The Free Agent reluctantly announces that it is now on with Sarah Jessica Parker. In the first episode of “Work of Art”, a reality competition show she exec-produces, Miss Parker shared with the artestants her motivation for the show. “I come from a family that loves art, I grew up in a time that the government supported art.” (Because Miss Parker has been candid about her multitudinous family’s reliance on welfare growing up, it is fair to wonder just how much the taxpayer is obligated to fund her needs, but The Free Agent politely refuses to take that bait.) Like so many truisms, “government doesn’t support the arts” is not true.
The National Endowment for the Arts was established in 1965 to bring the arts to “all Americans”. (Hmmm, The FA smells a parallel here, government pursuing unpopular war placates populace with lavish gifts it cannot afford…) While by its own estimate, it funds only one percent of the nation’s spending on the arts, looking at its annual budget is quick and dirty evidence of the myth of vanishing support for the arts. The agency started small—of course—with its first budget of $2.9 million. Mister Obama’s first full-year budget, 2010, funds the agency at $167.5 million, just under a nine-fold increase, adjusted for inflation, and an increase of 31% over the average of the Bush II budgets. In the intervening years, the agency budget grew steadily, peaking under Bush I, and dipping significantly only during the Clinton years when Republicans controlled the Congress, between 1996 and 2001.
The NEA represents only 1/9th of the federal government’s spending on the arts, other pieces including the National Gallery, Kennedy Center, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, for example. Combined, 2004 government spending on the arts was $1.5 billion.
And completely unnecessary. Government’s portion of arts funding is dwarfed by people and agencies willingly spending their own money. In 2004, 44% of American arts’ organizations’ (an arbitrarily defined assortment including opera, orchestras, not-for-profit theaters, museums, etc.) funding was from ticket sales, and 43% came from individuals, corporations, and foundations.
Without commenting on the value of art, there is no “right” amount of funding, and like Social Security, we find that once the state steps in, recipients never consider it enough. We can count on vocal and attractive protesters to emerge whenever it is suggested that a federal government that is functionally bankrupt could, for example, possibly drop its support of indigenous tribal interpretations of Hamlet. Astonishingly, even the new British government is advocating US-style arts funding, based on its need to slash 40% of its non-essential budget.
It is possible Miss Parker’s remark was intended to be an expression of gratitude, in which case, The Free Agent will apologize and end the fatwa.
But regardless of what happens between we two formidable women of the arts, let The Free Agent not be mistaken: The myth of government’s lack of support for the arts is one she believes should immediately be made REALITY!