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Is there a Better Case for the Arts?
A Public Conversation Among People Who Care

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March 08, 2005

More Reader Comments

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Finding support for the arts might be impossible in a democratic society. Where individual self interest is the prime political motivation (social security reform) where the common good is replaced with a individual with wealth, makes it hard to form a consensus on what is of value. - Charles Hankin
In this discussion, there is too much focus on justifying something which doesn't need it. Someone mentioned the defensiveness of the arts community, trying to prove its worth to the general public. The greatest effort should be made with public school boards and civic leaders to make the arts mandatory (as it is, under the "No Child Left Behind Act), using people who are successful in business to advocate; businessmen/women who have had arts experiences in their schooling.- Margaret Koscielny
I have seen a few comments that prioritize the arts behind more essential social services like health care and transportation. I have lived in Europe for the last 25 years. I have noticed that the societies that spend the most on things like public health and transportation, are also the societies that spend the most on the arts. It is not a question of either/or, but a different philosophy about the use of wealth for the common good. Show me a country with excellent mass transit and national health insurance, and I will show you a country with adequate public funding for the arts.- William Osborne
Extended arguments about art and culture are only listened to by those who care about art and culture already. What we need to find is a way of reaching the average American and getting the message across in bite sized chunks. But knowing that the Iraq war could have funded the National Endowment for the Arts for 1500 YEARS, or helped resolve the Social Security "crises" might help get the point across to some. Many of the people at the grass roots level that we need to convince don't like polysylables.- Peter Ellenstein
Implying that people who pay money to see a movie such as Alien vs. Predator do not appreciate art only creates a division and the sense that the self-proclaimed artistic community is truly elitist. No one learns to run before being shown how to walk. The practical arts advocate takes the positive and does not spend time bemoaning the artistically uneducated status of the populace. Introduce the visually-oriented Alien vs. Predator fan to the full body of Giger’s work, segue that into other surrealists, show them the full collection of your local modern/contemporary museum, ask them to volunteer at the next function, become a member, then a donor, etc.- Jack Bradway
For good reason it is commonly understood that public sectors such as transportation contribute to the quality of our lives and serve everyone’s interest. After all, a bus is a bus and a train is a train, and everyone knows perfectly well that both are modes of transportation that enhance our daily lives. But what of art? What is it, and what role does it play in our lives? Who can blame policy makers, not to mention ordinary citizens, for not fully appreciating that the arts are worthy of support when virtually any object or activity is considered art just because someone in the artworld declares it to be?- Louis Torres
I suppose this is a bit of a digression but it has long been my belief that the arts in general could benefit from the sort of national advertising campaign the United Way crafted with the NFL. Seeing an athlete better known for his blocking and tackling prowess interacting with small children not only humanizes the athlete, it puts a face on and brings health and human services into our consciousness.- Sally Everhardus
Many of us in the field of arts education and arts education research are growing weary of the arguments for or against the so-called secondary learning values of the arts when a wide range of learning outcomes is the inevitable outcome of any highly engaged arts experience. It is especially troubling to see that those who do testify or investigate arts learning outcomes that draw attention to phenomena out of alignment with some arts organizations’ notion of primary values of the arts ostensibly become “the enemy” of the best case for the arts.- Larry Scripp

Posted by mclennan at March 8, 2005 09:37 PM


The RAND Report does a disservice both to non-profit cultural institutions and, more importantly, to the art those institutions celebrate. Clearly, arguments for public funding that overlook art itself in favor of its extraneous effects are justifiably troubling, but it is far more distressing that we now find ourselves weighing the merits of an argument dependent on a phrase as amorphous and dated as “intrinsic value.” At best, the phrase suggests that art is dedicated to the preservation of eternal yet benign values (creativity, tradition, spiritual uplift, etc.). At worst, the phrase confirms all suspicions that art’s value consists of hidden qualities that the well-bred have been trained to appreciate as a method of social differentiation.

In its attempt to “reframe” the question of arts funding, the RAND Report stands to distract us from the real issues that the current funding structure presents. Our cultural institutions’ current dependence on government funding, the private sector, and various foundations makes explicit what should have always been obvious – art’s role in political, economic, and social spheres – and no examination of arts funding is complete without acknowledging that this relationship moves in either direction. Rather than simply bemoan the necessity of practices such as corporate sponsorship, it is time for cultural institutions to address these realities head-on – a process that will no doubt shed new light on art’s function and potential in our society.

Since this conversation’s official participants seem at a loss to identify how non-profit cultural institutions differ from their for-profit counterparts, I submit the following proposal: 501c3’s are distinguished by their educational purpose. While for-profit cultural producers are tied to the logic of the market, non-profit cultural institutions adhere to an ultimately intellectual mission and are among the few institutions run by scholars and thinkers where the cost of inclusion runs well below $30,000-a-year. These institutions are expected expose the public to artworks, movements, and ideas in a thoughtful, critical, and thorough manner.

Clearly, this is a great responsibility and a worthy role, one with tremendous and manifold significance to our society. Let us never think otherwise.

Posted by: Colby Chamberlain at March 8, 2005 10:38 PM

Jonathan Gresl: "It is that the "Sideways" and "Hotel Rwanda" audience doesn't care about us."

Agree. In my view, it is a major problem when college-educated Americans do not participate in the higher (more complex than buying plates from Pottery Barn) art-forms. I think that this is an issue that should be addressed by the foundation world and its think-tanks, as well as University and College Presidents. And maybe the President of the United States could attend a symphony concert.

David Pausch: "I simply don't think its our job to make anyone like or appreciate Mozart".

David, I really don't think that this a problem in American culture. All-Mozart and all-Beethoven concerts continue to be very well attended, and the earned incomes from these presentations help to offset lower earned incomes from programs including newer works, including the world premieres of classical works by American composers. In my advocacy work that American orchestras perform five or six world premieres by American composers each season (by composers including such artists as Tom Waits, Bill Frissel, and Eileen Ivers), I have been careful never to criticize orchestral managers' all-Mozart and Beethoven programs (or even their more problematic, all-Wagner and all- R. Strauss programs).

William Osborne: "The difference between [Europe and America] is not a matter of wealth, but a difference in concepts of social responsibility."

Strongly agree.

Thom Pease: "We program classical music not to win audiences, grants or increased pledges. We do it to serve underserved audiences that cannot benefit from having a full library of CDs, or subscription tickets to the world's finest musical organizations."

Strongly agree. Thom, perhaps you could contact C. Ulrich Bader, the progressive Director of Artistic Planning of the National Symphony Orchestra, and Sarah Lutman, the progressive leader at Minnesota Public Radio (I will guess that you know both of them), and see whether the three of you could interest the foundation world in developing a series of tightly focused educational programs, for public radio, on the subject of classical music in the 21st century, which could then be marketed to Sharon Rockefeller and other executives of our nation's public broadcasting system. I think that these programs would need to be closer to Michael Hall's and Simon Rattle's series on 20th century music, "Leaving Home", for the BBC and Channel 4, than to the more specialized "American Maverick" series, produced with the San Francisco Symphony (and which was never broadcast in the nation's capital).

Colby Chamberlain: "non-profit cultural institutions adhere to an ultimately intellectual mission"

Agree. Would that this could be more true in America! Do you think that as the century continues more non-profit cultural organizations will need to partner with educational organizations? (as the Washington Project for the Arts did with the Corcoran Gallery and College of Art, and Orchestra 2001 does in Philadelphia. That is, do you see a time when such groups as Michael Morgan's superb Oakland-East Bay Symphony becomes an adjunct of the University of California at Berkeley, in order for it to maintain its intellectual vitality and commitment to new works of American composers?)

Tzila: "Imagine mixing presentation. Each piece of music has a story".

Tzila, I agree with you that much more could be done by musical organizations in this direction. However, I hope that you are thinking more of Murry Sidlin's multi-media and lecture presentations on music by Verdi, Holocaust-era composers, Shostakovich, and now Britten; or the Théâtre de Complicité's show "The Noise of Time" (based upon Shostakovich's String Quartet #15); and not the San Francisco Symphony's joint appearances with the rock band Metallica. [When I performed in Britten's "War Requiem" with my high school orchestra , on the work's tenth anniversary, we projected the Latin and English texts on a scrim, in different text faces; and projected images by George Grosz and Otto Dix.]

Posted by: Garth Trinkl at March 9, 2005 08:29 AM

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Ben Cameron
Executive director of Theatre Communications Group more

Adrian Ellis
Managing consultant of AEA Consulting more

Bill Ivey
Director of the Curb Center, Former Chair, NEA more

Joli Jensen
Professor, University of Tulsa, Author: "Is Art Good for Us?" more

Jim Kelly
Director, 4Culture, Seattle, WA more

Phil Kennicott
Culture critic, Washington Post more

Glenn Lowry
Director, Museum of Modern Art more

Robert L. Lynch
President, Americans for the Arts more

Violinist more

Andrew Taylor
Director, Bolz Center, University of Wisconsin more

Russell Willis Taylor
President, National Arts Strategies more

Doug McLennan
Editor, ArtsJournal.com

Gifts of the MuseGifts of the Muse
Free access to the full RAND study at the core of this conversation, funded by the Wallace Foundation. An executive summary is also available. Other Wallace Foundation publications and reports are available through its Knowledge Center.

Top arts researchers will come together to present and dissect the latest data at Measuring the Muse, an unprecedented National Arts Journalism Program-Alliance for the Arts conference at Columbia University.

The Values Study
A collaborative effort of 20 Connecticut arts organizations, the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism, and facilitator/author Alan S. Brown. The effort trained arts leaders to interview key members of their constituency, to discover what they valued about the creative experience -- in their own words. The process was sponsored by The Wallace Foundation's State Arts Partnerships for Cultural Participation (START) Program.

Valuing Culture
An initiative of London-based think tank, Demos. This effort brought cultural and policy leaders together to discuss the public value of culture in the UK. Resources include (with a downloadable briefing report by Adrian Ellis), a collection of speeches from the event in June 2003, and a summary report by John Holden called Capturing Cultural Value.

The Arts and Economic Prosperity
The 2002 report and related resources assessing the economic impact of America's nonprofit arts industry, based on surveys of 3,000 nonprofit arts organizations and more than 40,000 attendees at arts events in 91 cities in 33 states, plus the District of Columbia.

The Value of the Performing Arts in Ten Communities
A project of the Performing Arts Research Coalition, researched by the Urban Institute, exploring measures of value in specific cities across the United States. Reports are available for download.

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