The Ultimate Blog Challenge topic for day 20 was to post something controversial. Normally, I try to stay away from controversy on my website, especially political controversy. I figure that if no matter what political side I take, I am probably alienating 50% of the people who see the post. So, why would I want to do that? However, some of the stories I’ve seen on social media in the past few days had me thinking about this topic, so I decided to write an opinion post on…
Should Art Be Funded with Government Money?
When we talk of publicly funding anything, or government funding of anything, I think it helps to put in clear terms, it is taxpayer funding of the item at hand, the U.S. government has no money except what we the people have paid out in taxes, except of course what has been borrowed from other countries, which is, technically, debt belonging to every single American citizen. So, whether you support or oppose government funding of something, its good to understand that American People are actually the ones funding, or not funding it. With that in mind, lets look briefly at both sides of the issue.
Some oppose any taxpayer funding of the arts.
Those who oppose public (taxpayer) funding of art say that our taxes should be spent on more essential things, that funding the arts is not important enough to spend tax money on. They say that paying for things like defense or healthcare is more important. Or they may say that cutting back all unnecessary spending, and instead taxing people less, is the way to go. They also believe that if arts are going to be funded, it should be done through donations by those who want to see more of the arts in society.
Some support all taxpayer funding of the arts.
There are those who think that the government should be spending more on the arts. They feel that if the government would offer support of art and artists, it would free up artists to create. They believe that art enriches lives enough that it should be supported by tax dollars. They want grants and endowments given for artists. They want the government to pay to put up sculptures in public places. They want a slice of tax payer money to go to museums, theaters, and musical ensembles. They like art, and therefore they feel that government should support it. They also don’t think the government should really limit the kind of art or the subject matter, if large numbers of taxpayers are deeply offended by what is payed for, they figure that those people just need to get over it.
Some fall somewhere in between the two extremes.
Then there are people want to see some funding for art museums, some funding for public art, some funding for art, theater, and music in the schools, but they also believe that there should be limits to what is funded. The exact limits may vary from person to person, for example, one person may believe that only traditional art should be funded, another may feel that only the most modern, cutting edge art deserves such an honor. Some may believe that Art Education in grades K-12 should be fully funded, but that if one wants further education in the arts, one should pay for it themselves.
My own opinion on public funding of the arts.
Art is Valuable to Society
Of course as an artist I believe that art can do a lot to enrich society, I also believe that art can be useful in drawing attention to and raising awareness of various issues. Besides, art is just fun. What a boring world we would have without art! Want to type up a letter? We would only have one, very basic font available, because all of the fancier fonts are thought up by artistically minded individuals. Advertisements would be text only, no pictures to draw attention. Packaging would be black and white, no pictures. Just a white label with the name of the item in black. A can of soup and a can of dog food would be identical except for the words on the can. Even names of products would be boring because no one would be creative enough to come up with clever names.
No music would play anywhere, because music is an art form.
No theater, no TV, no movies.
Yes, society needs art.
Arts Education is VITAL for Children
There are numerous studies that show that children who are exposed to the arts, including classical music and visual art, benefit in ways that go beyond their understanding of the arts. They do better in math, they think more creatively and therefore write more creatively, they think more deeply about things. They are better able to visualize information from their History and Science texts. They do better socially. Exposure to art, music, and drama helps them in so many areas because it helps their brains to grow lots of varied neural pathways, many of which can be used in other, seemingly unrelated subject areas. In short, it expands their minds and keeps their brains flexible and growing.
For that reason I believe that the arts should be funded in every public school, from Kindergarten to grade 12. Every grade level should have enough good art, music, and drama teachers that every child in elementary school should experience these subjects every year, at least one day a week, in the elementary grades, every student should experience all of these subjects, unless they have some physical barrier preventing that (for example, a deaf student wouldn’t be able to participate in music class). It should just be expected that every student gets at least a basic “literacy” in all three of these areas in elementary school. That doesn’t mean every student will be producing a masterpiece or playing an instrument, for some students music might consist of simple rhythm instruments and music appreciation, and art should be done for the process not the product. Drama class builds public speaking skills and confidence, even if the school play isn’t performed to perfection. So in elementary school it should be required that every student participates in all three areas if there isn’t a disability preventing it. In Middle School and High school though, every child should be able to pick for themselves which of these three areas to focus on every year, and there should be plenty of choices in all three.
The arts should be funded in K-12 just like math and reading are, and incidentally, all subject areas need better funding than they now get, especially in the area of teacher pay.
Arts degrees should receive equal access to financial aid.
To me this is just fair, if a person who dreams of being a doctor can get financial aid, and a person who dreams of being a political analyst can get financial aid, and a person who dreams of being a journalist can get financial aid, then a person who dreams of being an artist, actor, or musician should be able to get financial aid. I do think that someone who changes their mind and changes majors over and over again should perhaps lose financial aid, but that is another issue. Once a person shows that they qualify in all other respects for financial aid, it shouldn’t be denied based on what they want to become when they are finished with their education. So, while I am not sure whether college should be or should not be funded with taxpayer money, if it is going to be, then arts students should get their fair share of that funding.
Community Arts Organizations should qualify the same as other community organizations do for funding.
If there is a non-profit community group that does good for a community, helps other organizations, provides a valuable asset to the community, then they should be funded equally to other, non-arts community organizations would be.
For example, if there is a community organization that consists of a group of artists who seek to be an asset to their community. Offer educational programs for kids, help raise funds for charities, provide social activities for elderly or disabled people, they should be given funding on the same basis that any other organization doing such things would be funded.
If a science museum that offers kids classes and summer camps qualifies for funding, then an art organization that offers similar things should be funded.
Arts funding should have rules and limits
This is where I depart from a lot of artists. I am all for government funding of arts education, especially in grades K-12. I am all for funding of community organizations that enrich their neighborhoods. I am all for grants for art, music, dance, theater, or literature. But I think there should be some lines drawn.
If someone thinks its artistic to drip pig blood all over the Koran, I call foul. I say they have just disqualified themselves from any government funding by committing such an act of hate and mockery of another’s religion.If someone thinks its artistic to drip pig blood all over the Koran, I call foul. Click To Tweet
If someone thinks its artistic to take photographs of a child in a sexually compromising way, I say that person has not only disqualified themselves from public funding, but that they have committed a crime and should be arrested.
If someone thinks that it is artistic to drop a crucifix into a glass of urine, again, I call foul. I say they have just disqualified themselves from any government funding by committing such an act of hate and mocker of another’s religion.If someone thinks that it is artistic to drop a crucifix into a glass of urine, again, I call foul. Click To Tweet
I also don’t think that publicly funded art should side with a specific political candidate or party. Just like religious organizations can’t do so if they wish to remain tax exempt, if one wishes to receive tax money for art I think that art needs to be politically neutral.
Understand though that I think artists are free to do all of the things listed above, on their own dime.
I also think that federal arts funding really should be limited to education, to museums, and to community organizations. Other funding such as putting sculptures in a city park should be voted on by the local people who use that park.
And public funding of individual artists, well, I think it needs to be limited to artists who are giving something of value back to the government. For example, the government is funding a library, and the library will purchase art for its walls with some of that money. The artist who creates the art will be paid for their work. So in a sense that artist has gotten public funding, but the artist has gotten in exchange for something that was needed by the library.
This is different from an artist who enters a publicly funded art contest, wins, and is awarded a grant to spend however he or she wants. I really don’t think that kind of taxpayer funding of art should exist. For one thing because there is no requirement that the winner does anything beneficial to society, and two because it is, by its nature, unfair. For every artist who gets funding their are thousands more, just as talented, who never will.
I also think that public funding of the arts needs to be kept in perspective, if there are disabled veterans who are homeless, and the choice is putting a sculpture in a park or housing them, then I think the sculpture can wait. If there are children in school who haven’t had a decent meal in three days, and there is a choice between feeding them or buying paints for their class, then feed them first. But really, it shouldn’t be either or. So much money is spent on useless bureaucracy in this country and in its education system, if that money was not being thrown away, there would be enough to do both.