Thursday, March 3, 2011

How We Make Our Case VIII: Infrastructure

I've mentioned before that I think that direct government subsidy for the arts should take the role of investing in arts infrastructure, rather than individual arts groups -- much of which is already the case. I usually use the example of Fractured Atlas, who provide services that keep many arts groups in business in a much easier way than if they were on their own.

Launched five years ago, CLP has been supported by ACE, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council and Creative and Cultural Skills. The programme’s aim has been to develop new leaders for the arts and culture sector, offering training courses and fellowships for promising individuals.

However, today CLP announced that “in consideration of today’s rapidly changing environment, where the arts council is operating with an overall cut to grant in aid of 29.6% and arts organisations are looking to extend their roles and responsibilities within the wider cultural landscape, it has been decided that the Cultural Leadership Programme will close in March 2011.”
In America, we want to support the helpless, but seem to not want to subsidize losers. That belief isn't just in the Rick Santellis of the world but even amongst our progressives.

Kevin Drum's criticism of arts funding, for instance, asked:
[H]ow do you know that the market for this kind of art has broken down? The fact that something is expensive and losing popularity doesn't, by itself, indicate a market breakdown. Just the opposite, in fact: we usually think of market breakdowns in areas where there's a lot of demand but, for some reason, the market isn't meeting it.
Often, our agitation for more arts funding is based on the idea that the market has broken down for the arts -- which it has, in a number of ways.

But supposing you didn't believe the market has broken down. In such an environment, spending money training talented entrepreneurs would still be a good investment. I don't think arts entrepreneurs are a special case, but I do think they might need arts-specific training. And it makes sense for that to be handled by an arts-specific agency.

In this ideal world I'm envisaging, young artists (maybe specifically those from backgrounds where they wouldn't have access to expensive college programs or internships at Lincoln Center, whether that be because of background or geography, or maybe equal access) could be trained to increase the odds that they'll be successful at running arts programs.

It sidesteps all the issues of censorship, the idea of subsidizing "things people don't want," etc.

It's an investment in human capital, which is the real infrastructure of the arts.

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