I caught a few minutes of “Antiques Roadshow” the other night. Whenever I land on “Antiques Roadshow,” I’m reminded of an old episode of Frasier in which Frasier and his dad are arguing over what to watch on TV, not realizing that the suspenseful game show described by John Mahoney’s character and the high-brow art show described by Kelsey Grammar’s were actually both “Antiques Roadshow.” While the situation is played for a laugh, it underlines the power of the arts (or crafts) to appeal to the populist majority and to unite the generations.
On the particular episode I saw, a woman had in her possession a small Calder mobile that had been given to her aunt by the artist as a thank you token for the gift of a needlepointed pillow. The appraiser ended up giving her what she considered some very good news: it might fetch upwards of $1 million at auction. While those kinds of appraisals probably help boost the ratings for the show, what I thought was more interesting was the lesson on Calder and mid-century Modern Art delivered as part of the on-camera appraisal.
Of course the populace wouldn’t be receiving these free art history lessons (albeit delivered with a spoonful of sugary suspense and commodification) if it weren’t for the federally funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Every few years, funding for the CPB, and more recently NPR, is threatened by politics. In the U.S.’s decentralized approach to arts policy, CPB stands out not only for its content, but because 45 years ago, economists demonstrated mathematically that government subsidy was a requisite for its existence. Lets hope that in the weeks and months to come, ideology does not get in the way of evidence.