, anywhere can enjoy the entire canon of our civilizations without breaking the bank.
posted by ao4047 at 3:41 PM on December 30, 2003


I work for my local cultural council in Massachusetts. We received $2,050 in grant money from the state for FY04, which we granted to support six cultural or artistic events here in my little town of 10,000 people. Those six events were for the kids at our local schools, for a local non-profit community theatre, and for a free concert in the park for the whole town. The kids in our cash-strapped public schools would likely experience NO field trips, assemblies, or workshops in the art or culture areas without council funding. Do you really want to see a generation grow up without any art, music, or drama in their curriculums?

Faze, did you read the link in the Boston Phoenix? The point in that article that struck me the most was this: "...in 2000 ... the arts sustained 3.5 percent of New England’s total job base — more than the software or medical-technology fields — and accounted for $6.6 billion in "cultural tourism." State-funded art and cultural funding is extremely important to the economy and to the quality of life of people in the state -- especially in little towns like mine.
posted by acridrabbit at 3:51 PM on December 30, 2003


We the anointed elites have determined that all taxpayers must fund unmarketable art. Now shut up and pay. BTW, don't get any ideas about witholding any of what we've determined you owe, or we'll send a sheriff to your house to take it by force.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 3:56 PM on December 30, 2003


I want to add a little more detail to my post above...

1. The free concert in the park is being performed by a Latin music group. Would any of my small town's "townies" likely see a Latin music concert in the ordinary course of their lives? Not likely. I'm dead serious. I know the people in my town very well, and while there are a few yuppies, mostly this is an old New England mill town with a low percentage of college grads, people who rarely leave the local 10-square-mile area, much less the state -- people who rarely read for pleasure or seek out new experiences -- overwhelmingly white and lower-middle-class. These are people who might well have some horizons broadened by this concert (or they might just find a new appreciation for a culture they don't really understand).

2. The community theatre event is a New Works Festival. Somebody upthread was talking about how tough it is to get a career started in the arts, and that is clear. What if the next Neil Simon gets his play performed in this New Works Festival and uses it as a launching pad for a long, fantastic career? Or the next Jessica Lange or Tom Hanks performs in it to great acclaim, and does likewise? It could definitely happen. But no matter what, the sell-out (every year) audiences for the festival will have enjoyed a night away from the TV and that, if you ask me, can only be a good thing.

Hoskala was talking about how state funding usually goes to opera, classical music, etc. My point in posting this is to point out that at least in Mass., those institutions are funded primarily by (well-endowed) foundations, usually with a lot of corporate support. At least here, most state funding is granted to small, quirky, non-profit, diverse, and interesting groups. Some Big Bank isn't interested in supporting a local storyteller, teaching kids about Chinese culture and history (a previous grant from my council).

Thank you for supporting arts and culture in your community. Please remember that without your support, the world would be a lot grayer place.


PS (on preview): Art and culture are not elitist pursuits. Art can be a quilt or an opera or anything in between, in my view!
posted by acridrabbit at 4:14 PM on December 30, 2003


I can confidently report that one episode of "King of Queens" (which I think sucks) has more laughs than the entire lifetime output of Moliere, Shakespeare and Shaw combined. This is not to say that those three guys don't have a lot to offer... but their comedies are just not funny. America produced some funny plays and screenplays in the 1930s and forties, but today's sitcom writers have learned from them

You're an interesting one. No, I'm pretty much serious. You really think the development of humor is a story of linear ascending progress, and not one of changing cultural norms? So that, say, you could take a man from the 1930s, and show him an episode of King of Queens, and he will just explode in convulsive laughter, because humor is at heart a feat of engineering?
posted by furiousthought at 4:15 PM on December 30, 2003


you certainly won't hear me complain about the poor quality of music, TV, film or other artistic endeavor

all poets are lousy today

But seriously, I don't want a lousy poet who makes tons of money, or a lousy poet who starves. I'll take the third option: a great poet that isn't starving thanks to government funding.
posted by romanb at 4:21 PM on December 30, 2003


Faze, perhaps you're only seeing Britney Spear's equivalent of rap, not the good stuff. 90% of everything is crap.
posted by callmejay at 4:41 PM on December 30, 2003


We are one of the few 'developed countries' in the world without a national theatre, a national symphony or a national dance company and that is a true pity and tragedy -- ao4047
Mr. 4047, we also have at least three of the world's five greatest orchestras, its greatest opera company, and among the world's best dance companies, plenty of theater in both our urban centers and the provinces. How can this be, since we don't live up to the exalted standards of European state funding? This is not to mention magnificent art museums, and the only contemporary art scene worth caring about. Considering that we are a young country, and that Europe has a 400 year head start, we're doing pretty good in the high culture stuff-- even with substandard government funding. But on top of having first rate high culture, America has a popular and folk culture of such unbelievable richness and vitality that traditional cultures that have survived for thousands of years crumble at its lightest touch. This country has tons of crap art and great art co-mingled co-mingled in every sphere -- painting, movies, music, TV (I won't even go into literature, since the greatness of contemporary American novels, histories and other non-fiction surpasses anything in history) -- and this is called vitality. No amount of government funding has been able to buy this for Europe, which continues to turn, with burning tongue, to America for a few drops of genuine, living art.
posted by Faze at 6:36 PM on December 30, 2003


So that, say, you could take a man from the 1930s, and show him an episode of King of Queens, and he will just explode in convulsive laughter, because humor is at heart a feat of engineering? -- furiousthought
Mr. thought, you have uncovered one of the most marvelous things about our wonderful, unsubsidized sit com culture. Hollywood is full of Harvard grads, beavering away as sitcom writers, who have actually turned humor into something very much like "a feat of engineering." The best minds of two generations are devoting the best years of their lives to making us laugh. This is a glorious development. In prior generations, they might have been cooking up political parties, honing religious doctrines, passing new laws, or devising insurance schemes. Instead, they are being paid, by private companies, to write jokes. This is very good use of money, if you ask me. How many of Europe's best and brightest make their living writing jokes? I'm not saying someone from the 1930s would laugh him or herself silly over "King of Queens," but I do think that comedy in our day is not only greater in quantity (by a factor of about a million) than the thirties, but I also think that, joke for joke, it's funnier. (By the way, I chose "King of Queens" as my example not because I thought it was an outstanding sitcom, but because is it is an average entry in a particularly pathetic subgenre -- fat guy with beautiful woman -- of the form. The point being that even an average sitcom with an embarrassing premise is STILL brilliantly crafted.) And what about drama? Millions of people are glued to programs I never watch, like "West Wing," "CSI," "Alias," "ER," among many others. I don't have much patience for drama, but I assume these are all great, too. All produced without a penny of your tax dollars (yeah, yeah, I know, the government is heavily involved in broadcasting via the FCC, the granting of licenses, and all that. But that's not the point...).
posted by Faze at 6:57 PM on December 30, 2003


We are currently living in the greatest age that the arts have ever known.
...
every sitcom on today's TV, even the crappy ones, is brilliantly written, compared to "Love that Bob," "Ozzie and Harriet," and others from the "Golden Age of Television."


I completely agree. But how did we get here?

You know, there's a guy out there somewhere that actually invented rap. At the time, it was cutting edge and there wasn't a market for it. But he did it anyway and someone else heard it and started rapping, and so on and so forth and now, yes, it is finally profitable. I think the value in any kind of funding for the arts comes from the fact that the money allows artists the freedom to create art that isn't commercially viable. But there are kids out there who'll see that art and 30 years from now they'll incorporate those same ideas into a brilliant sitcom that runs for years and makes millions of dollars so that in 30 years we can still say, "We are living in the greatest age the arts have ever known."
posted by hootch at 11:36 PM on December 30, 2003


Hot Off The Presses: "A musical based on the life of San Diego serial killer Andrew Cunanan...will be developed this year at the La Jolla Playhouse through a $35,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts"

OK, all of you pro-government funding of the arts: Defend This. I dare you.
posted by davidmsc at 10:01 AM on January 2, 2004


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