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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

On Government's Support for Arts

Greg Beato writes for Reason:

Today the [NEA] is careful to fund nothing more controversial than bilingual puppetry epics. And given the glut of cultural opportunities that now bedevil us, its status as a nurturer of the arts is less pronounced than its status as an agent of state-sponsored moral engineering. Now, it exists largely to reinforce the notion that musicals are somehow more inherently suited to nourishing the roots of our culture than sitcom pilots. That ballet is a greater part of our national heritage than burlesque. That mediocre opera singers deserve more support than our best gangsta rappers.

What are the ramifications of spending tax-payers money on encouraging a rapper who writes misogynistic lyrics and the beauty of getting high on drugs? Should the government support Seinfeld-like comedians to come up with Seinfeld-like sitcoms? Is 'what is art?' a less significant question than 'who defines what art is?' ? If 'art' & 'culture' is mainstream and if they already make money out of it, why should the government sponsor? What next, NEA supporting Hollywood studios?

But then, why do mediocre opera singers (never been to one) deserve a financial pat-on-the-back while thousands of wannabe-cinema-stars live in their cars? Is an older art form (ballet, 'classical' music, theater, etc) inherently a better form of art than today's (Hollywood, rap, video games, etc) even though the mass cannot understand or appreciate that? If something doesn't have an audience (or has a sagging audience) why should the government intervene and prop it up -- should not the market force do its job and wipe away what's not needed?

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