What is the value of culture in a capitalist country?
As I begin to read about the history and development of the non-profit, the arts manager, and the overall “professionalization” of art, I discover so many more questions.
The biggest question is:
what is the value (and cost) of culture?
I have always understood art as an extension of culture (as Dr. Brenda Dixon Gottschild so eloquently worded it recently). It captured history in a way that facts cannot – from cave walls and pyramids to traditional dance movements. Also, the explorative nature of the artist is valuable in all spaces as innovation and creativity are undeniably necessary tools.
So why then is art only available to the highest bidder? Why is culture aligned with class rather than being a universal asset?
Apparently, in the early 90s, Hilton Kramer art critic and editor of the New Criterion (a magazine of cultural criticism) said “Museums are market-driven. Museum directors have become salesmen.”1
The counterpoint being that without being market-driven, the art will become irrelevant. But what if these entities were COMMUNITY-driven rather than market-driven? What if the “market” was not defined by wealth but rather by the number of individuals, dare I say PEOPLE, that interact with and show interest in the work?
How would that be funded you ask? Well let’s go back to this idea of art as a universal asset, of culture as a pillar of humanity. Numerous studies have aligned health to art – babies should listen to music in the womb, physical education and activity (i.e. dance) supports and improves various bodily functions, adults who paint or draw often possess better emotional intelligence. So if we fund health, if we fund education, if we fund justice, why not fund art? Or better yet, why not include art in health funding?* Why not have art therapy in mental health institutions? In birthing and maternity wards? (I’m not even gonna try to touch those as actually institutions)
Oh wait… Do we actually fund those things? New Orleans has no more public schools. I don’t particularly care to count how many times “Obamacare” and universal healthcare in general has been rejected by our government (or how “expensive” the Affordable Care Act is as was stated by a VOTER I was walking past yesterday in response to someone’s quip there there’s no reason for you to not vote because you’re sick, “We got Obamacare” … yea, that happened). As more and more money is taken out of “big government” what does that day for how we value people?
Individuals each possess bias. Democracy reflects the interests of individuals but allows for a variety of representation. Capitalism reflects the interests of individuals with the most money, the owning (and ruling) classes.
Now tell me what kind of country we live in again?
*more to come on funding sources and structures…on HOW art is currently funded…yea, that’s another post…
1from “Wanted: Art Scholar, M.B.A. Required” by Alexander Stille, published in New York Times in 1991 and reprinted in Management and the Arts