Arts bailout?

I fear that what I’m going to say might ignite a firestorm. But I think it needs to be said.

We hear a lot — or at least we do if we’re in the arts — about an arts bailout. Many people (in the arts, at least) want money for the arts included in the stimulus bill. I get e-mail about that, and eager Twitter tweets. Please support an arts bailout, these communications say. E-mail your senator, your congressperson.

And in fact there’s a $50 million supplement to the NEA budget in the bill that passed the House. It’s not in the version of the bill the Senate’s looking at, so if that bill passes in the Senate, the Senate and the House will have to negotiate the differences. And so the arts money might well be debated.

I can understand why arts people want that money. And, I’d imagine, whatever other bailout money might be possible to get. For one thing — let’s be honest — all of us naturally support our own causes. Every industry, and every interest group, is making arguments for their inclusion. Why not arts?

But beyond that, arts people — and this is one of our best qualities — are enthusiastic about the arts. There’s something bright and eager in our advocacy, something that might go beyond the grimmer need in other pleas. The downside of this is, though, that we sometimes have an aura of entitlement, a sense that art is good for people, good for the country, superior, in tact, to other things, and so thus the money for the arts just has to be there.

And then there’s the very simple argument — very direct and to the point — which a friend of mine in the music business made on the phone to me: Arts jobs are as real (and as important to anyone who holds them) as any other jobs. So why not protect them, or restore them?

But there are two large arguments against all this. Or, at least, arguments we’d better think about before we make our case.


Arts money isn’t simply there to take. It has to be allocated, and if it isn’t allocated for the arts, it’ll go to something else. Cut now to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (aka the city council, as it’s called in many other cities), which at a recent meeting debated an $8 million cut in public health expenditures. This is part of a plan to cut $100 million from the San Francisco budget, since the city faces deficits as high as $575 million.

The health money could be saved, according to one plan, in part by cutting money for the arts. And so people from the ballet and the symphony were at the meeting, arguing that their groups, too, performed a public service.

Which in some ways might be reasonable. But how would you feel, if you were from the symphony and ballet, and had to make your case with people demonstrating outside, saying “We can’t be cutting food stamps at the time people need food”? Dozens of supporters, says the story that I’ve linked to, from San Francisco’s BeyondChron website, “streamed into the supervisors’ chamber to give some four hours of

testimony in support of their work. Speakers gave stories of lives

turned around and saved by the various organizations as well as

emotional pleas not to cut funding from already strained social

services….[A]gencies facing funding cuts include tenants’ advocacy organizations,

substance abuse treatment programs, homeless shelters, and the city’s

own job placement programs.”

Would you really want to testify in favor of taking money from all that, especially when the symphony and ballet audience is largely upscale, and comfortable? Here’s a report from James Glicker, who used to run the Baltimore Symphony. He told this story as part of a comment to another post here:

One highly placed politician in Maryland told me (when I came hat in hand asking for more money) that he had to choose that day between closing a fire station in a depressed neighborhood or installing metal detectors in 50 schools. ‘You want me to divert that money to pay for a symphony orchestra program?’ he asked me incredulously.

In New York State, the governor’s proposed budget for next year will end all grants to zoos, botantical gardens, and aquariums. “The state cuts [says the New York Times story I’ve linked to], combined with a precipitous drop in endowment funds and corporate donations, have organizations from the New York Botanical Garden to the Niagara Falls Aquarium to the Utica Zoo reeling.” People from all walks of life love these institutions. Children love them. And then there’s the welfare of the elephants, whales, and fish. The arts are worthy, but how comfortable would you be, arguing that opera is more important than the local zoo?

And yes, you could say that zoos should get their money, but that orchestras should get some, too. But that evades the need for choices. Rarely, in the abundant years of recent memory, did we think that we might have to choose between Beethoven and public health, or rather between giving money to one or the other. The New York Daily News ran a story about what the stimulus bill would do for New York City. With it ran a photo of a New York politician, standing in front of a display of things the stimulus would give the city, including more police (when the economic crisis is forcing cuts), health care, housing, schools, job training, food stamps.

And if you think some of that money could be siphoned to the arts, where, exactly, would you cut? Would you (to cite some things mentioned in the story that I linked) deny a public housing project roof repairs? Stop renovating doubtless rundown kitchens and bathrooms in other public housing? Block 2000 classrooms from connecting to the Internet? Prevent an overhaul of Harlem Hospital?

Maybe the arts still should get some money, but the argument has to be a lot more nuanced. We can’t just say, “the arts are wonderful, and arts jobs should be saved.” Especially when…

There might be a backlash

In November, a writer in the San Francisco Weekly scathingly denounced lavish spending by large San Francisco arts organizations, focusing, for instance, on what Michael Tilson Thomas gets paid — more than $2 million each year, the article said. In response, the president of the Board of Supervisors vowed to cut the symphony’s funding.

Philistines, someone might object. MTT is worth it. He’s paid the going market rate for top conductors. Brent Assink, the Symphony’s Executive Director, said the facts were wrong, that MTT makes less than the article asserted. Mark Swed, classical music critic for the Los Angeles Times, said the city, if the cuts went through, can’t promote itself as a sophisticated city.

But does anyone think that similar things might be said if an arts bailout is seriously debated? At a time when all the civic cuts that I’ve discussed here will very likely happen, how do we justify support for the Metropolitan Opera, when it sells tickets for $375 and has donors who’ll give millions individually (and in one case, $25 million)? How, politically, will we argue that the New York Philharmonic needs some bailout funds, when it paid Lorin Maazel over $2 million, and pays its president, Zarin Mehta, more than $800,000?

In a country that’s outraged over Wall Street bonuses (and auto company corporate jets), I don’t think that bailouts for large and lavish arts groups can easily be passed. If, that is, they’re openly debated. And yes, I know the Met is in financial trouble, and of course I know that banks with hugely paid executives are getting bailouts. But the banks are getting bailouts so we can save our financial system, and get credit flowing again, so that working people and small businesses can get loans. What will the reaction be to bailouts for arts groups with a lot of money, and whose audience is also comfortably off?

The backlash to all this could be toxic. We’d better be careful how we argue for support, and about what kind of support we argue for. Can we fashion an arts bailout package that focuses on small organizations, with audiences of people from the middle class? Personally, I’d support an arts program like the depression-era WPA, where the money goes directly to independent projects that employ artists and create new art.

But whatever we propose, we’d better be very careful about what we’re asking for, and how possible it is, politically, to get what we want.

(Footnote: suppose the NEA gets that extra $50 million, and suppose it distributes the money in the same way it makes its normal grants. I spent a few minutes with the NEA’s report of its most recent opera grants. Turns out 1/3 of the grantees (approximately) get 2/3 of the money. They’re the bigger opera companies, of course. So if some of the $50 million goes to opera companies, in the pattern of previous funding, the bulk of the opera stimulus would go to organizations many or most of which have expensive tickets, high salaries, wealthy boards, and an extremely upscale audience. Would this fly, politically? I can just hear Lou Dobbs denouncing it.)

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  1. Donald Rumsfeld says


    Your arguments can be boiled down to 1.) all government budget expenditures are good, so there’s no justification for changing the status quo; and, 2.) philistines already hate the arts, so best to keep our heads down.

    The first is false, the second sad.

    Re point 2: is there a difference, do you think, between what you’re saying here and what you’d say in the political arena? How would you argue, politically, for bailout money going to the arts. Would you call anyone who opposes that a philistine, and then sit back, delighted that you’d scored a point?

    If I can help arts advocates focus the argument, I’ll be happy, no matter how much you and others might disagree with me. Though most of all I’d like to focus the arts bailout plan.

  2. says

    I had no idea Donald Rumsfeld read this blog. Good lookin’ out, Rummy!

    It’s important to distinguish between advocacy on the federal level and advocacy on the state and local level. The big pot of money is at the federal level. All your examples of governments having to make hard choices are at the state and local level. I agree that efforts to lobby those governments are ill-timed, since they’re simply trying to continue providing basic services at this point.

    Were I lobbying for arts money at the federal level, I would design my program so that it would more like a WPA program, as you suggest, with an emphasis on providing free-to-experience art at the community level. I would pitch it by noting that (a) money given directly to individual artists is money that will likely be spent immediately, ensuring that the money will have the desired stimulus effect and (b) regular people’s arts options are limited just like all their other options are when money’s tight, and if we can provide communities with art that’s engaged with that community somehow, it will both fill a need and engage the spirit.

    If you pitch that program in that way at the federal level, I think you would stand a reasonable chance of getting some funding without pissing off anyone other than the usual anti-arts-funding cranks.

    In the ’80s I had lunch with an anti-arts funding crank — a well-known political scientist who wrote a book opposing arts funding. Turns out that at bottom, he only opposed funding for art he didn’t like, namely contemporary art (in all art forms). Since this was now getting funding, he thought funding had no civic purpose. It also turned out that he didn’t know anything about contemporary art, and when I explained John Cage to him, he was seriously astonished. Didn’t withdraw his book, though.

  3. Michael Cain says

    I have to agree with the majority of Mr. Sandow’s argument here. If we take a page from Maslow, people need to be able to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves and their families before they hit the museum or concert hall. Yes, artists deserve significantly better treatment in American culture than is received. However, there is most certainly a need to prioritize in such times of crisis. When people’s physical needs are met, there is more opportunity for artists to meet the, shall we say metaphysical needs, of the people. I would be hard-pressed to think anyone should go hungry or cold so we can hear Carmen just one more time. Ugh.

    More importantly, I think this situation illustrates a dire need for artists to gird their loins and become more entrepreneurial about their endeavors. As a jazz vibraphonist/composer, I spend equal amounts of time writing press releases, booking gigs and “miscellaneous duties as assigned” for my ensemble than practicing or writing. With the democratization of the means of production due to the Internet, the music industry (and, I would safely allege photography, graphic design and news media industries) there is a glut of mediocre (at best) product that has flooded the market. Supply has greatly outpaced Demand. “Being good” isn’t good enough anymore. Unless you attract and retain your own audience on your own, you will play to empty rooms. A harsh reality for sure, but reality nonetheless.

    I know that the four-letter S-word (rhymes with tales) is profanity to artists and arts administrators, but it’s time we pulled our heads out of the sand. So your string quartet plays sublime versions of Bartok. So what? Your 501c(3) brings some of the “best” talent from Eastern Europe to play Chopin. Who cares? We have to take up our own cause and re-instill value in the artistic experience and sell why these things are so important. I am sure most people would agree that passively consuming, reproducing, and dying is not really living; that living is about the spirit of humanity, not merely its existence. With that said, no one dies if they don’t hear music. They DO die, however, if they don’t eat regularly or freeze.

    Is it unfair that the Arts are the last to get support and the first to lose it? Yes. However, I believe there could be ample support for the argument that culture should support culture, not government. Should the government support American cabinetmakers because once-upon-a-time hand-crafted cabinetry meant something? Because 100 years ago, someone made great cabinets and there is some unwritten federal requirement to support those that re-create them, lest they be lost to the yellowed manuscripts of Time? If Mozart is so great and immaculate, wouldn’t it make sense that someone would buy it? I would, but not a the expense of my basic needs. I like heat more than Mozart.

    On the bright side, crisis brings change. Clearly, the “consume ’til you puke” economic model cannot be sustained. People are hurting, and artists can be the salve. Olivier Messian wrote “Quartet for the End of Time” in a Nazi prison camp on instruments FAR from orchestral-quality. From what I have read, the impact that concert had on people in very much worse condition than us was beyond words. Let us think more about how we can heal the wounds of 8 years of apathy, avarice and misery and less about where we are in the long queue to Capitol Hill.

    Thanks. So many thanks for something so thoughtful and heartfelt.

  4. ariel says

    For some reason I can’t get past Tilson Thomas getting

    2+ million a year , is that really so ????

    I know he conducts an orchestra , but what does he do to earn

    that salary .It’s not that he is somebody important or famous

    like let’s say Leopold Stokowski,or Toscanini,or that great

    showman Dudamel.

    The arts should not be supported by any government grants ,it’s

    always the wrong people who benfit -apart from countries building

    opera houses (as in pecker matching)to show they subscribe to so called

    high culture the so called fine arts should survive only on the willingness of people to buy tickets to the events. opera concerts etc.

    and give gifts of money to keep some venture going ,such as the Met

    whch could be paid in vegetables carefully aimed ,based on some performances of recent times . But however supported , money or produce it will tell the creative artist his relationship with the rest of the populace.There are countless millions of people who never heard of Mozart and live quite well and there are people in the minority

    who can’t imagine being without Mozarts’ music.,so let them

    subsidiize those concerts and operas and if they can’t raise the

    money to bad …..I don’t want some lowly government official deciding for me which art form I should support or what grants

    I should support .I just might be one of those people who would rather hear one more Carmen and be ticked off to find my

    hard earned money went to support some so called doodling jazz artist .

  5. says

    As long as funding is considered an either/or proposition, there is virtually no satisfactory answer. However, if the question is rephrased to something like – “With x dollars, how will we maintain all necessary services, support and develop our cultural and artistic organizations, and provide economic stimulus?” the answers will likely look very different.

    If funds are truly needed for the arts, cutting these funds for other needs could be a very short sighted solution. It reminds me of someone who says “Why should I pay to keep our fresh water clean – I can always just turn on the tap.

  6. says

    I think there’s a real problem with your formulation:

    You completely obfuscate the difference between the bailout of the financial industry and the stimulus bill. The purpose of the first is to shore up our financial system which is in danger of collapse, while the purpose of the second is to create jobs, both by preserving existing jobs and by stimulating the creation of new jobs for new projects.

    The arts doesn’t need a bailout — it’s not a crucial sector that keeps the economy running.

    But funding to the arts that maintains current employment levels and perhaps creates some new jobs is legitimate as part of a stimulus plan.

    Now, certainly one can dispute whether the specific provision in the law that funds the arts as written is structured so that it will actually have a stimulative effect on jobs, but that’s a quibble over the details, while you’re arguing over the legitimacy of money to the arts as stimulus in principle.

    And I think you can make that argument in principle only if you mistakenly classify it as a bailout (in which terms of course it comes up short), instead of as one of many way to attempt to stimulate the economy in order to keep it contracting less than it might absent the stimulus.

    David W. Fenton

    Obviously, choices have to be made when the government spends money. If the goal is to create or preserve jobs, there are many ways to do that. And there very well might not be money to create every kind of job that’s out there.

    So eventually the choice might come down to questions like: What kind of jobs should we preserve or create? In which industries should these jobs be?

    And then there might emerge a preference not to create or preserve jobs in industries that serve (or are perceived to preserve) an elite minority, or which pay their employees six-figure (or higher) salaries. I’ve talked to a number of people in the arts about this problem, and they seem to talk, for the most part, as if all jobs are equivalent. But I don’t think it’s going to play that way in the political arena.

  7. says

    Government money is OUR money, and as citizens and taxpayers, we have an absolute right to influence its uses.

    The paltry $50 million for the arts in the stimulus package equals about what bribes American contractors in Iraq are paying to locals or siphoning off for themselves each week.

    Why is it that some are always decrying “wasteful government spending” and pointing to the arts instead of farm subsidies or the inflated price of the latest military toy?

    So, I’ll stand up for arts funding any day–in the stimulus package or in the federal budget.

  8. says

    I think that our requests for arts funding would be the most effective if it’s done in the spirit of the bailout plan itself — it should be used to revitalize our failing infrastructure, in other words.

    I’ve graduated from school a few years ago and like most artists, have struggled to keep myself afloat. I work a day job in order to support my artistic endeavors, but I’ve at least been lucky enough to be able to stay artistically active in the Los Angeles area. What would be immensely helpful is if there were public practice and rehearsal spaces for musicians to use because once you’re out of school these things can be difficult to come by. (Practicing at home or at your apartment causes noise issues which not everyone has the ability to rectify.)

    If you wanted to get a little more ambitious, there could also be publicly funded recording studios and concert spaces that people would be able to use at significantly discounted rates. Say, some libraries already allow people to rent their spaces for a fee if they’re a registered citizen of a certain city. These fees should be waived if the musician puts in the time and effort to put on a concert, if you ask me. There is no short supply of talented musicians who are eager to produce, but the logistics of putting on a concert itself can sometimes be a nightmare, because there are a lot of hidden costs involved that most people don’t tend to anticipate. I don’t think most serious artists really expect to be handsomely compensated for their work, but I think it’s reasonable for artists to expect for their craft to at least not be a significant burden on themselves, both economically or socially.

    All of the things I mentioned above already exist in the private market and actually do fairly well for themselves. There’s really no reason why the government can’t step in and provide some competition, which will drive down prices overall and should, at least in theory, promote creativity from the bottom-up. These ideas also have the advantage of being available to any type of musician as well, allowing you to bypass the thorny issues of cultural selectivity. Government funding should ideally be stylistically blind.

    One argument politicians will listen to is the notion that art gives young people things to do. LA is full of graffiti which is usually a signifier of an eroding social climate, but at the same time it is also a sign that people DO have the urge to be creative and expressive. They do it on the walls only because they have nowhere else to do it. If you give people place to do their work in a dignified manner, I think that society will come to appreciate the efforts of artists a lot more.

  9. says

    Greg raises what is sometime referred to as the saliency issue. Pollster will tell you that when the question is posed as to whether or not you support arts education, the response will almost certainly be high in terms of support. If you ask whether you have to make a choice between arts education and a nurse, then as you might imagine, the support diminishes significantly.

    I have always found such saliency issues to be less than practical, for if you asked someone to make the choice between math instruction and a school nurse, they would choose the nurse, but tell you that choice was absurd.

    If it truly gets to that choice, let’s say in this case between food and health care for children and the arts, either arts education or culture in general, well, that would most likely signal a real depression. We’re not there yet, by a long shot, so part of the overall stimulus going to arts and arts education, is both doable and reasonable.

    “What iceberg?” asked the captain of the Titanic.

    Seriously, Richard — and you and I go way back — I’m not concerned about the abstract questions involved in polling. Someone thinks the choice between math instruction and a school nurse is absurd. Until, that is, the school system is in the approximate condition of the California state government, and the choice — however absurd in the abstract — becomes a reality. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors really was debating whether to cut funding to public health, or to the opera and ballet. The opera and ballet cuts were proposed in order to eliminate the public health cuts. At this point, invoking “saliency” doesn’t much help. The Board of Supervisors has to make a choice, and advocates from the opera and ballet — who testified before the board — can’t very well say that the choice is absurd. Maybe it ought to be absurd. Maybe it _was_ absurd, when money was abundant. Maybe it’s absurd, in some larger sense, that San Francisco should have to debate this choice. But suddenly the choice is real.

    Though your larger point — that we’re not in a depression yet — is worth considering. The problem with it is that there isn’t any objective measurement. Are we in a depression, rather than a recession? Well, we don’t have 25% unemployment. But particular areas of our society may be in really dire condition. Cf. my point, in my post, about the drastic cut of funding to all the zoos and aquariums in New York state. Suddenly those institutions are facing depression-like conditions. Likewise the orchstras and opera companies that have lately shut down, or cut way back. Tell the Opera Orchestra of New York that there isn’t a depression. Whatever you call the overall state of our economy, they just cancelled the remainder of their season.

    Right now, according to e-mail from the League of American Orchestras, the senate is considering a provision in its version of the stimulus bill that would eliminate all stimulus funding to musuems, theaters, and performing arts centers. So regardless, Richard, of your feeling that arts funding can reasonably be part of any stimulus package, the Senate is moving towards not including at least three components of it. Arts advocates will have to lobby against that. What arguments will they use? It’s not a theoretical discussion anymore.

    And beyond all of this, I’m concerned that arts advocates — and the League’s latest e-mail would be an example — get all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about the benefits of the arts, economic and otherwise, without considering what arguments are likely to be used against them. I think I’m making a serious and very practical point, when I say that a large part of the public won’t stand for stimulus money going to large classical music institutions that have elite audiences, donors who give millions, and highly paid executives and music directors. In today’s news, Obama says that large amounts of stimulus money shouldn’t go to any organization that pays an executive more than $500,000. We can debate what he means by “large amounts,” but if this is floated as any kind of standard, the largest orchestras are excluded, because they pay their music directors and in a couple of cases their executive directors more than that.

    So I think that arts advocates need to hone their approach. They need — we need — to craft a version of an arts stimulus that appears to help people and organizations that look to the public as if they have a real need for money, and serve a non-elite audience. If hard choices need to be made, the public might well say — and, from what I’ve been reading, some philanthropists might well agree — that the Metropolitan Opera can simply perform less.

  10. says

    (Uh, no, MTT is not being paid $2 million. His salary is the $1.2 million paid to MTT, Inc. The $2.6 million cited is for THREE top people at SFS.)

    Or, as I wrote in my post: “Brent Assink, the Symphony’s Executive Director, said the facts were wrong, that MTT makes less than the article asserted.”

  11. says

    D Fenton’s distinction between a bailout and stimulus is important. Funding to the arts as part of a stimulus plan could be smart if done right, since they have a significant impact on our economy and job creation:

    Working with a small arts org, I have a feeling that none of this will matter for us anyway, since as Greg points out, the bigger players always seem to get most of the money. At least my org is scalable, and I’m not in it for the money anyway, and have been finding numerous other ways to support myself and my art for years now (like Michael Cain above).

    Hi, Chris. Thanks for the link. I’ll respond to some of this in a separate post. Very good data to have.

  12. says

    We can argue endlessly about government waste and corruption and such-like. Somehow there is always the feeling that the money is really there, somewhere, if we shout for it long enough and loudly enough. But Greg is right. If we are going to argue for an arts bailout or stimulus, we have to understand that there is only so much money available, and look realistically at what we are competing with. The real question is, should we even be arguing for it? I for one can’t see any rational arguments for funding ballet or art galleries or my own field, choral music, over food stamps for the truly destitute, or homeless shelters, or whatever, if that is the actual choice.

    In the end, if we can make what we do relevant enough to enough people, we will survive. If we can’t, we won’t. Not a very uplifting thing to say, perhaps, but let’s get real. We have to stop thinking of the government as our fairy godmother. We should perhaps also take a less personal view. Art in and of itself will survive, because people need art. Whether it survives in its current incarnation may be interesting to us personally, but is surely less important in the larger scheme of things.

    Thanks, Rebecca. You did a better job than I did, I think, of putting things in perspective.

    I’m reminded of something George Bernard Shaw wrote, when he was a music critic. I may have quoted it before (or rather paraphrased it, becuase I don’t have the quote in front of me). He was writing about a movement which wanted to bring music to “the people,” and ended more or less with this:

    Music for the people? Food for the people, housing for the people, work with dignity for the people, and they’ll create tolerable music of their own, even if all of Beethoven’s works perish in the interim.

    We have to watch that we don’t ascribe some great moral value — and even moral influence — to art, and then end up fostering art ahead of peoples’ basic welfare.

  13. says


    I mostly agree with what you wrote. We are already in the crosshairs of the conservabot talk-show hosts. They will use it as ammunition to try to beat up Obama, and to try to slam arts funding in general.

  14. Brian says


    Excellent post. A quick point to the question of compensation. There is a legitimate argument that major orchestras and opera houses are paying executives as well as star soloists far too much given the current state of affairs.

    If you look at 990 forms on, conductor salaries have been rising rapidly in recent seasons. According to 2007 tax returns, Lorin Maazel made $2.8 million at the NY Phil whereas in 2006 he made $2.2 million. James Levine made $1.9 million at the Boston Symphony (2006: $1.5 m) in addition to $1.5 million at the Met. MTT made $1.6 million in 2007, up from $1.2m in 2006.

    Moreover, according to several printed sources, artists like Yo-Yo Ma, Josh Bell and Itzhak Perlman make generally pull in $70,000-$75,000 per performance; Cecilia Bartoli and Renee Fleming make between $65,000-$75,000. Many orchestras will pay stars beyond their means because they believe it enhances their reputation. But shouldn’t everyone be sharing in the sacrifice? It seems that if the arts want a piece of the federal stimulus bill, they should dramatically reconsider the question of salaries.

  15. Yorgos says

    Very interesting article. In our times with this financial crisis we should maybe prioritize. Yes, if we are to choose between health and art, health should be the chosen one.

    I don’t agree with art being expensive (eg. expensive tickets, etc) but I don’t know if we can avoid this in the society that we live (different ratings and prices).

    Probably the best solution would be to make cuts but not cut everything if we need to give money somewhere else (eg. health system).

  16. GKD says

    As Brian pointed out, perhaps in our focus on requests for government funding we ignore an opportunity to evaluate the financial and budgetary culture within prominent arts organizations. Just as the government should hold the banks to certain standards of frugality and reform (and it is not yet holding them to high enough standards), we should expect arts organizations to withhold the bloated salaries that administrators and top-tier performers have come to expect. That they are not comparable to hedge-fund managers’ salaries is no excuse for leniency. The fact that Joe Polisi, Jane Gottlieb, Veda Kaplinski and other Juilliard administrators make high 6-figure salaries, and the school undertakes a dubiously necessary 100 billion dollar surface renovation project while students amass monster loans to pay their tuition bills is absurd. This smacks of the opulence and elitism that the public at large has come to associate with the arts. Conductors who profit in the millions while their “nonprofit” organizations seek government funding to pay them is another example of the madness. Never mind that the quality of our work at the highest-profile institutions is too often substandard. We artists cannot in good conscience request outside aid until we have our own houses in order.

  17. ariel says

    What a group of beggars – I’m an “artist ” so support me I’m

    worthy of support mentality , all this hot air about funding the

    “arts” is pathetic. Mr. Kessler seems to suggest doing a better con job

    than just saying we are artists and as such deserve help .Maybe

    the symphony orchestra players should go around in tattered clothes

    and look hungry and unshaven , or worse to gain sympathy and

    some grant money .And if the Met must cut back on performances

    so be it -and cut back salaries from Gelb down to the latest hot

    shot singer , The arts are “elitist” a dirty word for most Americans

    except when addressing the sports world where paying millions of

    dollars to a man for hitting a ball with a stick is on a higher level than

    any” art group could ever dream of being —= as such the elitists

    should pay for their own past times which comes after feeding and paying the rent. It there are not enough elitists to support the Met or the symphony then too bad -don;t expext the “general public” to pay for your entertainment, especially if they don’t care for it.

  18. Tony says

    I agree that a WPA type program would be good. I see all to often the ridiculous way grant money chases already well off organizations. I work in the arts field in Albuquerque, and when they release the NEA grants list for NM, the staggering bias towards Santa Fe arts organizations which serve smaller, wealthier, audiences is a source of great displeasure for me as a taxpayer. Spiraling top salaries is symptomatic of the culture at large – this is happening to universities as well. I fear that it’s the musicians in the pit who will suffer the brunt of the cuts, not the administrators. Finally, a whimsical idea: What if we offered “music stamps” along with food stamps? Treat it as a necessity!

  19. brett says

    Good discussion, Greg. Just a couple of responses. On superstar salaries — I decry them, too, to the extent that they reduce the funds available to spread to other musicians. But what about a mid-level NBA player who makes $15 million per year? And don’t tell me that they don’t get public funds, via all sorts of subsidies and tax breaks for their stadiums and arenas. Is a third string power forward more valuable to a community than, say, a concertmaster? And I don’t know any concertmasters that make a tenth of what a second-string point guard makes.

    Second, we have to get out of this zero sum game. Somehow, European countries manage to provide much greater per capita public subsidies to their arts institutions and still provide more accessible health care and other social safety nets. Why can’t we? Answer: our regressive tax system. Arts are always going to lose when placed up against, say, health care. But the true competition comes on the revenue side — it’s not the symphony vs. the homeless shelter, but rather both against tax breaks and tax structures that allow (often incompetent) financial managers to buy second yachts and third mansions and $1.2 million bathroom remodels. The arts community needs to be politically involved at the point of discussion and campaigning when political candidates are running on no-tax or tax cut or regressive taxation platforms. By the time they scurry up to the public meetings that are deciding only what leftovers are going to be cut, it’s too late. The real battle happened months or years earlier, when tax policy was being determined.

    In politics, we’re sometimes dealing simply with perception. High sports salaries are accepted, and the public subsidies partly hidden. High arts salaries don’t generally get thought about, not in the political arena, until somebody wants scarce public money to pay for them. This may not be fair, but it’s a reality.

    And European arts organizations are getting less and less money from the government, as time goes on. Though your overall point is right, of course. European governments manage to provide much more. Especially in health care!

  20. says

    Et tu, Greg?

    It is possible to convince people who otherwise don’t care about the arts that funding the arts is a worthwhile investment. In fact, it is one of the wisest investments local, state, and national governments can make.* We all can see that tourism, small and local businesses, and the quality of life thrive in communities that actively support the arts. And those things are usually *results*, not causes, of support for the arts in those areas.

    *According to “Arts & Economic Prosperity III,” a study by Americans for the Arts, conducted from 2000-2005, government investment in the arts returns $7 for every $1 invested.

    It is not the making of art per se that people find “elitist.” It is intellectualism. I’m disappointed to see you acting here as an apologist for the anti-intellectuals in this country.

    Corey, in all honesty, I think you’ve got several things mixed together here — apples, oranges, and olive oil. I’m familiar with those numbers from Americans from the Arts, and they don’t say that art is “one of the wisest” investments governments can make. They just suggest there’s a good economic consequence. To be “one of the wisest” investments, art would have to trump almost everything else in economic impact, and can we say with any certainty that art does that? We’d also have to say that the intrinsic benefits of art — those that come from art itself, not from art’s economic impact (or impact on students’ test scores) — are more important than the intrinsic benefits of public health, and endless other things that governments might spend money on. We can’t plausibly do that, either.

    And as for weighing in with the anti-intellectuals! This is what I get, for suggesting that the arguments made in favor of art funding aren’t smart enough. Or, put differently, aren’t intellectual enough. I could ponder the irony of this for months. Did you not understand anything I wrote? Maybe I didn’t put it clearly enough. I’m not going to be a cheerleader for the arts, when the cheers don’t make sense, and could easily backfire.

  21. jmm says

    Value of originality and loneliness/ piano is a companion

    It should be a project which would explain why pianists deserve the same money as other professions. First it should explain what talent means for the culture, what it means to be born as an artist.There is no choice and you cannot change your nature. Of course you can study to be a lawyer but you cannot only study to be a pianist. You need to start it before you have any idea who you want to be, and when you grow you find that you grew differently from anybody else). Then you cannot be a dentist.

    It should bring up respect for life work which cannot be calculated by hours or years. The governments should see the importance of artists as cultural leaders (I wouldn’t quote Aristotle, you know that). The fees which artists should get from concerts and festivals should be equal atleast to dentists or lawyers, that this artist can have a piano at home (he can bring it with him if he wants to on tour as Horowitz did)…piano is only a companion for all life and this lifestyle shoudn’t depend on the dirty, unethical businesses, because actually, artists should be independent from being so dumb economically and financially.

    About subjectivity and objectivity:(finances should be switched from businesses toward the artists)

    It has to be brought to world attention as to the governments that should be allowed to support pianists as individual artists without the establishment of foundations. For now, only foundations can sponsor individual artists. There is difficult competition with career grants. On the other hand, so many wealthy philanthropists would love to get involved in the management of their favorite artist’s career. They would love to have a subjective relationship. And they don’t need to weigh objective conditions which are on scales, always under pressure (for example, who is more talented? a person who plays all the right notes or a person who as a human being just talks to the public from his heart, and actually the public wouldn’t care about his wrong notes or his fantastic spontaneous improvisations). From hand to hand as it was, for example, with von Meck and Tchaikovsky, and not too many examples we even know…they’re private. So in that case the government needs to resolve the situation and allow a tax deduction for individual sponsoring of artists whom the country will be proud to represent all around the world, allow to put money in the concert tours with good orchestras, solo recitals, or appearance at the festivals. Right now tax deductions are allowed for foundations and non-profit organizations (competitions, for example, or festivals).

    Really we find around us so much money when we’re going to play somewhere…but money didn’t really go to performers, they go to other businesses for organizers. Organizers from competitions are getting sponsors because people who donate them money can get a tax deduction. So my point is that the finances should be switched from businesses toward the artists…atleast there needs to be an established law so this can happen.

  22. says

    How many have had their computers crash because of viruses or Trojans loaded when we accidentally arrive at the ‘wrong’ web site or have had our teenagers do the same thing? How much pornography is available on the Internet? Are these questions that may be addressed by the FCC or Henry Waxman? Absolutely not! There are web sites that broadcast conservative, libertarian or Republican thoughts that need to be eradicated. The fact that people want to hear Rush Limbaugh a great deal more than that idiot Chris Matthews only indicates they’ve been brainwashed . . . but in the wrong way. Henry Waxman to the rescue! Matthews, Maddow et. al. need to be heard! We’ll whisper if need be. We’ll seek others with open minds and we’ll find each other. Neither Henry Waxman nor any other liberal will stop us.

  23. Jack Olmeys says

    I don’t agree with art being expensive (eg. expensive tickets, etc) but I don’t know if we can avoid this in the society that we live (different ratings and prices).

    Probably the best solution would be to make cuts but not cut everything if we need to give money somewhere else (eg. health system). premium wordpress themes