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March 10, 2005

Continental drift

For good or ill, the model that William Osborne describes with an affection I share is being dismantled in every major European country. All the issues addressed in this blog are pretty well global in their application and indeed as much thought is being given to them abroad as in the USA. Public funding in Germany, France and Italy is retrenching, and the stresses on the cultural sector readily apparent. Go further east and they are even more apparent. The UK has been through a lottery-funded building boom that has left in expanded but not necessarily strengthened. It is very unclear with what the traditional European funding model of arms-length publicly funded arts organizations is being replaced and I think that those who care are about the arts are as flummoxed in Europe as in America.

Specifically, the continents share rapidly accelerating demographic, technological and social changes, few of which serve to bolster the base for traditional art forms; and a distinctly un-patrician political class that is aware that spending on the arts is at least superficially regressive (taking from poorer and redistributing towards the richer), and therefore that there are few votes in it.

The result is that relations with audiences and funders are more hard-fought and more contingent everywhere; subscription (the traditional device by which innovative programming is put before more conservative audiences) is imploding; and funders more inclined to support politically fashionable programs than core operating costs etc. etc.

I say this because I think a superficial reading of William’s postings could lead one to take them as a description of European funding in its current tattered state as opposed to its Platonic ideal.

Posted by aellis at March 10, 2005 12:49 PM


Adrian Ellis writes that the European funding model, which he admires, is being dismantled. He notes that, “All the issues addressed in this blog are pretty well global in their application and indeed as much thought is being given to them abroad as in the USA. Public funding in Germany, France and Italy is retrenching, and the stresses on the cultural sector readily apparent.”

It is true that global capitalism, particularly in its American form, is challenging the Social Democracies of Europe. But it is much, much too soon to say the European system for funding is being “dismantled.” That is simply not true at this point.

This year’s Federal cultural budget in France is up 5.9 percent -- three times inflation -- at 2.79 billion euros. How can you say the French are dismantling their funding system when its appropriation is rising faster than even inflation?

An article listed in today’s ArtsJournal.com notes that the British government has subsidized the arts this year with 412 million pounds. That is over 200% higher than the budget only eight years ago! That doesn’t sound like dismantling to me. For the details see: http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/image/0,12073,1373409,00.html (There seems to be an error in the article. All of the numbers are listed in billions, not millions. Or is that correct? Perhaps Adrian can explain, since I think he might be British.)

Germany has had economic problems due to unification and has had to tighten its belt, but it has not at all dismantled its cultural funding, nor is there any indication it plans to do so. Some smaller orchestras have been consolidated with the nearby neighbors, but a large part of the impetus for this has been to eliminate redundancies created through unification. When the wall came down, Berlin ended up three full-time opera houses. After a long debate, they decided to preserve all three even though the city is deeply in debt and unemployment in the region is about 18% (again a result of unification.) How can you say they are dismantling arts funding when they decide to keep three major opera houses in Berlin under these dire circumstances?

And even if Germany reduces by a small amount its number of orchestras, it still has 23 times more full-time ensembles per capita than the USA.

Spain’s economy has grown at an astounding rate since it joined the European Union. It is using some of these funds to invest heavily in culture. It has even founded some new orchestras, and it has turned Barcelona into one of the most culturally active cities in the world. Even the Europeans are astounded by the growth in its cultural sector.

On the other hand, Berlusconi in Italy has worked hard against the arts because he is probably more sympathetic to America’s “neo-con” economic philosophy than any other European leader. And, of course, he just happens to be the richest man in Italy, and owns –all- of its private television stations.

Given that the political divide between America and Europe is probably larger than it has been since the Second World War, and given that the EU is growing stronger and more confident by the year, I think it is unlikely that America’s goal of dismantling Europe’s social democracies will succeed.

America’s neo-cons, and their “Republocrat” friends, like to discredit Europe’s economic system at every opportunity. This includes phony predictions of doom for its generous funding of the arts. Don’t buy it. It’s not true, and the claim is largely ideological propaganda. The American’s are not going to give up their attacks on Euorpe’s Social Democracies, but let’s hope the Europeans prevail.

Europeans will never use language like American administrators who refer to artists as “entitlement seekers.” Europeans will hold to their centuries old belief that genuinely qualified artists are workers who deserve good jobs just like everyone else.

William Osborne

Posted by: William Osborne at March 10, 2005 04:16 PM

Mr. Osborne, whether he realizes it or not, has identified a crucial point in comparing European arts and arts support to American arts and arts support.

He writes, “Europeans will never use language like American administrators who refer to artists as ‘entitlement seekers.’ Europeans will hold to their centuries old belief that genuinely qualified artists are workers who deserve good jobs just like everyone else.”

“Centuries old belief.” As a nation, the United States has existed for only slightly over two centuries, and not even half a century in its current composition of fifty states (if one recalls, Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to statehood in 1959). If we try to project European beliefs on American citizens, we will quickly discover how erroneous and highly miscalculated such an attempt is. The U.S. is not Europe and Americans are not Europeans. Traditions in the U.S. are still in a fledgling phase. The concept of government funding of the arts didn’t happen until a one and a half (approximately) centuries after we declared our independence. The wealthy were the primary supporters of the arts then and they still are now. For a comparison to have significant value it must be meaningful. Looking at the broader picture of societies (American vs European), we have different histories, structures, economic development, and most importantly, cultures. To compare the two is like comparing apples to oranges. We cannot escape the fact that the arts are a part of a much larger American culture (and not the focus of it either).

Perhaps the European funding model is the ultimate ideal for the arts in the U.S.; it certainly is a model with significant merits. If we want to get there, we obviously have a long way to go. And in the process to affect that change, or any change on any level, hopefully we are beginning to accept the fact mentioned now by several, including two excellent posts by Jim Kelly and Barry Hessenius over the past two days, that both arts administrators and artists will likely have to play the game that is American politics if we truly want to see change. I don’t believe American administrators truly think of artists as “entitlement seekers” (if this is their perception, then we have a fundamental problem greater than support issues). However, if we use the “In Europe…” argument with policymakers we will only create a rift, and give policymakers a reason to think of artists as “entitlement seekers” (or complainers). I know, as was mentioned in an earlier post, that a good portion of artists don’t appreciate policymakers, but let’s be honest, apparently there are also quite a few policymakers who don’t appreciate artists and/or arts administrators either. This won’t be good enough to win more support for the arts. Artists don’t have to appreciate policymakers, but they do have to be actively involved in the discussion with them and the public and listen too, approaching the conversation not from the stance that policymakers and the public are the enemy, but as potentially invaluable partners to see through the drive for more support for the arts; not just financial, but also in regard to copyright law and media regulation as mentioned by Bill Ivey, or in education in our schools. And the same holds true for arts administrators. This may require a full-time effort and the creation, as Barry Hessenius sugguested, of 501 c4 entities to lobbby for the arts (A very intriguing idea), since I doubt many artists and administrators could feasibly, or even legally, get involved in such an endeavor given our current work and time constraints.

Posted by: Derek at March 11, 2005 01:15 PM

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