Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What can be done for the Arts?

One of my Facebook friends started a conversation inspired by this article on ideas that Theatres should take up for their survival. The full thread is here. I just wanted to capture one of my own contributions:

On supporting artists with our paychecks, I think the best we can do is to fight the economic culture of debt and dependency that we have. Help people learn to get out of debt and build personal wealth, not as a goal in and of itself, but as a means towards the end of enabling more generous giving. I'm a big Dave Ramsey fan, and he talks a lot about giving as the end goal of achieving economic freedom. We've got some great theatre programs for teaching physical health, and mental health. Why not have some support for personal financial health? That's my radical idea.

While we're at it, teach aspiring artists to treat student debt like poison. Get an education, but don't get into debt for it.

As far as tax dollars, I'm going to make myself very unpopular here, but I have to be honest. I don't like reaching into the public treasury to pay for things, as a general rule. There are specific exceptions, and they are pretty well outlined in the Constitution. But, just reaching into the public coffers to pay for something feels too much like reaching into my neighbor's pocket. I just don't have the right to take money out of my neighbor's pocket, no matter how praiseworthy the cause.

I think one of the strengths of America is that "We the People" can get great things done without our government having to be the agent. Charities and foundations supported by voluntary giving can do far more, with much less waste and graft, than our government could ever hope.

If you want my support for taxpayer-supported arts, keep it local. That's the best way to ensure that the people footing the bill are actually paying for something they want. But, it's not a guarantee. The fine people of Cobb may be paying for a new Braves stadium whether they really want it or not.

Not trying to be mean or stingy here. I' trying to give my idea of the best solution, not the easiest. I recognize that it's far easier to get money out of politicians than out of people who actually have to work for it. That's why Washington money is as addictive as any drug.

Bottom line for me: Focus on inspiring and enabling. Try to avoid "guilting" or coercing. Win more flies with honey than vinegar.

And, last thought: I don't want artists to be poor. Really, I don't. But, how much of the world's great art would we lose, if we took away all the poor artists in history? It is right and noble to try and lift people out of poverty, but there are good things to be had out of bad situations. Just saying.