Public Money and Art

We’ve been playing the “How I envy the Brits” game for such a long time – aren’t they lucky. All that government money. I’ve played it too. In this recent example in The Washington Post, it’s  “How I envy the Canadians”.

Well, here’s a great story from Hyperallergic to make you think twice.

No matter what anyone tells you, all money comes with strings, but especially money that comes from all of us, i.e. Government Money, and especially money that we expect to come again next year, and the year after. After all, that’s the kind of money we really need in the Arts, right, – reliable money, no-matter-whatmoney, year-in-and-year-out, do-what-you-want-with-itmoney.

But that money doesn’t exist here in the States – not really, and this little story from Jersey City perfectly encapsulates the issue. Either someone actually gets offended by somethingyou have done, and threatens to cut you off,  or you spend the rest of your administrative life worryingthat someone will get offended and attempt to cut you off.  Anyone who is interested in any kind of Art can think of multiple examples here from either side of that divide. How many images from the creative world can you think of from the last 30 years that might have offended someone from any number of religions? Perhaps even offended them enough to get an artist, or a producer, or a publisher… killed? Threatening to cut your funding seems almost friendly.

So your choice, especially in this digital era, when it is possible for anyone, anywhere on the planet who is potentially offendable to see pictures of your artwork(s), is twofold. Once you have accepted Public Money, your choice is either public censorship, or self censorship. Forever.

All of which is in addition to two simple facts about federal money for the arts in the US today:

  1. You’re not going to get any, because there isn’t any. Okay, hardlyany, and
  2. Given the state of politics in this country, there isn’t going to be any. At least, not soon.

To me, this makes a great case for an endowment. Persuading someone to give you money once is hard enough, but arguably easier than persuading them to give it to you annually. And once they have given, it’s yours. Forever.

Okay, you still have to worry about getting killed. But at least they can’t cut off your funding.

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