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US Government Funding Policy for Arts

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This is an excellent forum. As I have a pocket full of questions.

Why is it that ballet and most art programs are not supported by the government here in the states like it is in most countries?

It's a heavy topic, but it's important and probably best answered the government.

It seems that the USA loses great performers and choreographers to countries that have art supported and funded programs.


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Europe has a long tradition of government arts funding going back to the days of royal courts. Artists and grand performances would reflect glory and refinement upon the kings and assorted royalty.

The USA lacked a royal court and is afflicted with a widespread anti-intellectualism.

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It's not just anti-intellectualism. We don't have a tradition of seeing art and culture as a product of society. We understand individual artists; we tend to see art, like most everything else, as an individual pursuit. But the idea of art as the product of an entire culture . . . well, it escapes us. I think it's why we cripple public funding.

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I think it's really even more basic than that. The individualism that is the basis of the American republic recognises that all men are created equal and therefore are equally capable and eligible to achieve something. However that individualism requires that we (and I'm taking the liberty of including myself in this collective) do so on our own without recourse to public funding and support. This is true for our physical well being (healthcare, welfare, etc.) as it is for our spiritual well being.

Frankly, Americans are unwilling to pay taxes and would rather donate money to the specific organisations that they identify with. And the tax system here promotes that, of course.

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Europe has a long tradition of government arts funding going back to the days of royal courts. 

You know, I think there is something to this -- I agree that you have to seek an historical, rather than a rational or a psychological, explanation for this fact.

That said, let's back up for a second. Is the alleged "fact" really true?

We don't have a "Royal" or a "National" Ballet or Theater company. But both the City and the State of New York contribute to NYCB's budget and possibly to ABT as well. And as for an alleged lack of public support for the arts in general, it's possible that a great deal of public money goes to the various arts in this country, but that it's incredibly fragmented in where and for what it goes, tracking somewhat the rather fragmented and local structures of our government.

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While the federal, state, and local governments give relatively little to the arts in the way of direct subsidies (compared to those of other countries), the U.S. government provides a huge indirect subsidy through the tax laws. By allowing taxpayers to deduct their donations to nonprofit (including arts) organizations, it foregoes millions of dollars of tax revenue.

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Ari, I entirely agree with you, however I'm not sure this the most efficient way to fund the arts, especially as the importance of the arts in society is not sufficiently recognised.

Speaking for myself, as I'm not wealthy enough to sponsor Ethan Stiefel's performances with ABT :P and have to carefully allocate the money I donate, this year a sizaeable proportion of the money I donated went to the genocide in Darfur and to tsunami aid. So if that's what I did, I can only imagine that other people who aren't 'arts lovers' gave an even smaller proportion of their money to arts and culture.

I will qualify this by saying that perhaps Americans who are used to this system from childhood are better at managing their donations than I am and probably also do it much more automatically than I did. It took me a year to understand that the NPR stations really do rely on my money in order to continue broadcasting!

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The US government's view of the arts is the same as most of americans. Why spend money on "living art" or the theatre when you can sit at home and watch one of the hundred TV channels offered on cable. Your average american would rather sit at home and watch a reality TV show than see something real before their eyes on a stage. No wonder the obesity epidemic is growing.

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Some things never change. In 1881, the US Government allocated $25,000 for an observance of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Yorktown. The mock battle was a splendid spectacle, from contemporary accounts, and the attendant "fair-like" activities, from band concerts to an international "food court", where numerous vendors did a brisk business, prospered. Two years later, when a Member of Congress rose to support Federal support for a Centennial observation of the end of the Revolutionary War, he found his way blocked by critics who did not see the point in expending taxpayers' moneys on "brass bands and beer!" The way that the Honorable Member saved his bill was to make it conditional that the Federal funds would be spent on a "large, durable, and tangible" artifact, in the form of a memorial edifice. (Why do congressmen always have edifice complexes?) The resulting structure was a large monument in the Henry Hobson Richardson Romanesque Revival Style by John Hemmenway Duncan, the architect of Grant's Tomb. It is called the "Tower of Victory" and was decorated with five original statues by William Rudolph O'Donovan, who also designed the gates of Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, the bronzes on the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument in Manhattan, and the Irish Brigade Memorial in Gettysburg, PA. The structure is large - over forty feet tall, durable - it is still at Washington's Headquarters State Historic Site in Newburgh, NY, and very tangible. I guess that the congressional reasoning was to have something to show for the money, before they were sure that it would make anybody as happy as a few brass bands and the proper amount of beer.

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Your average american would rather sit at home and watch a reality TV show than see something real before their eyes on a stage.  No wonder the obesity epidemic is growing.

I had no idea that getting off the couch and attending all of these ballet and opera performances -- not to mention skating competitions -- would fulfill my exercise quotient :wink:

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Until the middle of the 20th century, most government support for the performing arts came through capital improvements -- building theaters and concert halls, rather than supporting the creation of the art performed in them.

Starting with some of the international tours in the 50's, sponsored by the USAID, very tentative steps were taken to support dance (and other performing arts), but the real momentum came with the establishing of the NEA, along with state, regional and municipal agencies that funnelled public money directly to performing artists and their companies. It's been a rocky process (especially after the content controversies in the 1980's), but there's really only been 50 years of history so far -- perhaps we will get better at this with time.

(that's me, the optimistic one.)

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