Saturday, 10 January 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #213: Ministry of the Arts in the USA?

According to the always indefatigable Nikki Finke, music legend Quincy Jones has started a petition for the incoming Obama Administration to form a Ministry of the Arts for the United States. This body would oversee funding for the creation and promotion of the arts in America.

Now I'm a Canadian, and as a Canadian I've seen government arts funding in action, or to be more specific

You see while the idea of public funding for the arts sounds all well and good, it is a double edged sword that has the potential to do way more harm than good.

Government funding has the potential to create an elite clique that seizes control of the art world simply by getting positions, or influence over, the ministry's funding bodies.

This changes the rules of success in the arts from having a combination of talent, originality, and drive, to being connected to the ruling political party. Because no how well the legislation is written, the people running the arts funding programs will be political appointees with their own agendas to funnel the funding to their friends, their pet projects, and to those who can otherwise advance those agendas, friends, or pet projects.

Also public funding is like crack cocaine to the arts, they always want more, and there will never be enough. Wealthy private patrons then get out of supporting the arts, preferring to let the state subsidize their social lives via government back galleries, theaters, and music programs. Before you know it, there are no avenues for artistic success that are not government funded or subsidized, and run by those elite cliques I told you about.

And there's the issue of pseudo-censorship when it comes to state arts funding. Playwright Tom Stoppard told a story about how in 1968 a radical leftist group cried censorship because a major national newspaper refused to print their manifesto on their front page. Stoppard summed up the absurdity of it all by saying: "that's not censorship, that's

Do you see what I'm getting at?

No one, not even the state, should be compelled to spend their money, effort, and time to support something that they don't want to support, that is one of the fundamental freedoms of humanity. However, the presence of the state in arts funding implies some sort of right to support, whether they want to support it or not. Just remember the whole incident of the statue of the Virgin Mary made from elephant dung in a New York museum. When then mayor Rudy Giuliani refused the statue city funding, the elite set screamed censorship.

They were wrong, censorship is when the elite set pays for their own dung-statuary to be displayed in their own museum, and the city sends in cops to smash everything and arrest the artist.

By refusing to pay for something the majority of citizens considered a petty, and pretty unoriginal stunt designed only to offend but offering no real insight, Giuliani was

Or let me put it another way.

If you don't give a white supremacist $10,000 of your own money to make statues honouring Adolph Hitler, are you censoring that artist?

No, you're showing some taste and discretion, in other words, you're editing, and forcing you to give money to someone to support something you don't want, would be wrong.

But therein lies the trap of state funded arts. Quality, insight, and appeal quickly fade as reasons for art to succeed, in fact, success becomes anathema. Instead artists will pursue a sort of anti-audience mindset, hoping to maintain and promote their careers by intimidating bureaucrats through crying censorship, rather than making art that people might actually want to pay for.

If you need proof, just look at Canada's English language film scene. It's so wrapped up in appealing to a small clique that they don't even bother showing 90% of the films outside of the Toronto Film Festival. And if the state decides that they don't want to pay for someone's all musical film about necrophilia, then it's time to scream censorship.

So if the US government wants to get into the Art business, then they better think it through, or else it could become a massive boondoggle achieving nothing but 6 figure salaries for politicians and their cronies.

Of course that could be what they want in the first place.

1 comment:

  1. So if the US government wants to get into the Art business...

    Actually, the US government has been in the arts business for a long time. The NEA has been funding artistic atrocities for decades, using the occasional Shakespeare in the park production as cover.

    Nice post, BTW and well said.