ONE subject that comes up a lot on this site, especially in reader comments, is the public funding of art by European nations. That funding makes a lot of things possible — including access — that the market would not support. A new dispatch from Paris — where a private museum designed by Frank Gehry has recently opened — describes French arts funding as beginning the path to privatization.
France’s leadership is struggling to pay for the government it provides. While the capital remains a global magnet of culture, it increasingly risks becoming a playground for the world’s elite, detached from its midsize cities, villages and countryside, where rising hardships stoke resentments and widen the opening for far-right parties.
The tough economic climate is forcing France to revisit its vaunted model by which the state funds and manages the arts, and the juxtaposition of the two museums made clear the lurking shift being forced on France’s values, with all the attendant controversies.
The Louis Vuitton Foundation is just the latest example of how French cultural glory is being privatized. And the epic troubles of the Musée Picasso — closed five years amid cost overruns and a staff revolt — illustrate how even a state with a proud history of arts patronage retooled its approach in the face of an erosion of resources.
As someone who’d like to see the fine arts thrive in this country, as remain as accessible as possible, I mostly prefer their system. There are advantages to both systems, but mostly this story made me weep.
Several of this site’s most active commenters often discuss the advantages of European-style arts funding, the implication sometimes being that if Americans knew how much better things were there, they’d adopt the system used by pretty much all the other civilized democracies. We did recently follow their lead (incompletely and with enormous political violence) regarding universal healthcare.
But this story reinforced my hunch that rather than the U.S. becoming more like Europe, that the ideological force of US/UK-style neoliberalism — along with austerity politics and the continued economic slump — will make those other countries more like us, with culture less well funded and more dependent on the market and its popularity contest. I’ve spoken recently two two Scandinavian composers, of different generations, and gotten a sense of how much support the arts are losing even in the Nordic states.
This is one of those predictions at which I’d be happy to be wrong. But hard to imagine this ending well.