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Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Arts Funding - Not A Birthright

By Scott Carter

Well said! ["The End of Arts Funding?, Newsweek] And about time.

I am personally sick of hearing people carp about cuts to funding. The real issue is "Why?" which then leads to "What?" and ultimately "How much?"

It is not a birthright (which many groups seem to assume) and too often government funding has been diluted by the political process. In Arkansas our state agency started out funding the major cultural institutions - which all happened to be in Little Rock. Thirty years later, those groups (which provide real outreach to all areas of the state) have to share the money with pedestrian quilt makers and basket weavers. I'm not saying that quilts and baskets are not art. My point is that the process was redone - not to avoid controversial pieces of art or on the basis of any artistic merit -but to please more legislators. But what was gained by selling the soul? Substantial increases in funding? Greater artistic expressions? No. Instead there is now a climate of - "we'll increase your money, only if you'll do something new."

Someone recently pointed out a Sartre quote to me, "Culture doesn't save anything or anyone, it doesn't justify. But it's a product of man ... that critical mirror alone offers him his image." Of course the problem with ars gratia artis, is that value judgements have to be made. Which opens up another can of worms. The one quibble I would have with your article is the assertion that arts budgets do not close budget holes. While they do not do them alone, certainly every penny helps.

Scott Carter
Cultural Affairs Administrator
City of Little Rock

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