Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Common Misconception

Over at The Nonprofiteer, erstwhile kellynfp has "Second (and third) thoughts about public funding of the arts." Apparently, she spent an evening in my old home town of Bloomington IL watching a touring production by the dance company Ailey II when she had an epiphany:

Of course you’re indifferent to public funding for the arts, you dodo; you live in Chicago, where major performers and exhibitions will show up anyway. Public funding for the arts isn’t for Chicago–it’s for Bloomington.

And she remembered growing up in Baltimore, which is not a small town but which waited for months between visits of major dance companies; and she remembered the thrill of seeing those dance companies for the first time. And she realized (0r remembered) that that’s the real point of public funding for the arts: to make available to everyone the thrill of exposure to first-rate art. Everyone: that means people who live in Bloomington, and International Falls, and Arroyo Hondo, even though the free market would not support a stop in any of those places by the latest tour from the Joffrey or the Royal Shakespeare Company or the Met.

As much as I would like to applaud this particular lightbulb, I can't with great enthusiasm, because it is based on a common misconception: that what is needed is arts funding to bring the artists from the Big City to visit, cultural ambassador-like, the poor unwashed citizens of the cultural wasteland. While that's all well and good, and I have attended my share of such touring performances both in Bloomington and in Asheville, I would argue that this is exactly what is NOT needed from arts funding. What is needed is for their to be money available to develop and support artists in communities across America, artists who live in those communities, are committed to those communities, whose work is in dialogue with those communities, and whose artists are part of the fabric of those communities. Don't think the Peace Corp, think Grameen Bank.

Those of us across America are tired of Big City paternalism. All we want is our fair share of the pie.

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