Art Can and Should be Funded by the People
The Great Hall at Detroit Institute of Art
Needless to say, I am not happy about the government cutting funding to the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts). I am still waiting to hear if it is just another dumb idea that will be discarded as it proves to be unpopular or just run through the budget meetings, be eliminated and never be heard of again.
How exactly do we pay for the arts? According to the NEA, art is supported by direct public funding and by more than just the NEA. Public funding includes state and local agencies, public funding from other federal agencies and the private sector (individual, corporate and foundation) contributions. When NEA breaks it down it looks like this: earned income 40.7%, interest and endowment income 14.4%, individuals 20.3 %, corporations 8.4%, foundations 9.5%, local 3.3%, state 2.2%, federal 1.2%.
Although the NEA is the largest single funder, the arts actually have a network of allied but independent funding sources. The NEA has a very stringent process for grants and requires the recipient organization to match the amount awarded with an equal or greater amount of other, non-federal contributions. Many of the larger local arts agencies are now funded through a dedicated revenue stream, such as hotel/motel tax revenues. More recently crowd-funding has been used by many to fund art projects.
Learning from Detroit
I spent three years in Detroit, Michigan, finishing my BFA at Wayne State University. At the time, I thought of it as “doing time,” but now realize that I learned more about life and survival and hope in those days than I was able to understand at that age. The Detroit Institute of Art was within walking distance from my apartment in the Cass Corridor and I was amazed that anything that wonderful (along with the Masonic Temple) could still exist in this post riots devastated city atmosphere. (I am from NYC, so I’ve have seen great museums.)
Detroit’s fortunes have not improved over the years and it went into bankruptcy. The Detroit Institute of Art is owned by the city and its collection appraised at $4.6 billion with the likes of Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Matisse, Bruegel the Elder’s Wedding Dance and a wonderful mural by Diego Rivera depicting industry and the working class. The city decided the museum would need to contribute $500 million to the city. An easy connection can be made here and the idea was hatched to sell off some of the paintings at auction possibly taking them out of the public view and relegating them to private collections forever. Rather than have this happen the museum went on a fundraising drive. They managed to raise more than $800 million ($330 million from 9 different philanthropic organizations) and buy their way out of city control. The Detroit Institute of Art is now owned by independent non-profit charitable trust forever keeping its collection out of the hands of the city.
Detroit Industry by Diego Rivera
I believe that anything can be achieved if there is a will. Sometimes the need, in crisis form, needs to present itself before the will can form. I feel this way about the impending cut to the NEA, PBS, EPA, ACA and other government agencies and programs that my make my country great, but ultimately it is the people who make this country what it is and I have faith in them.
Addendum: The NEA’s funding bump to a budget of $149.85 million is included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017, the agreement between House Republicans and Democrats that will fund the federal government through the remainder of the 2017 fiscal year.