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June 16, 2007

The European model

by Robert Levine

William Osborne wrote (in a comment):

I hate to speak in such blunt terms, but the naivety of this discussion is appalling, even if based on very common American delusions. You refuse to admit that our problems with the performing arts are systemic, due to our lack of public arts funding. It really is a form of willful denial with the result that your views are not only blinkered, they reflect a chauvinistic ethnocentricity.

...The USA is the ONLY industrial country in the world that does not have extensive public funding for the arts. You all accept this extremism as if it were normal and confine your thinking to this absurd paradigm. As arts journalists you should be the first to protest our lack of public funding for the arts. You should be the first to open discuss how the lack of public funding contextualizes all of the problems and challenges you are discussing. So why all the silence?

Actually the US does have extensive public funding for the arts. But it's done by tax policy rather than direct funding. It probably doesn't provide as much funding for the arts per capita as does the direct subsidies in some (not all) European countries. But it provides far more money for the arts than any other mechanism that any conceivable constellation of political forces in the US could achieve.

I'd love to have the kind of public funding that German orchestras have. It's going to happen in the same millennium that the Berlin Bombers have the best record in baseball.

Posted by rlevine at June 16, 2007 1:30 AM


Thank you for your comment, Robert. Your suggestion that tax policy provides extensive public funding for the arts in America is simply not true. To make this assertion you should provide the actual numbers - and for more than one or two communities such as Minneapolis or San Francisco which represent only a tiny fraction of our population.

I have noticed that Americans often try to squirm out of international comparisons regarding arts funding by stating plainly false facts. One of the most common is listing numbers for the huge number of orchestras we supposedly have without noting that the vast majority of them are low paying semi-professional groups. And opera houses in our country are virtually non-existent. So where is the "extensive public funding based on tax policy" going? There must be an awful lot of phantom opera houses around here!

And why the fatalistic attitude about increasing our public arts funding? What kind of leadership is that? I am sure people told Martin Luther King that blacks would achieve equality about the same time the US team wins soccer's World Cup. That might be true, but it didn't stop him from making significant progress for his people. Social justice is always a slow process. It doesn't happen if there aren't individuals with the guts and determination to make the first steps.

During the Roosevelt administration the US moved toward forms of social democracy similar to what all other industrial countries have. That work and those policies have been systematically destroyed over the last 60 years to the point that US economic policy quite literally represents an isolated form of extremism. Social conditions such as 40 million people without health insurance, our massive ghettos, our high school graduation rate of only 70%, our lack of mass transit, and our out-of-control military-industrial complex prove the point.

The problems with public arts funding can indeed be solved. It will be a long-term struggle, and it will require leaders like you, Robert, and the others on this panel. So take heart and get busy!

William Osborne

Posted by: William Osborne at June 16, 2007 6:16 AM

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