A few weeks back, Hollywood movie stars and groups such as the Creative Coalition stormed Washington, D.C. to lobby for increased taxpayer funding of the arts. Most memorably, Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey told Hardball‘s Chris Matthew that Abraham Lincoln was a huge theater fan who “understood that he needed the arts to replenish his soul.” (Not surprisingly, Spacey didn’t mention where Lincoln was assassinated or the profession of his killer).
But funding the arts with taxapayer dollars is a bad idea for at least three reasons.
1. Publicly financed art is easily censored art. Last December, the National Portrait Gallery almost immediately pulled a four-minute video called “A Fire in My Belly” after complaints from the Catholic League and politicians such as Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who objected to images of ants crawling over a crucifix. It’s hard to imagine a private museum so quickly and cravenly pulling an offending piece. But when the taxpayer is footing the bill, the most easily aggrieved among us yields a thug’s veto. Indeed, in February, scandalized Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) even called for getting rid of a 1922 statue in New York City due to what he says is its sexist portrayal of women.
2. We’re broke.
Advocates of public funding for the arts routinely argue that the budget of groups such as the National Endowment for the Arts comes to just pennies per citizen and the cost of just one Pentagon bomber is comparatively huge. But government at every level is flat broke, so it’s all money we don’t have. Defense spending, which has jacked up by over 70 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars since 2001, should be cut drastically. But that doesn’t mean smaller items should get a pass or that taxpayers should pony up for another season of Dr. Who reruns on PBS.
3. It’s unnecessary. NEA head Rocco Landesman has defended grants to groups such as the San Francisco Mime Troupe on the grounds that it is a world-famous outfit that has contributed mightily to the stage. Which is another way of saying it should have little to no trouble finding private patrons to help it out. Americans give around $13 billion a year in private donations to the arts. That’s a lot of money and if it’s not enough to fund every request, groups such as the San Francisco Mime Troupe will just have to figure out how to better work the crowd.
About 2.45 minutes.
Produced by Meredith Bragg and Nick Gillespie, who also hosts.