Seeking a better argument in favor of arts funding

Posted on: June 9, 2010

In the June issue of The Art Newspaper, András Szántó writes, “At a recent public debate about organic food the proponents of organic farming extolled its virtues by listing its various benefits. … ‘But does it taste better?’ an audience member wondered. To my surprise, the experts hesitated. ‘We can’t reliably measure that effect,’ one of them explained. ‘So it’s not a claim we make.’ The exchange reminded me about everything that’s wrong with arts advocacy these days.” Since the 1990s, arts advocates have favored what Szántó calls a “great outcomes” argument. “Great outcomes is about what policy wonks call ‘instrumental benefits’. It sidesteps mushy and divisive questions about art’s intrinsic value. Instead, it positions art as a means to an end: better test scores, empathetic citizens, innovative workers, and so on. Great outcomes has most successfully been applied to link culture to economic development. … What we’re left with, then, are arguments that aren’t about the arts exactly, framed in a rhetorical space that puts the arts at a disadvantage. … The search is on for a more compelling vocabulary. The challenge is to make a case for the arts without flipping back to utilitarian rhetoric or language that may sound, to some, hopelessly romantic or elitist. It’s not as easy as it sounds.”

Posted June 9, 2010