UK, US Arts Communities Ask Same Question: Where Do We Go for Funding?
The Art Newspaper, 6/8/10

"At a recent public debate about organic food the proponents of organic farming extolled its virtues by listing its various benefits. It is kinder to the environment, they said, and to animals, and it keeps toxic chemicals out of our bodies. 'But does it taste better?' an audience member wondered. To my surprise, the experts hesitated. 'We can’t reliably measure that effect,' one of them explained. 'So it’s not a claim we make.' The exchange reminded me about everything that’s wrong with arts advocacy these days.

If you have been following the news about arts funding, you have reason to be concerned. A vast pool of private, public, and philanthropic capital has gone down the drain in the United States, and elsewhere, in the 'Great Recession'—with predictable consequences. What’s more, we may be on the cusp of a generational shift in giving priorities. 'I am not optimistic that a restoration of the market and the economy will necessarily augur well for renewed or increased support of arts and culture, governmental or private,' says Charles Bergman, chairman and chief executive of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, echoing a widely shared concern. Arguments that used to work on behalf of the arts no longer always do. And the arguments advocates are using instead all too often miss the point, by making roundabout claims that ignore what makes art appealing on a gut level.

In the United States, arts funding has universally contracted. Local government support is estimated to drop for a second year in a row, to $765 million, according to Americans for the Arts, from $860 million in 2008. State appropriations will plummet ten percent, to $297 million, a third less than their 2001 highs, according to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. Some legislatures are eyeing radical options. Michigan passed an 80 percent reduction in its cultural budget. Minneapolis is charging nonprofits for streetlights.

At the federal level, President Obama is asking Congress for $161.3 million this year for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The request is unchanged from 2009, but less than the $167.5 million Congress allocated last year. Despite a decade of modest increases, the agency now runs on less money in real terms than in 1992. Adjusted for inflation, the NEA’s budget is a third below its level of 18 years ago. Although the NEA has distributed $50 million in stimulus money, hopes for a massive 1930s-style public works project mobilizing artists have long since faded.

Private money, however, is what greases the cogs of creativity in America—compare the NEA’s resources to the roughly $3 billion in cultural giving by foundations, and yet more by individuals—and here the recession’s toll is now painfully evident. Frothy boom time giving in 2008 gave way to the annus horribilis of 2009, when $150 billion of charitable assets went up in smoke. Out of 100 foundations recently surveyed by The Foundation Center, only three reported modest gains in giving to the arts."

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