In an all-too-familiar move last week, the state of Georgia passed a budget that will potentially eliminate the Georgia Council for the Arts. Thousands rallied at the Georgia capitol to protest the budget on Monday, addressing the overwhelming sentiment that arts are almost always first on the chopping block.
As whimsical as it may sound, it’s truly unfortunate that the arts are generally first to go when it comes to budget cuts. And I don’t mean to simply whine – it’s unfortunate because arts and culture are inextricably connected to a country’s economics and social well-being.
Georgia’s art elimination is just a recent example. In the midst of the 2009-2010 school year budget cuts here at UC Davis, the Textiles and Clothing division nearly got the axe when an Academic Prioritization Committee report found the division too small “in context of the college’s current financial woes,” according to an Aggie article published in November. There’s probably an arguable reason for the administrations “priorities” with regard to staffing and funding. The reason is that we, in America, often assume that arts aren’t worth keeping around.
I say “in America” because many other countries seemingly don’t subscribe to this mode of thinking. Chicago-based music website Pitchfork.com recently published an article about financial support for artists in Sweden, Canada and Norway. Much of their support comes, not from CD sales or live performances, but from taxpayers.
Yes – taxpayers. According to the article, Swedish electronic duo The Knife received the equivalent of $6,327 from the Swedish Arts Council in 2001 and another $11,248 in 2006, coinciding with the release of their album Silent Shout. Funding even goes toward road performances in the U.S., at events like South by Southwest (SXSW).
It does seem a bit weird to funnel tax dollars toward musicians when we are used to watching our tax dollars fund more traditional recipients and projects such as roads, wars and insolvent banks.
But look at the result: Countries like Sweden provide artists with resources they’d most likely never otherwise find. It helps to promote culture abroad – competing with American dominance in the music industry with a valuable musical “export.” Proponents for such funding go so far as to say funding for music and culture is itself a health care support system, improving the living standards of citizens. Universal health care in these countries props up bands in need of the coverage, who would otherwise have to find their own plans in countries like the U.S.
I’m not going to go as far as to say America should adopt a similar model. Upon first glance, it’s easy to assume most people would be opposed to taxpayer dollars for, say, a band like Yeasayer. As quick as someone might think, “Hey, free money,” the next guy will think, “Not from my paycheck, you god damn Socialists.”
What we need is, at the very least, a simple acknowledgement that art and cultural institutions carry enormous links to the “real” world. Georgia’s budget passed last week met such dismay not only because of the lost cultural connection, but also because it impacts jobs across the state. The near phase-out of the UC Davis TXC division could have impacted a leader in the state textile and research industry solely because the department was too small to remain sustainable.
When it’s common knowledge that album sales are no longer a revenue generator, and art in general isn’t profitable, a new industry model is absolutely necessary.
JUSTIN T. HO wants to remind you that the Search Party submission deadline is approaching, and that KDVS 90.3 FM’s annual fundraiser is currently underway. Visit fundraiser.kdvs.org for more information, or e-mail him at email@example.com.