Department of No

by on January 6, 2009 at 6:37 am in The Arts | Permalink

Many organizations that spent years building large endowments to
provide more stable sources of support have seen them decimated. A
number of our most loyal donors have watched their own investment
portfolios be depleted and cannot provide their traditional funding.
Our audience members cannot buy as many tickets as they have in the
past. And our board members are less able to involve friends and
associates in our fundraising galas and other activities.

This perfect storm has already weakened the fabric of our nation’s arts ecology. Over the past several months, the Baltimore Opera Company,
Santa Clarita Symphony, Opera Pacific, the Los Angeles Museum of
Contemporary Art and others have closed or come close to closing. There
probably will be a torrent of additional closures, cancellations and
crises in the coming months.

Of course they want a bailout but this is for me not a priority.  Given the new distribution of wealth, arguably we need more culture for lower-income people and less culture for the rich.  I don’t think the old distribution of wealth is coming back anytime soon.

It’s something to watch when the egalitarian and elitist tendencies of modern liberalism clash so strongly.  When it comes to high culture it’s like this:  "I don’t think they should have so much money, but I sure like what they spend their money on."  Yet if deflationary pressures are going to benefit lower class individuals with jobs, something has to give and that is, in part, the discretionary arts spending of the wealthy.

The longer plea for aid is here.  I thank Christopher Janak for the pointer.

1 bastiat January 6, 2009 at 7:56 am

Eventually they will also say, “I liked the taxes they paid…”

2 caravan70 January 6, 2009 at 9:11 am

“High culture” is in a sense aspirational – full appreciation of a great symphony, say, requires time and education, and beyond the aesthetic pleasures that appreciation brings is the sense of participating in a larger cultural legacy. The goal of public funding should be to make that opportunity for such participation available to as wide a segment of the population as possible, as has always been the goal of committed “popularizers” like Leonard Bernstein and Michael Tilson Thomas. Just as libraries are publicly funded, so should the leading organizations that perpetuate important American art traditions receive reasonable public support, whether old lions like the New York Philharmonic or newer entities of proven worth like La Mama or the Magic Theatre (currently in some difficulty). There’s room for disagreement as to who should receive how much – I would certainly link public support to the degree of an organization’s community outreach and the availability of its offerings to the economically disadvantaged – but in times of economic struggle it’s more important than ever that people of all income levels should have the consolation of great art available to them.

3 Yancey Ward January 6, 2009 at 9:33 am

Liberals dominate the arts’ employment ranks. This is all you need to know to understand the “contradiction”.

4 StreetWalker January 6, 2009 at 10:19 am

more culture for lower-income people and less culture for the rich.

Tyler, you might want to look at the demographics for museums. There is data there. In the UK, more people go to museums than to soccer matches. 43% of the population visits museums there – that can hardly mark museums as “culture for the rich.”

In the US, about 6 times as many people go to museums as to football games.

Government-sponsored museums are culture for “lower-income people,” Tyler. It’s football that’s not!

5 Thelonious_Nick January 6, 2009 at 12:06 pm

“Many organizations that spent years building large endowments to provide more stable sources of support have seen them decimated.”

Their endowments have fallen by 10%? That doesn’t sound bad at all, compared to how much my 401K has lost.

6 Yancey Ward January 6, 2009 at 1:10 pm

Nick,

Maybe their endowments are only down 10% because a lot of them were lucky enough to invest with Bernie Madoff.

7 meter January 6, 2009 at 2:51 pm

We should stop subsidizing the arts as soon as the practice of raising taxes to build sports stadia for stinking rich franchise owners is lopped off at the knees.

8 Whit Stevens January 6, 2009 at 4:28 pm

Where can I find stats on arts consumption by income level?

9 Sigivald January 6, 2009 at 6:26 pm

Namless 9:16 AM: Well, XM isn’t being subsidised, or asking for a subsidy.

Opera is often subsidised (worldwide more than in the US) precisely because it’s radically unpopular with the mass populace. And who can blame them? The people I know who work in opera aren’t all that fond of it.

The analysis that says most opera-going is social signaling seems valid (even though, of course, there are those like Brian Micklethwait at Samizdata who rabidly appreciate it for itself, they appear to be a minority).

StreetWalker: And of those “850 million people” (cf. your link) who will visit museums this year… how many are schoolkids who are being sent there to fill time?

Certainly we can’t talk about popularity or free-choice utilization without figuring out what proportion those are, and removing them from the numbers.

The argument that there should be museums because schoolkids should be led through them is another, separate, one. The State is capable of forcing millions of child-visits to anything it wants in a year; that is not in itself an argument that the thing in question is therefore valuable.)

Gavin: Before mass public education, there were still musicians (if not more then perhaps better, in fact – and certainly the desire of people to music has not decreased; I credit the increase in musicianship to the increased wealth of the populace, making instruments and spare time to practice and play more affordable).

Whence this implication that the State must produce all things, and on the General Public’s tab, no less? Surely it isn’t so that if children are not made to learn instruments in the Schools, they won’t do so – for just as surely they did before the Schools existed.

Nor can it be so that the inspired or driven (the best musicians, according to all research – the greats practice more before high school than any mere school musician will in their entire career, if I remember right) will suffer significantly by a lack of subsidized study.

10 Menger January 6, 2009 at 7:12 pm

Since when is it only “the rich” who enjoy classical music and museums?

How many decades of radio ratings are you going to deny?

11 Menger January 6, 2009 at 7:24 pm

Where can I find stats on arts consumption by income level?

Arbitron, at least for music consumption.

There are 9 hours of NFL football each week on free TV (more, but flipping between 2 games is still the same amount of time) and at least 9 hours of arts programming on PBS (and This Old House, Nature, and the McLaughlin Group ain’t arts programming). AC Neilsen gathers the ratings, and they break it down by income level, too. Enjoy your research!

12 pireader January 6, 2009 at 8:34 pm

Professor Cowen —

So Michael Kaiser, president of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts favors a “bailout for the arts”. You somehow see in that a clash between “the egalitarian and elitist tendencies of modern liberalism”, as opposed to good old-fashioned special pleading.

So I’m curious … what deep left-wing tendencies to you detect when Rick Wagoner, chairman of General Motors, favors a bailout for the auto industry? Or when the Real Estate Roundtable favors a bailout for the commercial real-estate industry?

Special pleading is hardly the distinctive province of liberalism.

13 StreetWalker January 6, 2009 at 11:20 pm

@noname

special pleading

Srsly, no. Museums and public art can rake in major tourist dollars. Recently in NYC we had some rather pointless public art, these giant fake waterfalls installed under the Brooklyn Bridge. But much to our surprise, tourists flocked from around the world to see them! It was amazing. That silliness netted us some US$69 million, according to Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who certainly understands how to make money.

I say, ask the museums to offer revenue estimates; if they seem likely, fund ’em. Then open the doors to the train stations wide and watch the visitors wander in.

14 jp January 7, 2009 at 12:26 am

I work in the business so let me just say;

I respect Tyler and I respect Michael.

Tyler is wrong, but Tyler also has a point:

We (meaning arts administrators and leaders) done a crap job of explaining why and how ‘the arts’ serve the greater public good. The perception persists that the arts are an elite pursuit feeding at the public trough that the ‘ordinary taxpayer’ unfairly shoulders the burden for. Our pleas for assistance fall on deaf ears and inspire these time-worn chestnuts about “tax-and-spend liberalism”.

So yeah, the minute I read Michael’s on-point editorial, I knew this response was coming, and was inevitable. We simply haven’t laid the groundwork , we’ve been too busy struggling to keep the doors open.

Tyler, respectfully — If only you knew the time and energy we (arts adminstrators) pour into getting the general public into the seats. And most of those ‘rich folks’ demonized above? They’re the ones subsidizing the cheap tickets and the educational outreach programs and the in-school concerts keeping the flame alive for the next generation. God knows the cash-strapped public schools aren’t.

Oops, did I say that out loud?

15 Anonymous January 7, 2009 at 7:34 am

every time sports teams ask for more taxpayer stadium money they too parade several hundred page economic impact reports purporting to show huge tourism dollar benefits to the local economy, which turn out later to be grossly inflated.

16 Zacsifac March 6, 2011 at 10:43 am

Excellent post, Tyler. People need to discuss more about this topic, since the security is becoming more prevalent with today’s mobile society. It’s great to see this issue being recognized and addressed by those in the field.
Michael – weddings newcastle specialist

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