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February 17, 2011


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Isaac, I'm not sure where this fits into the conversation, but government funding for the arts supports the many people who are employed by the arts.

The Arts & Economic Prosperity III: The Economic Impact of Nonprofit Arts and Culture Organizations and Their Audiences study [http://www.artsusa.org/information_services/research/services/economic_impact/default.asp]took a look at how the arts are an integral part of economies across the country, generating "$166.2 billion in economic activity every year—$63.1 billion in spending by organizations and an additional $103.1 billion in event-related spending by their audiences."

I guess my point is that supporting the arts is a way of support the economy, and I'm sure you've seen the 2am Theatre blog post on the kind of return the government is getting for their investment in the arts 1800%, for every $1 a ROI of $18. [http://www.2amtheatre.com/2011/02/09/pack-of-gum/]



I was planning on hitting that on my next post!

Alison Croggon

Hi Isaac - you might find a recent Australia Council paper, Arts and Creative Industries, of interest here. Among other things, it traces the history of the creation of "high" and "low" art, and questions what funding might mean if the lines between commercial and art are blurred (which of course they are). It's a very interesting read. Downloadable at http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/research/arts_sector/reports_and_publications/arts_and_creative_industries .


linked by Yglesias, oooh...big media isaac!


whoa, posted too fast, drum responded first. nice to see the impact on the political side of things! thanks for doing these, look forward to part 3.

Aaron Grunfeld

I'd like to speak to the larger subject rather than this post. Arguing from the Market is essentially utilitarian: the Market allocates resources such that the greatest good go to the greatest number of people. In the last decade or so, it's become a procrustian measurement for all facets of American life. But utilitarianism is inadequate for some things -- human rights, for example. It's abhorrent to say that a minority of people must give up some or all rights so that a majority can exercise them (which doesn't stop some people from making that argument, eg Gitmo supporters).

Education & the arts are two more examples where utilitarian ideals fail in their application. So, not incidentally, is religion. At their best, all three of these cases mean to exercise the mind & enrich the soul, to provide for a deeper human experience, to stimulate connections, & to bridge differences between people. The arts create a shared culture & cultural experience, & they provide a forum for conceptual endeavors. A strong artistic community is necessary for a strong civic community.

As you say, in public art as in private behavior, what's popular is not necessarily what's healthy. So rather than use the Market to allocate artistic resources, we ought to use government funds to seed a wide field of artistry. Some of the works may be popular, some may be unpopular, some may even be provocative & anti-establishment. But only by encouraging both large-scale popular art & small-scale, small-niche art can we have a culture that we truly deserve.

Ian Thal

Aaron: I think that you are misunderstanding utilitarianism. Utilitarianism, in the modern sense articulated by the followers of John Stuart Mill argued that the "greatest good for the greatest number" necessitated curbs on the behavior of the elite and greater resources put into the hands of the commons. Generally speaking, one can make a utilitarian argument for for education (it creates a better citizen who can better serve the greater good.) Utilitarianism is essentially a communitarian political philosophy.

Free market advocates on the other hand tend to argue that the commons are unnecessary, as are curbs on the elite: while they sometimes will claim that the market serves the greater good ("trickle-down economics" is one example), but often they argue against the very concept of "the greater good" itself.


Great! Looking forward to the next post, Isaac.

Oh, and here's a great quote I found recently:

"Art is a nation’s most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves and to others the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish."

–Lyndon B. Johnson, on signing into existence the National Endowment on the Arts


It's also sort of silly for liberals to be hashing out this thirty million or that thirty million -- there would be plenty for everyone if we withdrew from Afghanistan and Iraq, dismantled the surveillance state, and made our taxes more progressive.

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