I’ve been away from my blog for a while, mainly due to the death of my father, but also because I’ve been working on several essays and other projects (you can expect a third edition of “Lighting and the Design Idea” next spring). One of the essays is a bit of a thought exercise. When people in the arts advocacy community express concern about budget cuts to the arts, I’ve often replied, “Remember, it’s not about the money.” What IS it about then? Although I doubt that Texas Governor Rick Perry consciously channels Thomas Hobbes, I decided to look at the philosophical and theoretical arguments underpinning statements like that made by him in his state of the state address:
Frank discussions about the true purpose of state government, must be followed by a willingness to act on our convictions…Let’s suspend non-mission-critical entities like the Historical Commission or the Commission on the Arts.
I think that part of the reason the arts advocacy community sometimes struggles to make its case is because we’re mixing oranges and pomegranates. It couldn’t hurt to look at the roots of the anti-arts-funding arguments – some of which go back to the 17th century — in order to build our case from the same theoretical basis. It can be done. So, my plan is to post a series on this blog, each post focusing on one of three different theoretical foundations for NOT funding the arts. Fortunately, my researches into these counterarguments has not dampened my enthusiastic support for government intervention in supporting arts and culture; if anything it has strengthened it.
With the caveat that the tone here is a bit more academic than usual, I start today with the abstract:
The legitimacy of government arts agencies at the federal, state, and local levels is contested periodically for several reasons. Objections to government intervention in the arts and culture sector generally fall into three categories: that such activity is beyond the scope of the government, that the content of government-funded art is not accountable to public values, and that the market should control production of and access to art. Arguments in favor of such intervention do not take on these arguments directly but rather focus on the arts as a public good, the direct and indirect economic impact of the arts, and the intrinsic value of the arts, among others. Although the rhetoric around issues of defunding or censorship may become emotional and heated as it has recently, the three categories of objections (scope, content, and market) have deep theoretical roots in liberal, neoconservative, and neoliberal political philosophies respectively. This essay explores these three philosophical threads and how they have been used to argue against – and occasionally for – government intervention in the arts via its public agencies.