27
Feb
12

Arts funding in the long tail

Every once in a while I get into arguments with my friends about government funding for the arts.  Generally I argue that the money would be better spent on homeless shelters, say, or bursaries for students from impoverished families, or any number of other worthy causes — and that art that nobody’s willing to pay for voluntarily is hard to justify spending money on.  Furthermore, it seems to me that in the age of the internet, lowered transaction costs, and sites like DeviantArt and fucking Etsy of all things, it ought to be possible for even the most obscure art niche to find a sufficiency of funding if an even remotely respectable audience exists.  I’m often met with the rather abstract (see what I did there?) argument that “culture” is important (and it is, for making beer!) but I’m not yet persuaded that “culture” is more important than homeless people not freezing to death in the middle of winter.  Also, once again I’m a heartless libertarian — no wait; this time I’m a soulless libertarian — and there’s no way a market could realistically fund High Art outside of an L. Neil Smith novel.

Anyway, I suppose it’s not as big a deal as my arguments over alcohol make it out to be.  After all, arts funding is a pretty small drop in the bucket, relatively speaking — the National Endowment for the Arts’s budget for 2012 is about $146 million, which is very small potatoes on a national scale — so it’s not like we could balance the budget by cutting back on poetry fellowships and the like.  Sure, you could build a fair few homeless shelters with $146 million, but then you wouldn’t have all that great poetry.  Right?

Oh hello there Kickstarter!  I hear you’re on track to fund the arts to the tune of $150 million in 2012.  That’s pretty awesome.

So, NEA… about those homeless shelters….

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7 Responses to “Arts funding in the long tail”


  1. 1 Not Sure
    February 27, 2012 at 19:19

    “After all, arts funding is a pretty small drop in the bucket, relatively speaking — the National Endowment for the Arts’s budget for 2012 is about $146 million, which is very small potatoes on a national scale — so it’s not like we could balance the budget by cutting back on poetry fellowships and the like.”

    So it should be insanely easy to find enough Progressives to donate to The Cause to keep things humming along, then. I mean- if The Arts are that important, there’s got to be plenty of people willing to put their money where their mouth is. Right?

    • February 27, 2012 at 19:45

      I mean- if The Arts are that important, there’s got to be plenty of people willing to put their money where their mouth is. Right?

      Kickstarter would seem to corroborate your guress.

      Oh, you’re looking for people to donate to the NEA? Good luck with that. They’re probably all out… uh, donating to homeless shelters. Yeah, that’s it.

      • 3 Not Sure
        February 27, 2012 at 20:40

        “They’re probably all out… uh, donating to homeless shelters. Yeah, that’s it.”

        Well, there’s only so much money to go around, isn’t there? Based on that understanding, there’s really no reason to expect that forcing other people to fund the things you’re not willing to voluntarily pay for yourself doesn’t seem all that out of line.

        Does it?

  2. February 28, 2012 at 03:43

    I’m deeply skeptical of the assumption that tax funding can produce art. It produces art-shaped lobbying efforts. Oh, and discourages private patronage.

  3. February 28, 2012 at 09:11

    Hooray! Now we can have *twice* the poetry!

    ….god dammit.

  4. February 28, 2012 at 13:04

    I have a friend who uses arts funding as his standard placeholder for policy-everybody-obviously-agrees-with. It’s incomprehensible to me that anybody could possibly think “telling people what art to buy” is a legitimate function of government, but then I am the extremist.

    • February 28, 2012 at 15:17

      “telling people what art to buy”

      That strikes me as a bit of a misleading way to phrase it. “Buy” implies consumption — if I tell you what groceries to buy, we both assume intuitively that you’re going to eat those groceries. The NEA is deciding which art projects the taxpayers pay for, with the assumption often being that they get folded into “national culture” and everyone gets to consume them.

      Aha, something just clicked. People who support arts funding see it as a collective action problem: Supporting the arts is something we all “have to” do, sort of like getting our kids vaccinated against common childhood diseases. People like… well, us see it as private consumption of one good among many on the marketplace.


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