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Art And Government

Eileen Osullivan
Features Columnist

As world economies struggle, art for art's sake struggles even more.



Should the Arts Be Publicly or Privately Funded?

Miss Mao

"Miss Mao Trying to Poise Herself on Top of Lenin's Head," an exhibit by the GAO Brothers on display indefinitely at the Ace Museum. | Photo: Jen Gordon | Contemporary Art, Sculpture,

Should the Arts Be Publicly or Privately Funded?

Eileen Osullivan
Features Columnist

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[Comments] Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder and as night follows day, funding of art becomes equally subjective ' and frequently objectionable. Basically if you have the money, you pay for what you want to pay for, what espouses your own objectives and what furthers your own ideals.

If art is publically funded, then big as the Statue of Liberty and larger than life, it will speak volumes about the politics of the administration currently in power. So if you have a Conservative or Republican government, chances are the arts funded will encourage the production of profit, and glamorize the existing status quo. It may hark back to a former empire, and bang on about heritage, but basically the arts policy of the incumbent party in power will simply promote more of the same.

Don't expect a Labour or Democrat administration to be too subversive or provocative either ' free entry to museums and art galleries may well be on the cards to give greater public access to the arts, but in a recession you can bet your bottom dollar, or a pound for every penny, that free expression will be out the window. After all ' can't artists be just a teensy bit critical about the establishment, and the people that hold the purse strings, as well as make the laws?

If public funding of the arts can be too restrictive, then what's left (or even right?)

Historically arts patrons have stumped up the cash for artists and arts projects both small and grand. The Medieval Renaissance era of Italy was notable for a proliferation of art and architecture admired and copied around the world, and the Medici Family in Florence was responsible for founding a financial dynasty that bankrolled many nations. F
rom the 15th and 16th Centuries a wealth of religious artworks were commissioned and grand churches constructed, and artists like Donatello and Michelangelo entered a system of apprenticeship that meant talent was nourished and paid for by those with power. The Medicis wanted to ensure that Florence was prominent on the world map, and he who pays the piper plays the tune.

So who's to say what is art, and what is of value ' bottom line, what is deemed to be worth paying for? If you happen to be independently wealthy, or to be in a position of political power, is it good or even moral that you can then decide what art everyone else has access to, including even an arts education? The application of graphic art is notorious for its ability to rouse the faithful, or recruit new members to the cause ' all in the name of commerce and even propaganda. It's no coincidence that skilful graphic artists can routinely command a high salary, but successful fine artists have to jump through (artistically arranged) hoops to prove themselves, particularly if their artistic vision is beyond the conventional pale.

As world economies struggle, art for art's sake struggles even more. Nowadays you're more likely to make a quick buck by designing a soup can for a big company than if you subvert the image, screen print it and stick it on a gallery wall. Art may stir the heart, the loins or the soul but if it doesn't stir the pot and put food on the table, then money to pay for it will be thin on the ground. For every aesthete or anarchist that celebrates the erection of some provocative public artwork, there'll be ten or more members of the righteous crowd complaining that the money could have been spent on expanding the local constabulary or the National Guard.

Art influences mood, it speaks to the intellect, it educates and informs. It can produce a guttural or a finely honed response to a sensitive subject. Art is life, love and magic. As national economies struggle, artistic expression takes a back seat to turning a fast, or even a slow to surface buck. The intangible, the haunting, the beautiful and the sublime become second, third and fourth best to the 'in yer face realities' of making a living. When do we decide that life is grey enough, without the sustaining pulse of fine art being insidiously taken away from us, and all in the name of money?

There will always be rich people with an axe to grind, profit to make and a tax break to exploit. Should they fancy putting their name to ground breaking and thought provoking works of art, then lucky us! Chances are they will just want to invest in whatever makes them richer. If the arts are publically funded, at least the public can have some say in where the funding goes and if the current administration is too tight fisted or too short sighted in their funding of the arts, then vote them out! Surely this is one small way we can influence access to the arts we are all entitled to, as sentient and civilized human beings.


Eileen Osullivan

Eileen Osullivan, Features Columnist: Pick the true stories- 1) Richard Branson once leapt over a balustrade on the 14th floor of a Portugese hotel, because I told him to (the proverbial, beginning with an F), Off! At a gathering of the Virgin clans - we all worked together in the early 90s - I sang for him and he advised me to 'stay with the day job.' The guys began to peel off his fingers as I prayed to a God I am unsure of, to save his life. Like it was needed. I have vertigo - he loves clowning around on balloons. Go... (more...)