ARTT 480. Research Essay
Why Governments Fund the Arts and Culture
A Survey of Some of the Issues.
The Right Honourable Helen Clark took part in the University of Auckland's 2000 winter lecture series in her capacities as both Prime Minister and Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage for New Zealand. The topic for this year's series was "The State and the Arts". The intention of her speech was to outline the reasons why her government places a high value on arts and culture. In it she gave three objectives behind her Governments policies: The first was to enable creative expression and develop audiences, secondly she spoke of asserting a national identity, and the final aim was the creation of rewarding employment.
While her speech gave the audience an idea of her motivations for government action in arts and culture areas, it does not discuss directly how arts and culture are suited to these aims or even how they could achieve them. To find such information it would seem sensible to survey the publications of the Ministry of Culture and Heritage's publications and those of its predecessor, the Ministry of Cultural Affairs.
The Ministry of Cultural affairs paper entitled "Government's Role in the Cultural Sector: A Survey of the Issued" would appear to be a good place to start. In it the acting Chief Executive opens the discussion paper with the following remark. "It was agreed that the paper would not return to first principles, that is, it would start from the assumption that central government has a role to play in the cultural sector" (Ministry of Cultural Affairs, 1998: p.6)
In the post election briefing to the incoming Minister for Culture and Heritage it is stated that "Government is substantially without any policy to support, in a structured way, its involvement in culture." (Ministry of Culture and Heritage, 1999: p.13). Going back further to 1978 Lynn de Silva wrote in a report for the then Department of Internal Affairs that there was a "...lack of long-term objectives" (de Silva, p.89).
In light of this perceived lack of policy, this essay will examine some of the writings on the theme of government funding of the arts and culture in an attempt to highlight the assumptions that underlie these discussions, with the aim of defining the basic principles supporting government involvement in the area to discover whether the aims that Helen Clark puts forward are achievable. To do so it shall briefly examine the concept of art as a merit or public good. After this there will follow a review of the history of arts funding in both the United States of America and New Zealand, examining the trends and justifications that have arisen in the implementation of government policies. These case studies will then be considered in light of some of the theoretical arguments for and against government involvement in the arts.
A basic assumption amongst most of the writers who favour government support of the arts is that there is a benefit for the government and for the public at large in the production and care of art and cultural events and objects. Mention is often made that art and culture are public goods, which William Garmpp (p.233) defines as a service or resource whose benefit is so extensive and at the same time is so difficult to price that it cannot be left to the market to provide. He also argues that a public good has the property that one person can use more of it without this meaning that there is less of it available to others. No one can be denied access to a public good and everyone must also be effected by it whether they want to be or not.
A similar argument for arts funding states that art is a merit good: a service or faculty that is deemed to be desirable for a society to possess at a level which is higher than people are able or willing to pay for (Ministry of Culture and Arts, 1999: p.14). An example of such a service could be a local library. Most people, if asked would express support for library as useful amenities to have available. It might also be found that few of the same people who expressed support actually used their local library and would not be willing to pay more than a nominal fee to have the right to access to one. William Garmpp (p.57) conception of a merit good differs in his emphasis on the point that people can actually afford to pay for it, but decide for what ever reason not to. His is a good that people know is good for them as individuals, while the Ministry of Culture Affairs emphasised that merit goods "are not simply private benefits" (Ministry of Culture Affairs, 1998: p.14), but that the benefits extended to society in general.
What has to be established then is exactly what is the benefit the public receive from art and culture. Various commentators talk of an inherent worth of the arts but few give a detailed description of what this is and how it operates. This essay shall now examine briefly the development of arts funding in two countries to looks for examples of what benefits are to be found in the arts. These reviews will not document every single arts activity undertaken in the respective countries but highlight developments or opinions that illuminate the aims of art funding and some of the factors that have influenced which activities have been funded.
The first case study examined is of arts funding in the United States of America. Wilson McWilliam gives an outline of early political thought regarding the arts, suggesting that the puritan thinkers during early settlement considered the arts a mostly frivolous distraction from the pursuit of the highest beauty, which was to be found in Gods glory and the individuals spiritual development. As such art was a personal activity not worthy of governments interest. A similar view was held by the group that McWilliam refers to as the Founding Fathers; the delegates to the Constitutional Convention during 1787 which formulated and signed the American Constitution in what was to become the United States of America. Art was viewed as being of limited use in a liberal society where political actions should help society develop as an aid to human liberty. While the fine arts were viewed as an important part of a gentleman's education, they were to be left to individuals to pursue as they saw fit. McWilliam notes that use of the fine arts was made to promote public spirit, an function that is to appear often in this essay. McWilliam does not examine exactly how it does this though he does refer to depictions of "tame nature" as windows that show what progress will achieve and as a "hint of the future being made possible by progress." (McWilliam, p.25)
As American society developed art became to be seen more as a mechanism to signal the quality of a democracy. It was seen as a way of confirming the excellence of it citizens through its ability to "...draw individuals towards citizenship, combating private spirit by revealing the dignity and beauty possible in and through moral and political life." (McWilliam, p.28). The focus is on the supposed socialising aspects of the arts; their potential to produce social unity. If the production of social unity is one of the aims of art and cultural policy, then its main objective would be make experiences available to the largest possible audience.
The United States government's direct involvement in the arts sector seems to have been almost nonexistent until the 1930's, and specific arts policy was not to appear in the party platforms (the preelection statement of policy by US political parties) until the Programme Parties policy statement of 1948 (Terri Cornwell, p.247)
By the 1930's there appears to have been a growing arts community is certain areas of the United States, mainly New York. The members of this community found that the economic effects of the depression were effecting their livelihood. Businesses were unable to continue patronising the arts and unemployment hit artists as well as their usual art market. Certain individuals within the arts community expressed concern at this state of affairs. Helen Townsend (1985) highlights the efforts of Audrey McMahon and George Biddle (Townsend, p.267) as two lobbyists for the arts community, bring the situation to the attention of politicians outside of New York. In an article published in the Journal of the College Art Association McMahon wrote about the hardship being experienced by artists and their families at that time. She suggested that if artists had to turn to other means of earning an income that they might not ever return to art making. She expressed support for such measures as the Emergency Work Bureau's activities in New York which involved employing artists to paint public murals and offer arts training in the community. George Biddle shared McMahon's interest in mural painting as an instructive and communicative occupation for artists, helping to raise the moral of the public with artworks. McMahon felt that such schemes kept artists, "...men of talent and of highly sensitive natures" (Townsend, p.268) occupied for the public good. Without such jobs this same group might have become a social problem. The implication seems to have been that artists might have caused problems for the government, though exactly how is not spelt out.
In their introduction to Artists Against War and Fascism Matthew Baigell and Julia Williams comment on the growing enthusiasm for Government patronage in the arts. It is seen as a means of "...saving artists from financial catastrophe, for bring art to a popular audience, and for relating art to the life of the community" (Baigell and Williams, p.21). It is also noted that there is a conflict between the artists desire for creative freedom and the governments desire to control the content of the art that it financed.
An interesting aspect behind the US governments interest in the arts at this time is reflected in the following quote form the President's Research Committee in 1933: "Masses of people need to learn new tastes and new ways...there is a need for publicity to create needs and a system of instalment buying must be set up" (Townsend, p.284). Art is seen as a tool to stimulate economic growth through the practical applications of its skills in the field of advertising, alongside a system of hire purchase.
Through the lobbing of the American Artists Congress and other concerned individuals the US government of the day was convinced to establish the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) under the wide ranging Public Works Program. This was a wide-ranging federal scheme of social relief and work relief (Townsend, p.272). While the PWAP was short lived. Other similar schemes followed both at the local level (CWA in New York) as well as at a national level, with such schemes as the Treasury Section on Painting and Sculpture, The Works Progress Administration Federal Art Program (WPA/FAP) and the Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP). These projects focused on finding employment for artists, the art works produced were a side effect of providing financial support to the artists.
Townsend argues that these programs met the needs of three groups at the time. Unemployed artists benefited through employment. Politicians and the leaders in arts communities concern at the possibility of militant or revolutionary arts was abated. Also the training programs held meet the business communities need for advertising artists and industrial designers.
Later initiatives in the cultural sector during the 1930's grew as art and culture became to be seen as useful in international relations. Various committees were formed to coordinate cultural exchanges, arts conferences and the distribution of American publications to libraries and educational institutes overseas. The hope was to countering the impression that the USA was a world leader in economic and industrial developments but at the same time was lagging behind other countries in the strength of its cultural achievements.
During the Second World War the activities of the CIAA were transferred to the state department's cultural division. In 1947 controversy arose surrounding the State Departments purchase of 79 contemporary American paintings for the purposes of touring them in Europe and South America. This collection was criticised for being "marked with a radicalism of the new trends in European art." (Gary O. Larson, p.302) and for the artist's involvement with "revolutionary organisations". Here we can see a problem that effects much state funding of the arts: state support often attracts the criticism of people who object to the moral, political or aesthetic qualities that the work contains. This is because the government funding suggests that the government itself somehow supports the themes of the works, or the agencies acting on its behalf does, giving official sanction to sentiments expressed which may offend some tax payers.
Cultural activities with the US State department were quickly terminated as a result of the public controversy, though Larson comments that agencies such as the Central Intelligence Agency sponsored occasional cultural exchanges. Attempts were made to create a department within federal government to coordinate cultural matters, especially in regards to the international relations aspects thought out the 50's without success. Neither of the major political parties included arts policy in their party platforms until 1960, when the Democratic Party proposed the development of a federal advisory agency to assist in the evaluation, development and expression of cultural resources within the US. (Cornwell, p.248).
During the presidency of John F Kennedy it appears that the arts achieved certain legitimacy within political life. Kennedy had a special consultant on the arts and attempted to establish an advisory arts council. Larson argues that while the support for the arts had grown, the reasons behind the support still relied on striving for international recognition of the Cultural achievement of the US (Larson, p.309)
In 1965 the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act was passed , establishing the Arts Endowment which was intended to be a "grant making agency providing discretionary funding on a competitive basis to partially underwrite the cost of cultural policy making" (Mulcahy, p.315). The structure that was established helped to insulate central government from criticism regarding the works funded. This was achieved though the establishment of expert panels who would asses all applications and make recommendations to a national council which would act on these recommendations.
Financially specking, the NEA's budget was quite small, "less than one-tenth of a percent of total federal spending (or less than the Defence Departments spends on military bands)." (Mulcahy, p.335). Even so, it is often argued by its supporters that even this low level of funding is essential to insure the survival of small and alternative art groups, which are characterised as community based and minority orientated.
From this brief review of US arts funding history a short list of justifications for arts funding can be derived. Firstly funding art is used to give artists employment. Secondly funding of the arts helps develop commerce through so called "practical" aspects such as graphic design. Art can also help promote a country internationally, raising its prestige.
It is interesting to note the important role that particular individuals play as lobbyists and policy makers, influencing the development of arts funding. Biddle writes a letter to his friend, president Franklin D. Roosevelt concerning the plight of artists in the 30's, Kennedy's arts adviser directs policy. While it is overly simplistic to assume that these two were responsible for all the developments that occurred while they were active, their support for the arts prompted their enthusiasm for the arts instead of clearly defined government goals. There is no evidence of any one during this period starting with particular goals in mind researching all the available options and deciding that out of all the things the government could do, funding the arts and culture where the best way to achieve them. Instead arts enthusiasts promote their own areas of interest.
As another case study in the development of arts funding this essay shall now move to a brief history of New Zealand developments in arts and cultural funding to discover if any other trend can be found. One that quickly becomes apparent is that funding of the arts in New Zealand has been characterised by many of the writers on the subject as an "ad hoc" process where individual decisions made for idiosyncratic reasons have established practices and institutions. Once these are established there is a marked reluctance to disestablish them.
Before 1940 little if any direct government support was made available to the arts, except for the establishment of institutions such as the National Gallery and the broadcasting network. Most funding for the arts came from individual benefactors. (de Silva, p.5)
The spur for the first concerted effort at cultural funding came in the form of the Centenary of New Zealand. Jonathan Fox notes that a music committee was established to coordinate a centennial orchestra, while other commemorative projects such as a dictionary of New Zealand biography and a New Zealand atlas were commissioned. A literary competition was also held.
Fox credits Joseph A. Heenan, the Undersecretary of Internal Affairs, as the driving force behind the events organised for the Centennial, and afterwards he was to have an important part to play in the establishment of a National Orchestra as well:
"The story told is that Joseph A. Heenan captured the Prime Minister's attention during an all-night train ride from Auckland to Wellington, and before Peter Fraser dismounted in the capital his close friend, the Under Secretary, had persuaded him that a permanent orchestra was worth a try." (Fox, p.8).
Fox does not record the reasons why it was decided that New Zealand needed an orchestra apart from suggesting that it tied in with Peter Fraser's interest in making educational opportunities more readily available to people in New Zealand. He quotes the following statement from Fraser that art is "...essential to every community, the work of the artist enriches our everyday lives and should inspire us to stand by the ideals of freedom and justice without which or civilisation will collapse and crumble" (Fraser, 1948. Quoted in Fox, p.26). This statement reflects a belief in the socialising power of art
During the late 1930's and early 1940's the Department of Internal affairs had been awarding travel grants on an informal basis to promising young writers and artists. As knowledge of these grants became more widespread a selection committee was formed. In addition to these grants a New Zealand Literary fund was established at the suggestion of the Writers Association of New Zealand (P.E.N.). This allowed for grants up to an annual total of £2000. These awards were made on the recommendation of a non-government advisory board. In order to fund such projects Joseph Heenan initiated the practice that 10% of the art Union lottery profits should be allocated for cultural activities from 1946.
During 1947 and 48 public discussion occurred regarding the creation of a National Theatre. An expert committee developed a plan for the establishment of a drama school, which it was intended would train up prospective members for a national professional theatre company. Fox records that opposition arose from amateur companies (mainly those in Auckland) on several grounds: A professional company was seen as possibly being too esoteric and also as an imposition of culture by the government. This lack of a consensus eventually led the government of the day to abandon the proposal.
Professional companies in drama, opera and ballet were eventually established privately. They soon lobbied government for funding as all found it financially difficult to operate. Calls were made for a body to coordinate all these art subsidies and grants, which resulted in the Arts Advisory Council (AAC) being formed in 1960. Fox notes that the AAC showed a preference for funding professional organisations.
In 1963 the government of the day replaced the AAC with the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council. Fox gives two reasons for this development. The first was that the Queen at the time, Elizabeth II, was to visit New Zealand that year and had made it known that she preferred than any money intending to be spent on gifts for her instead be spend for the benefit of New Zealand cultural life. Thus the Government decided to "give" her an arts council. This allowed funding to arts and culture to be dramatically increased in comparison to the budget of the former AAC without raising the ire of either the political opposition or the general public, for few people at that time would argue with spending money to honour the Queen. The second reason behind this was to allow for structural adjustments to the make up of the arts funding agency. This was necessary due to the high level of work involved with processing applications and also allowed the newly elected National government to reform the membership of the panel to their satisfaction.
1990 saw the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, which in a similar way to the Centenary of New Zealand became a focus for a range of arts and cultural projects with the support of the government funding. Such activities included a new dictionary of New Zealand Biography and the construction and launching of a fleet of waka. Following on from this event planning for a new Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa, was started which saw it open in 1998.
In 1991 a stand-alone Ministry of Cultural Affairs was formed, taking over the responsibilities that had been held by the Cultural Unit of the Department of Internal Affairs. The usual enthusiasm for the celebration of milestones saw the Towards 2000 Taskforce established to "ensure the dawning of the new millennium was a celebration of New Zealand's indigenous culture, unique values and identity as a nation." (New Zealand Millenum Office, website). The New Zealand Millennium Office was formed in September 1998 to coordinate the funding of millennium projects with approximately $1.1 million made available through lottery funding.
In this brief look at developments in New Zealand arts funding a common theme has been a lack of planning with regards to the decisions made. The post election Briefing paper for Helen Clark from the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage stated "That is, government is substantially without any policy capacity to support in a strategic way, its involvement in Culture (p.13, 2.3)
The Ministry of Cultural Affairs survey of Governments role in the Cultural Sector (1998) voiced a similar conclusion: "The reasons why government is involved in the cultural sector and the outcomes that it seeks have not been expressly stated by government, nor is there universal agreement about them." (p.9) and their claim that "..the governments interventions in the sector have at times been merely reactive or opportunistic." (p.35) is supported by the example given above of individual interventions and the trend for funding to be tied to celebrations and the visits of royalty. It is interesting to note that the announcement of a visit by Queen Elizabeth II to New Zealand in November 2001 has been immediately seen as "...an opportunity for New Zealand to present itself as the dynamic 21st century society it is today." by Helen Clark (Independent Newspapers Limited, 2000).
20 years before these comments Lynn de Silvia report on Government and the Arts pointed out "Although there is no centralised organisation administering culture activities and there have been no definite moves towards 'cultural planning' as such, most government departments are involved in some aspects of culture. (de Silvia, p.89) and 'the most conspicuous deficiencies are the lack of long term objectives, coordination of cultural activities, and long term planning and research". And 11 years before this Jonathan Fox noted "...New Zealand cultural life is incomplete and that her arts council, largely based as it is on a distributive model, does not become exposed to certain value considerations which have revolved about the concept of culture" (Fox, p.129)
So the problem of a lack of policy discussion and planning has been identified repeatedly but no progress seems to have been made. It appears then that no insights into why Governments would fund the arts can be gained from this case study apart form the observation that governments want and are expected to do so and they attempt to win support for this funding through tying it in with national celebrations.
The theme of giving employment to artists does not seem to have been seen as an issue in New Zealand. The focus seems more to have been encouraging those interested to develop their skills. Art and culture as an expression of National Identity is the strongest aspect of art funding, with performances and exhibitions being linked to events of national significance. There has also been the view, as voiced by Prime Minister Peter Fraser, that art inspires people to stand by the ideas of justice and freedom, similar to the socialising aspect that was emphasised in US policy discussions.
In her winter speech Helen Clark commented "We start with a lot of established infrastructure and national institutions, major changes in priorities would lead to the demolition of much of that, and those are not decisions I am prepared to take". (Clark, 2000). This shows that the present Minister is not prepared to reassess what is and is not of value to her aims in the arts and cultural sector, preferring to support the institutions that have been established for no other reason than because they exist. The question remains unanswered as to why these institutions exist, what goals are expected to be achieved by them and how can these be assessed.
This essay shall now turn to an analysis of some of the theoretical discussions regarding arts funding to see if justifications for government funding of the arts is to be found there. For this Noel Carroll's article Can Government Funding of the arts be Justified Theoretically provides an obvious starting point. In it Carroll focuses his discussion on government funding of new works and the problematic issue of creation of culture. In his formulation of the issue he sees the preservation and presentation of past culture as serving an educative role, allowing people to understand the past of their society. Whether it is government's role to actively participate in the creation of new forms of culture is the question he seeks to analyse.
The first argument that he puts forward is that governments fund a wide range of activities and policies, so art funding is acceptable as just one of many activities. The example he gives of this view is when supporters of the arts argue that the cost of the arts funding is only a small percentage of the military expenditure, thus trying to justify the amount of money spent on the arts. Carroll argues that such arguments confuse two separate issues. Perhaps no money should be spent on the military, perhaps a lower amount would be sufficient but this has no direct relationship as to whether or not money should be directed to the arts.
He then looks at the question in terms of financial support. Funding of the arts is sometime argued to be a means of looking after the practical well being of artists. Such was the arguments of Biddle and McMahon as described above in response to the effect the depression was having on the New York arts community in the 1930's. Connell suggests that this argument fails to justify such spending. Firstly he points out that the state can make sure a person's basic needs are catered without requiring them to produce works of art. In terms of sponsoring employment for those out of work, he questions whether the state has responsibility to ensure people have a job that they want to do. When McMahon argued that New York's artists might not recommence art making if they had to work in other jobs, She assumed that insuring that they stay as artists was a worthy aim without showing why this should be.
The next aspect that he examines is the idea of 'aesthetic welfare.' He characterises this as the idea that governments need to ensure that the populace has access to a certain level of aesthetic experience. He argues that if there is such a need for aesthetic exposure the case still has to be made showing that this is a valid concern of the government. He suggests that love and affection are important factors effecting an individuals wellbeing, but few government have ever been expected to take a role in ensuring individuals have success or even experience in these aspects of life. Kevin Mulcahy quotes a similar argument "...the arts must make some special claim to justify public support. Otherwise, they are on the same footing as whisky and religion, which also give pleasure and employment to some but do so unsubsidised" (p332)
Carroll suggests that if we did accept that there were such a thing as aesthetic need that art satisfies, this must result in the need to judge art forms on the basis on how well they achieve this goal. If this is done Carroll suggests that the control that governments would then impose by the funding decisions they made would result in state decreed cultural output, as some forms where promoted while others were neglected. This he suggests is a negative outcome.
This concern is reflected in much of the literature on arts funding, thought not always in the form that Carroll discusses it. A term that is used often in arts policy is "hands off" - the distancing of the allocation of arts funding from political influence. In the USA reactions against the perceived tome of much of the Federal Aid projects resulted in the establishment of expert advisory panels to make funding decisions, and as outlined above similar panels form an important part of New Zealand funding procedures. As the Ministry of Culture and Heritage succinctly stated
"Governments preference for this principle of ownership serves both to protect the arts from political interference and to insulate governments from the ill will arising from unpopular funding decisions". (Ministry of Culture and Heritage, p.32).
Such structures thus can be seen as inhibiting governments from insuring that the most desired effects of art are encouraged. It is also interesting to consider the logic in Government on the one hand funding the arts but not being able to have any say in what is produced. If democratic politics is based on parties proposing and debating policy, and the public deciding how to vote on the basis of these policies then arts funding seems to only have a cost attached, as in how much shall the country spend. Art production is seen in this view as too important for governments to have any say in apart from providing the funds to insure that it occurs. Helen Clark articulates this view when she says "I believe that the government has a duty to be supportive of the arts and culture, while absolutely respecting the right of the artist to freedom of expression." (Clark, 2000). This means that there is no accountability for the work created using public funds and no way of insuring that any Government aims are ardvanced.
Tyler Cowen in his book In Praise of Commercial Culture argues that the state and artists have conflicting goals. Governments want to promote stability and the status quo within a society while he views artists as radicals and social social critics who want to challenge the ways people normal conceive of things.
The emphasis here is the desire for a pluralist society "...made up of individuals with sometimes shared, sometimes competing needs with many political resources available to them" (Krasner, p.226). This belief in allowing for diversity and a range of opinions, beliefs and practices demands that governments not be seen to limit cultural and artistic expression. However even if funding agencies follow this practice, artists can still find themselves favouring "...artistically bland and politically neutral murals[and other works], because they had broad appeal and drew praise rather than criticism." (Dubin, p.167)
In his study of the Artists in Residence Programme run in Chicago over the period 1977 to 1981 Steven C. Dubin highlights some examples of the ways that being the recipient of government arts funding can impact on an artist's practice. These included avoidance of controversial subjects, need to present a completed plan of a work before commencement, need to avoid private work which might adversely impact on participate with the sponsored project. All of these stem from the heightened attention that comes with receiving public money. If the money spent comes from taxpayers then many of them reserve the right to criticise or praise as they see fit.
The next reason that Carroll examines for arts funding is the belief that without such funding, art would disappear. If this were the case, and Carroll is doubtful of this, there still needs to be evidence that there would be some harm if art was no longer being produced. He also points out, as does Tyler Cowen, that there are forms of art that presently do very well without public support such as pop and rock music, movies, commercial television. There is no reason why they would cease. Cowen argues that claims for the impending disappearance of art are based on what he calls "cultural pessimism". In this view high art is under threat from the current low art that somehow lacks the positive qualities of its grander relation. Inherent in this is a definition of art that implies higher aesthetic values.
Much of the writing of arts funding blurs this distinction by ignoring the distinction between high and low, such as Cowen's example where he make "...use of the terms culture and art interchangeably to cover man-made artifacts or performers that move us and expand our awareness of the world and of ourselves" (Cowen, p.5).
The New Zealand Ministry of Culture and Heritage takes an interesting approach to this question by using a similar definition of culture as something that "in its broadest sense...encompasses all the activities of a society or community that contribute to its identity." (Ministry of Culture and Heritage, p.9). In contrast to this The Ministry then defines the arts by listing the relevant examples:
"...including nag to Maori - the art forms of dance, music, theatre, haka, waiata and other performing arts, film, literature and language arts, visual arts, whakairo, raranga and new media; the activities involved in their presentation, execution and interpretation; and the studying and technical development of these art forms and activities." (Ministry of Culture and Heritage, 1999: p.9)
With such wide-ranging definitions it might seem that anything and everything could be eligible for funding support. The Ministry's report however points out that governments have come to support certain activities "..where it has recognised the need for some form of institutional, legislative or regulatory action." (p9) and goes on to comment that this includes assisting with the viability of this sector. The studies of find developments given above suggest that the process of "recognising" the need for government involvement usually stems from the action of lobbyist, based on the personal interests of politicians or public servants. William Grampp in his book "Pricing the Priceless." offers an interesting interpretation of this process by arguing that it constitutes a form of 'rent-seeking'; a practice where an interested party or group seek government assistance to their own benefit, at the expense of the wider public who finance this assistance via higher taxes or fewer public services. This assistance increases the rent-seeker's spending power by a certain amount, which is the 'rent' the seeker achieves. In the case of artists this 'rent' is the difference between what the market would pay for their works or services and the amount they can make due to government assistance. The artist benefits when government assistance inflates the cost of their services. rent-seeking can also occur in audiences, for example where a government subsidy help decrease the cost of attendance at an event, thus increasing the buying power of the rent-seekers income.
The argument that art would disappear without government assistance holds that without the advantage of the rent, rent-seekers would cease all activity in the field. Grampp argues that this is not a certainty. He suggests that supporter of the arts might be prepared to pay the full cost of an event in an effort to support the art forms that they appreciate. Crampp also suggests that subsides actually work to overvalue art production. With out such subsidies perhaps ticket costs would be reduced as arts organisations took a more realistic approach to their finances. And even if some art forms fail to attract an audience, he argues that if few people value something enough to give their support, then there is no legitimate reason to support it. It is hard to asses his claims regarding the willingness of audiences to rally to the support of their favoured art forms as he can offer no examples of where this has happened. From this writers own experience with the now defunct Canterbury Film Society I would rate it as highly unlikely that an increase in support would be forth coming. This is because any drop in services the management committee of the Film Society enacted during the last years of the film societies operation in an effort try and cut costs were seen as a reduction in the value of membership, and increasing membership costs only seemed to discourage people from joining. While Rader and Jessup might argue that "The artistic impulse is strong, and if it finds little or no economic reward, it still may prevail" (p307), the loss of the Film Society means that a particular group of foreign films and documentaries do not receive a screening in Canterbury.
Dick Netzer notes in his book The Susidized Muse patterns which might support Grampp's argument. He states that while government funding of the arts helps to lower income barriers effecting access to the arts, much of the funding brings art to places where the audiences aren't poor and prices are still high. He also suggests that even when prices are dropped or reduced to zero, the increased audience numbers are usually made up of people with medium to high incomes who could have afforded the normal ticket prices. (Netzer, p.158). Tyler Cowen also supports Grampp's argument, stating that he finds it hard to equate the small amount of money spent on the arts with the huge benefits that its supporters claim. (Cowen, p.204)
Carroll moves on to discuss the argument that arts funding has an economic benefit because cultural events and exhibitions attract visitors to an area. These visitors produce employment opportunities for the wider population because of the support services such as accommodation and food that they require. While he questions whether arts funding is the best way to encourage such growth he accepts that this could be a valid argument. Grampp however disputes such claims. He first counters with the argument that any increase of income for the county caused by visitors is always offset by the lost of income from their place of origin. If the majority of visitors are from the same country then there is no significant increase of income for the country as a whole.
To those who counter that the profit is to be made from international visitors, Grampp argues that competition between countries to attract visitors diminishes the returns to be made as each country spend more and more of their income to attract visitors. If every county stopped trying to attract visitors the decrease in government spending would offset the decrease in foreign income. The only winners that Grampp can see from this investment is the owners of land in the area around the artistic or cultural event. This is because land values increase for the limited resource of property near the event. This profit comes at the expense of taxpayers whose taxes were used to support an event that they may have no interest in or have no chance to participate in.
Along the same lines as the tourist attraction is an arguement that sees arts funding as a means of creating employment for artists, but as outlined above there are questions regarding whether arts funding is the best way to provide employment. Also there is little support for government insuring that people have jobs in fields that they enjoy. Carroll adds that there are other social groups, say inner city residents, who have more need of government assistance in finding work.
Carroll then moves on to discuss the moralising influence of the arts. This line of support is referred to above in relation to views of art in early American political thought. The Socialising aspects of art also comes up in discussions of New Zealand art funding with the comments of Prime Minister Perter Fraser being especially relevant. This justification relies on the view of art as a public good, and Grampp for one denies that this status necessarily dictates that government funding is required or even desirable. Carroll agrees, pointing out as well that such a justification would encourage governments to select those art forms that best achieved such a socialising effect. As outline above, such interference in the production of art is at odds with the pluralism that Carroll and others suggest is of paramount importance in democratic societies.
The next argument that Carroll investigates is the claim made by Ronald Dworkin that the cultural and artistic complexity of society is a important quality that must be preserved for latter generations. Cowen might argue that such a view relies on the bogus pessimistic view of culture, where what is new is bad, what is old is good and so all that we have must be saved. Cowen points out that the free market is very successful at preserving a huge range of past art works, from recordings of operas, orchestral music, literature as just a few example. He also argues that modern technology allows for the preservation of cultural products far more easily than any method s used in the past, so no sudden loss of art forms would occur, though the means of accessing these forms might change.
Carroll also argues that there are many cultural activities and artifacts that it would appear outlandish to fund in order that they persist such as "...hoola-hoops, comicbooks, Billy Graham, The Watergate break in, and so on" (Carroll, p.33). It is interesting to note that while Carroll argues for pluralism in the arts and cultural sector, he is not above making claims regarding which cultural forms of expression are worthy of support and which are not when it suits his argument to do so.
William Crampp offers an interesting comment on this point by suggesting that individuals and profit seeking institutions are more likely to successfully protect artworks than public institutions because individuals want to protect their private property for their own benefit, and profit seeking organisations have to protect their investments. State agencies in this argument lack significant motivation to care for the objects in their charge. This seems a rather weak argument, it makes no allowance for enthusiasts gaining employment in the area of their interest, all government workers are seen as disinterested labours while all private investors and companies are seen as dedicated to maximising profits through preservation.
One argument that neither Carroll or Grampp specifically address is that artistic and cultural spending helps raise the reputation of a country internationally.. Based on Carroll's objections against other justifications it could be argued that only certain forms of art act to raise a countries reputation. Some art might lower it by dealing with themes critical of the current government, or be offensive through its portrayal of racist or violent imagery. Thus to archive the aim of creating a good impression government might choose to support particular creators or dictate what they could produce. Carroll rejects such control of artistsic production as undesirable.
Grampp's objections might rest on the need for art to prove its worth, show that it has the effects that are claimed for it. In the case of international prestige the aim is to impress others. It is entirely possible that art could have no intrinsic value but still be capable of impressing people who mistakenly believe that it has. So government could find out what other countries value in the arts and fund the creation of works that meet these standards. The proof of its value could then be assured, though such success would rely on keeping up with the changing fashions of what other countries favoured. Crampp might raise the objection that the benefits of such a scheme are so hard to value that it would not make economic sense to fund them. What value is there to being respected for artistic creativity?
Discussion regarding the funding aims of university education highlights an interesting perspective of the arts funding issue. Brian Easton discussed the role of university education in contemporary society at The National Education forum held at the University of Canterbury, 17 November 1999. In this address he discusses the concept of Utilitarianism. This doctrine holds that the useful is the good and that the determining consideration of right conduct should be the usefulness of its consequences. Easton argues that when applied to education funding this focus on the direct consequences is a shortsighted approach which devalues such "rich and complex" (Easton, p.1) goals as the promotion of liberal democracy, of choice and opportunity, and of the value of the intellect.
One argument that is made by many supporters of arts funding is that art is good in of itself. It is a claim that many officials make when asked why the government should be involved in the area, Recently on New Zealand National Radio Chris Smith, the visiting Minister of Culture, Media and Sports, was quick to suggest that "The idea of art being important in and for itself is absolutely central and has to be the first thing you say." (Smith, 2000). New Zealand's Prime Minister and Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage articulates a similar view when she states "I place great store on the intrinsic value of the arts, on the expression of creative talent by the individual, on the creation of a society which accepts the arts not as an optional extra but as a necessity of civilisation" (Clark, 2000).
The extreme form of this argument would be that not only are the arts and culture public goods, but that their status as such is so undeniable that those prove their worth misses the point entirely. Grampp strongly refutes such an argument, emphasising at every possible opportunity that funding must be supported by proof of art's benefits, and Carroll also insists that any argument for support has to show the specific benefit to be derived from the arts. In the cases of both Smith and Clark they are mindful of such demands and give additional reasons for the support of the arts. Even Brian Easton in his discussion of University funding admits that the is a place for consideration of other benefits besides his claim that education is a good in itself.
Even so, the defence of 'art for art's sake' is still a position that some might want to take. In reply to such idealistic argument Pitirim Sorokin makes an interesting observation. While such a statement suggests that there is no other reason needed to justify art, he claims that "it also means that art does not need the support of nor is itself merely the means of expressing...nonaesthetic claims" (Sorokin, p.669).
Sorokin is suggesting that the person who attempts to justify art practice under this argument cannot then argue that art deserves or needs the support of non- aesthetic social spheres. As such a rarefied and pure art cannot practically exist Sorokin concludes that such definitions of art are essentially meaningless. Rader and Jessup would seem to agree when they observe "The artist needs the support of the economic system-at least to the point of having enough leisure and a market for his work..." (p.307).
In place of isolationist definitions of art Sorokin proposes three categories of art, which for the purposes of this essay are best described by the objectives that motivate artistic endeavour in his categories. They are, in no particular order sensate, Idealistic and ideation. Sorokin describes sensate art as works where the main function is giving sensory gratification, delight, pleasure and joy. Idealistic is categorised by a belief that art is a great marvel that can also be a civic and religious agent, serving people and the empirical world. Finally there is ideation, where art is viewed as religion and inseparable from it.
While sensate art might appear to equate with art for art's sake, it differs in that there is the allowance made for extraneous results of some kind to be had from the creation of artworks. If we look at the arguments expressed by Clark and Smith we could easily categorise them as believing in an idealistic art which can serve some form of civil role as well as having it's own innate qualities. Thus Clark and Smith can have access to the other, utilitarian justifications that they use to try and support their desire for arts funding in the face of sceptics who deny art any inherent value.
At the beginning of this essay the aims that Helen Clark put forward for arts funding where stated. They were:
- To enable creative expression and develop audiences.
- Asserting a national identity,
- The creation of rewarding employment.
In light of the arguments examined above none of these reasons can be seen as definitive justification for her government's involvement in the arts sector. Several arguments have been made against the claim that government funding alone ensures creative expression and develop of audiences. When government involvement does occur it can be seen as catering to the rent-seeking of particular groups within a society. The idea of a national identity seems out of place in Clark's own stated belief in a pluralistic society, where surly the idea of a national identity, in the singular, defeats the ideal of a multi layered community where diversity is the aim. Finally, the creation of rewarding employment, as opposed to employment in general has been described as overstepping welfare concern of government (Carroll).
So where does this leave government funding of the arts? Those who look for undisputed justification for such activity don't appear to have much to fall back on. They can however take some heart from the observation that for the short period of existance arts funding has survived without it. While this lack of definitive justification means that art funding's fortunes vary according to the personal whims of those in power, the institutions and supporters of art seem capable of attracting at least token support from the most stringent of governments. As the American President Ronald Regan found when he attempted to dramatically cut funding to the NEA (Mulcahy, pp. 327-328), the arts community is an important lobby group whose 'art for our sake' beliefs are strong enough that politicians that deny them face strong opposition that cannot be ignored. Grampp despairingly refers to supporters of the arts as rent-seekers. How long these squatters in the house of government can find shelterer there remains to be seen, but it cannot be denied that they at least brighten the place up while they are there.
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