Commentary: If U.S. can have best-funded military, why not best-funded arts, too?

Chris Cobb, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art blog, 3/20/11

Don't get me wrong -- it makes sense to want the best military in the world, to protect our children from the bad men out there, both real and imagined -- especially so if that means we can have a country where people enjoy "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."  But if we collectively decide to outspend all other countries on defense and then allow our largest corporations to pay little or no taxes, then the little revenue left over should go to creating a fantastic society, right?  But it doesn't.  Our tax dollars are paying for gargantuan military spending -- over $600 billion a year -- a lot of which is wasted and never audited. And while Congress claims eliminating NPR and PBS and the NEA and collective bargaining by unions will save money, it's worth taking a look at how our taxes are also paying for what should be a criminal $800 billion tax cut for the financial industry and those involved in the military industrial complex. If the United States wants to remain an innovative nation then it needs to provide people with the intellectual tools to get there. That's a big part of what the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities are best at.  What I wonder is this: if we can have the most expensive military in the world with the fastest and most powerful jets anywhere then why can't we have the best-funded art and cultural institutions in the world?


Commentary: Will higher taxes for the rich really imperil arts' fundraising?

Eleanor Heartney,, 3/28/11

I have always been struck by Clement Greenberg's assertion in 1939 that the avant-garde remains attached to the ruling class by "an umbilical cord of gold." Today, as private patrons who have benefited from America's trickle up economic policies call the shots at museums, preside over a burgeoning art market and style themselves as the New Medicis, Greenberg's dictum seems truer than ever, and sadly, no one dares to yank the chain. As state and local governments careen ever closer to bankruptcy and the federal government flirts with a trillion dollar deficit...why is the question of increasing taxes on the very wealthy so completely off the table?  I recently brought this up at an art party, only to be told that measures like a more progressive tax system or a reduction of write-offs like the charitable deduction would diminish art patrons' ability to fund residencies or support museums. But are we saying that art supporters are only motivated by tax incentives? And isn't part of the bind that museums now find themselves due at least in part to their own grandiosity? Is it possible that they now find themselves over-extended precisely because they expanded beyond their means in good times? Are these really good reasons to argue that the wealthy shouldn't be expected to contribute to a more equitable society?  Is all the money sloshing around at the top skewing our values? Have we all been bought and sold?


Pop star: Take my millionaire tax cut and fund the arts

The Associated Press, 2/25/11

Singer John Legend was in Washington to sing at the White House but he had a few choice words for the politicians in town, too.  Legend told reporters before an evening concert celebrating Motown's music that too often the arts are the first thing to go when budgets need to be cut.  "People fought to give me - a millionaire - a tax cut this year," he said. "I didn't need it. And all the other millionaires didn't need it either." The singer said he'd benefited from cultural organizations such as community choirs and arts councils in earlier years, which often suffer when budgets get trimmed.  "I hope our politicians will not think that they are expendable and they can just get rid of them and nobody will feel the pain," he said. "Because I think society will feel the pain."


Commentary: U.S. taxpayer funding for arts should be confined to seed money

Scott Walters, Theatre Ideas blog, 3/28/11

Here is a single recommendation that would change the face of the American theatre (and frankly, it ought to be applied in all of the other arts too): The National Endowment for the Arts ought to confine itself to providing seed money for theatres in underserved communities.  There are two pieces to this:

1. "Providing seed money": applicants receive money for a total of five years after which they are expected to be self-sustainable. This is the nonprofit equivalent of venture capital, given because the proposers seem to have a good idea that needs to get off the ground and also seem to have the wherewithal to give them a shot at doing what they say.  The investment doesn't have to be huge to make a significant impact. Just large enough to allow the theatre's staff to focus their attention full-time in bringing their theatre to a point of sustainability.
2. "Underserved communities": to get NEA money, you have to prove that you have a specific audience in mind that isn't currently being served by other theatres.  We need to expand the definition of "diversity" to include geographic diversity, demographic diversity, educational diversity, as well as the more well-known types of diversity.


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Canadian government proposes a Children's Arts Tax Credit in its new budget

Canadian Conference of the Arts, 3/22/11

Possibly the only new item for the arts in [Canada's] 2011 budget is in fact the reintroduction of a promise made during the 2008 election. The proposed 15% Children's Arts Tax Credit, provided on up to $500 of eligible expenses for programs associated with children's artistic, cultural, recreational, and developmental activities, would translate into annual returns of $75 for parents. This credit will be based on the eligibility conditions for the Children's Fitness Tax Credit. The credit will be available for children under the age of 16 years old for registration costs associated with participation in qualifying supervised activities. According to the budget, this measure will apply to eligible expenses paid starting in the 2011 taxation year. It is estimated to reduce federal revenues by $25 million in 2010-11, and by $100 million in each of 2011-12 and 2012-13.


Commentary: Children's arts tax credit is bad economics, but smart politics

Frances Woolley, Toronto Globe and Mail Blog, 3/24/11

The Children's Art Tax Credit is projected to cost $100-million in 2011-12, or a miniscule 0.035% of the $278.7-billion the federal government is planning to spend that year.  [But these kinds of] boutique credits are bad economics. If the aim of the Children's Art Tax Credit is to make activities affordable, it's not enough money to make much difference. Charities like the Max Keeping Foundation are better at targeting support to families in need. If the Credit aims to support families with children, it would be simpler to increase the child amount tax credit by $500. This would benefit almost all families.  But boutique credits are smart politics. First, they appeal to people's sense that they deserve a break, validate their choices, and reaffirm their sense of self-worth. The Children's Art Tax Credit goes to good parents, ones who enrol their children in Suzuki violin lessons, not bad parents who spend their money on beer and popcorn. Second, they give people a sense of control. Tax liabilities stop being something outside of an individual's control. Instead, the plethora of credits available mean that taxes can be reduced through planning and wise choices. 

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