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What, No Taxpayer Bailout For The Arts?

A timely editorial from a terribly concerned Washington Post:

No Bailout for the Arts?

By Michael Kaiser
Monday, December 29, 2008; Page A15

While government bailouts are being offered or considered for financial institutions, the auto industry, homeowners, and so many other needy and worthy sectors, one group is quickly and rather quietly falling apart: our nation’s arts organizations. In the past few months, dozens of opera companies, theater companies, dance organizations, museums and symphonies have either closed or suffered major cash crises.

As someone who has made a career out of fixing troubled organizations, I know that the problems faced by arts groups are often related to poor management and governance. I also know that the difficulty in improving productivity in the arts is a central cause of our financial challenges: It takes as much time to play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony today as it did when the piece was composed, and the same number of actors are required for "Hamlet" as when Shakespeare wrote the play more than 400 years ago. Unlike other industries, the arts cannot cover the cost of inflation by improving worker productivity.

This is why subsidies — in the form of government grants or private contributions — have long been required to help arts organizations balance their budgets. Well-managed arts organizations have typically been able to find the money required to operate if they create interesting programs, market them aggressively and build strong donor bases.

But these times are different.

Many organizations that spent years building large endowments to provide more stable sources of support have seen them decimated. A number of our most loyal donors have watched their own investment portfolios be depleted and cannot provide their traditional funding. Our audience members cannot buy as many tickets as they have in the past. And our board members are less able to involve friends and associates in our fundraising galas and other activities.

This perfect storm has already weakened the fabric of our nation’s arts ecology. Over the past several months, the Baltimore Opera Company, Santa Clarita Symphony, Opera Pacific, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and others have closed or come close to closing. There probably will be a torrent of additional closures, cancellations and crises in the coming months.

We are losing the entertainment and inspiration we need more than ever during this terribly scary time. As we try to rebuild America’s image abroad, we are losing our most potent goodwill ambassadors. As we reshape our economy, we are losing the organizations that teach our children to think creatively. And as we celebrate the diversity of our nation, we are losing the voices that have traditionally helped change society’s thinking.

The arts have historically received short shrift from our political leaders, who all too often seem happy to offer bland endorsements of our work without backing those words with financial appropriations. But the arts in the United States provide 5.7 million jobs and account for $166 billion in economic activity annually. This sector is at serious risk. Because the arts are so fragmented, no single organization’s demise threatens the greater economy and claims headlines. But thousands of organizations, and the state of America’s arts ecology, are in danger.

We need an emergency grant for arts organizations in America, and we need legislation that allows unusual access to endowments. Washington must encourage foundations to increase their spending rates during this crisis, and we need immediate tax breaks for corporate giving.

As John F. Kennedy said, "I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for our victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit." As we print billions of dollars in bailout money, isn’t it time to ensure that we are saving our soul as well as our economy?

The writer is president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. His book "The Art of the Turnaround: Creating and Maintaining Healthy Arts Organizations" was published in September.

How hilarious.

It takes as much time to play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony today as it did when the piece was composed, and the same number of actors are required for "Hamlet" as when Shakespeare wrote the play more than 400 years ago. Unlike other industries, the arts cannot cover the cost of inflation by improving worker productivity.

This is why subsidies — in the form of government grants or private contributions — have long been required to help arts organizations balance their budgets.

How can you argue with logic like this?

Many organizations that spent years building large endowments to provide more stable sources of support have seen them decimated.

When the stock market was riding high, did these same organizations refuse or refund their money from taxpayers?

Of course they didn’t.

By the way, at its most recent low point the stock market is about where it was in 2004.

The hysteria about what a “terribly scary time” is simply scaremongering on the part of people like Mr. Kaiser, who are looking for ways to further line their pockets.

This article was posted by Steve on Monday, December 29th, 2008. Comments are currently closed.

17 Responses to “What, No Taxpayer Bailout For The Arts?”

  1. Confucius says:

    What’s he talking about? I’m enjoying the new variety show a.k.a. Barack Obama. It’s part comedy and part tragedy with a little magic and a little skin mixed in. You know . . . .

  2. BillK says:

    I love the logic of banner ad code; because of the references to “bail out” above, S&L’s banner ad provider is currently showing me the “Thank You America for Investing in Chrysler” ad right below the article. :D :D

  3. cjokry says:

    This would be funny if he wasn’t so dead serious. Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life that watching people prance and pretend is a luxury that tends to go by the wayside when the media scares everybody into thinking that we’re going to lose our jobs any minute.

  4. Jean says:

    For the most part, these “arts organizations” are thinly veiled propaganda outfits propped up by the wealthy liberals who donate. They stay alive not by drawing in an audience, but by pandering to the prejudices of this elite group. For the last eight years, under the guise of “art” they’ve churned out anti-Bush tirades hyperbolic and idiotic enough to alienate even most Democrats. After removing any possibility of appealing to a democratic, politically varied audience, they want the government to save them from financial ruin. Let ’em crumble.

  5. VMAN says:

    I love how these art trolls talk about immediate tax breaks for corporate America when the money is directed toward them but give a tax break to corporations to create new jobs or bring factories back to this country and they cry like stuck pigs. What a bunch of hypocrites!!!!

  6. yadayada says:

    waaaaaa! no one wants to my piss christ, or poohtrait of the Virgin Mary any more waaaaa!
    typical libtards- if your crap doesn’t sell, it isn’t because it’s crap. it’s because everyone else has a narrow mind.

    don’t the “arts” include other entertainment sections of our culture, such as cinema, T.V. and sports? michael mcsupersizeme moore and algore made documentaries and sold books. let them all get together and support themselves. I say abolish all federal funding to the NEA (both of them)

  7. Gladius et Scutum says:

    When I was in High School some friends were invited to act in a play with the Prop. Theater Group (that is the correct punctuation). At a party there, I found out that all the principle actors, the director, founder, et al, were members of the Revolutionary Communist Party (Maoist). They were funded by the Illinois Arts Council.

    The famous science fiction writer Gene Wolfe was surprised when he received an unsolicited grant from the Illinois Arts Council for his short story “In Looking-Glass Castle”. It described a future society in which nearly all the men had been hunted down and executed. Men were only ever refered to as “pigs”.

    And of course, because the arts are subjective, rather than objective – emotive rather than logical, we are to ‘appreciate’ whatever crap they proffer. Or at least not object to it.

    Having the capitalists “pay for the rope” as well as sell it, is part of the idea.

  8. Liberals Demise says:

    Standing on the American Flag so you can sign a book is not art! A picture of a guy with a bullwhip stuck up his ass is not art! The Crucifix immersed in piss is not art! This is but a scant begining of what these lugheads call art. Our tax money is not meant to support bizarre porno/homo tastes and fetishes. Get a real job and get off the government handout, you bums!! As for the NEA……what a endless pit. Might as well give the money to the ARTS A-Holes!! “MONEY FOR NOTHING”

  9. 12 Gauge Rage says:

    Whose bright idea was it to come up with tax payer funded art in the first place? I could deal with poor tasteless art a lot better if it’s funding came from private donations instead of what we have now. Because then I could say it’s their money wasted, not mine. But every year we get inundated with more tasteless tax funded garbage that’s promoted as sensational, cutting edge, provocative, and original art. What a repulsive joke! Such art will never appeal to me or anyone else with a sense of decency. As the old saying goes, “It’ll never look good because you can’t polish a turd.”

  10. VMAN says:

    Hi everyone I just created a large statue of Obama and his entire cabinet out of dog poop. Could anyone tell me where I might get a grant for it? I won’t even ask for more money for the flies.

  11. pdsand says:

    “Many organizations that spent years building large endowments to provide more stable sources of support have seen them decimated. A number of our most loyal donors have watched their own investment portfolios be depleted and cannot provide their traditional funding.”
    Sounds like these broadway fatcats suffered from a little bit of GREED. These board of director types went around putting what were probably tax-deductible donations in the STOCK MARKET just to make some MONEY! Didn’t they know that the decisions they made on broadway affected the food on the table of Joe the twinkle-toed dancer on main street? It makes my blood boil to think about it.
    Well I hope no one in that crowd ever asks for some fancy accomodation in their dressing room again. And I trust they will be willing to take down all those lights on their theaters out front to save electricity, and use old hand-me down costumes and no make up in order to save money. Oh and you can forget about champagne galas to announce awards for the arts. Just a pot of coffee (maxwell house) ought to do it. The taxpayers are serious when it comes to what changes we expect to see if they’re going to bail these guys out.

  12. sheehanjihad says:

    Whose bright idea was it to come up with tax payer funded art in the first place?

    Liberals is who! They discovered that they couldnt survive trying to sell tripe for “art” because the public as a whole rejects their idea of what real art is.

    So, they force the public who hates everything they do to pay for them to continue to insult the intelligence of the very people they are ripping off.

    If there wasnt a taxpayer subsidy, most if not all “modern art galleries” would go out of business in under three months.

    They are our government in minature…..spending other people’s money on things they dont need or want to satisfy their personal agendas.

  13. proreason says:

    “They are our government in minature…..spending other people’s money on things they dont need or want to satisfy their personal agendas.”

    Nicely profound, SJ. Very well said. And an insight I’ve never heard before. Happy New Year to you.

  14. sheehanjihad says:

    Thank you proreason, and to you too! It is, if nothing else, going to be a very interesting year.

  15. artboyusa says:

    “Whose bright idea was it to come up with tax payer funded art in the first place?…” blame the Brits, I’m afraid. After the war Attlee’s Labour government set up something called the Arts Council, whose job was to use taxpayer’s money to pay writers to write, composers to compose and artists to make art. The big mover behind the foundation of the Arts Council was our old pal John Maynard Keynes, who liked hanging out (and occasionally having sex) with creative people. Most Europrean countries quickly followed suit with their own arts subsidy programs and the US set up the NEA in the early 60s.

    Smart artists and good artists avoid all these government handouts. Personally, I’m always gratified when people pay good money for my pictures. If they don’t, it only makes me work harder and be tougher on myself. Once that market element is removed, the artist loses an important spur to his/her creativity. Look at France; once French culture was one the glories of the world, now it barely exists. One reason is that France has more cultural handouts, prizes and subsidies than almost anywhere but the result is they have no living culture, only an historical one.


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