This past marking period we had to read two articles for our Connect section. One was titled “When the Government Funded the Arts” and was written by Richard Vine. The other was titled “Euro Crisis Hits Museums” and was written by Nina Siegal. Together, these two pieces provided a comprehensive examination of government funding of the arts in past and contemporary Europe and the United States.
The first article, written presumably near the 2012 election, detailed the budget cuts for funding for the arts by the US government, a topic that was minimally addressed because funding for the arts is rarely a priority on the policy agenda. However, in Ohio the 2012-2013 fiscal year funding for the arts dropped 30% from the 2008 budget, written during the height of the Great Recession. This trend, according to Vine, does not always occur in conjunction with economic issues. In fact, FDR responded to the Great Depression with a series of public art initiatives, which contributed to spreading the arts and to boosting the economy. When, in 1972, Richard Nixon was running against George McGovern and they were asked about arts policy, Nixon’s special consultant responded that the National Endowment should continue artistic interactions and experiences of cultural sharing for the Arts and that it should continue its funding and role as public patronage. While, to me, patronage often has a negative connotation, patronage in the context of government-funded art is of the utmost importance. The proposed funding for the NEA for 2017 was $150 million. While this number seems staggering and many uninformed individuals would assume the appropriate response would be to cut funding for the arts, many don’t know that this accounts for less than 1% of the $3.8 trillion annual budget. It is a bit sad to note that President Obama (and certainly President Trump) are lacking in comparison to Richard Nixon in terms of support for the arts, or public patronage.
The latter article, written in 2013, describes the diminishing funds for the arts in European nations, which often have prided themselves on their cultural subsidies. The article describes in details how conservative governments tend to respond to fiscal crises by cutting funding for the arts. This trend has been especially evident in recent years in Great Britain and in the Netherlands. However, even in Spain and Hungary, publicly funded art museums are now sometimes privately funded. Naturally, as European nations tend to have larger budgets for funding for the arts to begin with the result of cutting funding is less severe monetarily, but still drastic in comparison to what it was before. In the Netherlands, for example, at the commencement of the new year in 2013, 24 cultural organizations in the Netherlands “lost all their federal funding and had to close their doors since this was their only means of support” (Siegal). Even more worrisome, if possible, are changes in Hungary. In 2010 a new conservative leader, Viktor Orban, who took office cut funding by at least 20%, and in Portugal in 2011 the ministry of culture was simply eradicated. These alterations, done at the height of the economic downturn, hit European nations extremely forcefully. While I acknowledge that arts will continue by impassioned artists regardless of government funding and that art does not feed people (unless it is social practice art), I find it outrageous that many conservative governments choose to target the arts first as a scapegoat rather than simply address the multitudinous economic issues in that society.