Pure signal.

No Public Art Funding

An unpopular opinion for a poet, but one I feel obligated to give voice to, is my heart-felt opposition to federal, state or local government funding for the arts. I have worked in, for and around non-profit arts organizations for more than a decade and while I am concerned about how little the average person on the street cares about books or the arts, I do not believe that saddling them with an involuntary art tax to make up for it accomplishes anything for anyone. Nor do I have any faith at all in the public bureaucracy which results from the existence of that funding to distribute that money in such a way as to accomplish anything other than a class of specialists at managing the bureaucracy itself, a population with Masters degrees in trough feeding.

In my direct experience, the best artists receive no reliable source of income from public funding. This isn’t sour grapes, I don’t consider myself to be one of the best, and I have never applied for grants. But I have seen artists who dedicate their lives to their work, and I have seen artists who dedicate their lives to mastering the grant writing process. Worse, I have seen “community leaders” who’s sole claim to such a role comes from their ability to navigate the local opinion and legal hurdles to produce limited revenue flows for artists in “their” communities, from whom they then demand obeisance. I want my “community leaders” in the community. Maybe planting flowers or picking up trash. All these little politicians weighing in on what constitutes meaning and beauty has kind of clogged up the filters of the breathing machine (language, or awareness or whathaveyou).

I say again — I am concerned, even terrified about how little the man in the street cares about art. I am equally terrified at how little American parents care about their children’s education. They care about grades, about access, but not education. This frightens me. It frightens me how little people know about science. It frightens me how little scientists know about science. The veil of culture, of everything that I value hangs so lightly over the great meatgrinder.

But, great works of art do not need a cult to hold them up to make them significant — in fact it is the autochthonic significance of the great works which the bureaucrats invoke to cover the total lack of positive creative industry in their own lives — the artistic equivalent of a draft dodger who wraps himself in the flag as a politician. The NEA is not the solution, it is itself a great abstract monument to banality. If this is my army, I will fight alone, thank you.

Art needs more brave souls who will risk taking a bullet for a dangerous idea, who will put in long hours perfecting the skills of psychic combat. It does not ever need administrators or academics to offer it strategies for defense.

Art is not, and should never be encouraged to be, a tool for the state or society. Whenever I hear one of those fonts of wisdom, a city council member, weighing in on taste it always makes a little bit of vomit rise in the back of my throat. What they spend is a pittance — it won’t be missed, but the luxury of their silence will be priceless.

I extend in advance my sincere apologies to all of the children’s theater companies, the bus station painting projects, the poet of the moment societies and the roving art counselors who populate the public schools and semi-public service sector (I think of power and sewer lines as being the real public service sector) but I think you should all pack up your bags and go home. I think the laws and column inches that track your doings should be turned back to the public good. I think your salaries should be assigned to reducing the national deficit.

And for the artists: Don’t ask for money, be free.

The Temporary Autonomous Zone



August 21, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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