Art Lessons: Learning From The Rise And Fall Of Public Arts Funding

Art Lessons: Learning From The Rise And Fall Of Public Arts Funding

by Steve Marquis


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Offering a fresh look at what's wrong with how Americans fund the arts—and why—this book, based on wide-ranging interviews and massive research, goes beyond identifying the failures of the present system to offer a plan for fixing it.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780465004386
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication date: 09/01/1998
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.75(w) x 8.94(h) x (d)

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Art Lessons: Learning From The Rise And Fall Of Public Arts Funding 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
juglicerr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an interesting and sometimes caustic look at public funding for the arts, focussing on the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Marquis argues that one of the main problems is that the agency never really decided what its purpose was, content to to issue upbeat but vague statements. Was it to support individual artists, or corporations? Was it to offer additional funding to the already established, or help new enterprises start up? Were they trying to extend the arts to people not previously served, or trying to support excellence, even if it wasn't popular. In practice, it tried to throw a little money in the direction of every squeaky wheel, especially congresspeople. Once a a grantee was given money, they expected to continue indefinitely, leaving the remaining funds to be divided into slivers among new contenders. The grantees were also suspiciously entwined with the people making the grants.Marquis suggests that what NEA should fund are public impresarios. These people would be responsible for finding venues in their area and making them available to artists, who would be paid according to the audience that they attracted. An interesting idea, but in other situations, Marquis seems to feel that relying on popularity is a bad idea. She complains, for example, that opera, orchestras, etc., generally have to rely on old favorites if they want to retain their audience. She waffled on this, however, sometimes arguing that the new atonal and electronic music is too academic, and doesn't deserve much of an audience.Marquis argues that the NEA is mostly funding projects that cater to the wealthy, and have not found an audience among other classes. But on the other hand, she tells us that during a certain period, opera ticket sales doubled, which would appear to indicate that art has broadened its base. Perhaps it is only the upper class in less urban areas that is attracted.There are also questioned about how much the institutions actually benefitted. When it moved to Lincoln Center, The Metropolitan Opera of New York doubled its take and tripled its costs. She argues that artists tend to feel that they are owed financial support, and it should be forthcoming in whatever amounts they want to realize their vision. Meanwhile, supporting organizations attempt to force responsibility in bookkeeping and restraints on spending.Another problem Marquis cites has been the move of arts into the academic setting. This has resulted in more would-be artists than the audience will support. She also feels that it has sometimes produced art that is long on theory and short on appeal. The book Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music by Blair Tindall is the memoir of a musician who feels that she was ill-served by her intensive training in music that left her otherwise poorly educated and in a desperate struggle for survival in an overcrowded field. Tindall also discusses the issue of whether public and foundation support has really benefited the arts, or whether they so chronically overspend that they are always in financial trouble.The book is interesting, and often funny, but Marquis is obviously conflicted on some subjects, such as the issue of popularity mentioned above. She is also somewhat inconsistent in her definition of art, sometimes clearly meaning only the highbrow, and other times included more popular forms, and even chastising the art establishment for scorning commercial arts. Or should one say, commercially successful arts? For those whose interest is a bit more general, it may seem to have entirely too many proper nouns, but the historic detail is invaluable to those who want it. It is worth reading as a history of the time and the origins of the NEA, and I was frequently amused as well.