Second takes on Gaiman’s fee

We’ve had a “spirited” discussion on my cubicle row today about the Star Tribune story concerning author Neil Gaiman’s $45,000 speaker’s fee to speak in Stillwater, paid for via the Legacy Amendment money. That’s the arts and outdoors dedicated fund from an increase in the sales tax.

You can hear Gaiman’s speech for free:

The arts community has offered a little “pushback” to the criticism of Gaiman since the Star Tribune article appeared.

Says Kevin Hoffman of City Pages:

Sure, $45,000 sounds like a lot of money for an author, even one as acclaimed as Gaiman. But that’s pennies compared to the $791 million Vikings stadium the Star Tribune wants taxpayers to help build.

Amy Goetzman of MinnPost:

But predictably, this unleashed the comments-section mob of torch-bearing, anti-library Tea Party types, who will no doubt think of this item when it comes to voting to support their local libraries.

That’s a lot of money, to be sure, but author Sarah Palin’s been bringing in more than double that for appearances, and a quick look at this talent site finds plenty of other writers charging in the $30K to $50K range for an appearance, including Alice Walker and Anderson Cooper

All of this is low-hanging fruit for those who argued against including arts funding in a bill that originally was intended to help outdoors and natural resources projects. And it caused me to take a look back at how the Legacy Amendment was marketed to voters — heavy on the outdoors, light on the arts.

Former MPR arts commentator Dominic Papatola delivered a classic quote when asked about it during the campaign.

“It’s easy to make a kneejerk argument against the arts; all you have to do is mention Robert Mapplethorpe or Karen Finley. You know, the outdoors don’t get naked and smear themselves with chocolate.”

  • I certainly didn’t take the Strib story as a slam on Gaiman’s fee. I took it as a slam on using taxpayer Legacy money for such an expensive, flashy project. I don’t blame Gaiman for charging as much as he can get. I salute him.

    If Legacy money went to bring in Sarah Palin, Anderson Cooper, anyone to the tune of $50k, I think people would be furious.

    It’s a question of spending the money, not a question of charging it.

  • And that would be the same Dominic Papatola who in May of 2006 told Almanac viewers to shut off their TVs and go outside because the rest of the show was about politics and it was too early in the year to waste your time on that kind of crap.

    It happened to be the first large audience joint appearance by Amy Klobuchar and Ford Bell. Bell would drop out of the race less than two months later because of his inability to attract public attention to his pro-gay marriage, anti-Iraq War platform.

    Since that night Mr. Papatola has been the LAST person I listen to regarding any political issue.

  • Al

    While this debate certainly can be about taxpayer money being used for this, I see a different story. That is, for some reason, our society sees it appropriate to pay certain people ridiculous amounts of money – often a number of times more than the average worker. Whether it’s a professional athlete, an entertainer, a CEO, or the president of a non-profit like MPR, for some reason, as a society, we seem to think that their contribution to society is worth so much more than other people. Why? Should an author be able to pay off a quarter of my mortgage for an hour talk? At the end of a year of work, should the head of MPR, a non-profit, tax-exempt organization supported by fund drives, be able to pay cash for my house and the one next door and still have twice the income of my wife and I (college educated professionals) left over?

  • Jim!!!

    Of course the outdoors gets naked. But it’s usually smearing itself with excrement and not chocolate.

  • kennedy

    I agree with a previous poster. It is not a question whether the speaker is worth $45,000 but a question of whether hiring a speaker is the best use of $45,000.

    The computers at the libraries I have visited are typically full. That money could have expanded that availability and served a much wider audience than a speaker.

    Though if the engagement is viewed as a fund raising effort, it may have provided more income than expense. Were the attendees big donors?

  • Librarian

    As an employee of a local public library, I think the problem is not with spending the money on Gaiman’s appearance (he’s very famous, a great author, not promoting a political agenda beyond promoting libraries and reading and was the spokesperson last month for National Library Week), but with the way organizations are allowed to spend the money allotted to them by the Legacy Amendment. We’re not allowed to spend the money on existing staff or on equipment unless it specifically supports the arts/culture/literacy goals outlined in the amendment; so no new computers. We were also given a big pot of money just a couple months ago and told we had to spend it all by June.

    In this use it or lose it scenario, isn’t it better to spend the money bringing in a globally recognized author to speak for free–rather than for the $35-45 HCL was charging for someone like Sarah Vowell–than to let that funding go to waste?

  • Danielle

    This is something that I think is often misunderstood about grant money and similar funding. You can’t just use it for anything; you have to use it for some particular, previously-defined purpose. If you have X amount of dollars to be used for speakers by X date, not only does the money go away if you haven’t spent it on speakers by that date, you’re unlikely to secure such funds in the future. In terms of why Gaiman charges what he does and whether any individual should be paid what I make in a year for a single speaking engagement, he asks for so much because he doesn’t want speaking engagements and is trying to discourage bookings so he has time to write. He usually donates the money to charity.

  • Fair One

    To the managers and distributors of Legacy Funds who are up in arms over money paid to a writer who already has more fame than most writers will ever have: the advertising

    campaign/the campaign which brought about the creation of the Legacy Funds was deceptive: voters of Minnesota saw a picture of a pine tree and a picnic table and were lead to believe that the half-cent sales tax increase was mostly an “outdoors” kind of thing: it would have been more honest to

    include a Rauschenberg-like image in the

    campaign graphic (the Picasso penis could also have been utilized).

  • Donna

    “If Legacy money went to bring in Sarah Palin, Anderson Cooper, anyone to the tune of $50k, I think people would be furious.”

    Your couldn’t get Palin for $50K, those fiscal conservatives need at least a $100

  • JC

    The librarians will be happy to know the money paid to Gaiman went to Scientology.

    Gaiman donated $35,000. to Scientology in November for their Super Powers center. He is listed in Scientology’s cornerstone newsletter.

    Neil Gaiman just donated another $500,000.00 to Scientology in 2010 through his business partner Mary Gaiman who received a “Gold Humanitarian Award” for contributing to Ideal Org, MN.

    Neil Gaiman and Mary Gaiman are business partners in The Blank Corporation and are funneling millions of dollars into Scientology.

    The Gaiman family also derive a 6 million dollar income annually from G&G vitamins founded by the now deceased David Gaiman. G&G Vitamins has a monopoly to sell the purification rundown worldwide.

  • CWL

    And what exactly is your point JC? With your initials being JC I’ll assume your inferred slight against Mr. Gaiman’s use of his profits were in disagreement with his beliefs. He’s free to do whatever he wants with his money — that’s his right. I’m not a Scientologist nor a Christian or anything else, and I have no right to ridicule or belittle anyone’s opinion on whatever fairy tale they want to worship so they can sleep at night.

    Also, yes, people that make that kind of money ARE worth that kind of money in this country. Our society sets those prices, just like we set the salaries of entertainers, sports figures, doctors, etc. Complain all you want, but realize a free market Democratic republic which we all are SO happy to live in has it’s pluses and minuses. Too bad most people aren’t intelligent enough to understand how much a famous author or sports figure touches people’s lives. We see big money and that no one should make that much. That author has touched millions of people’s lives over and over again in a variety of different mediums. Those sports figures, regardless of pay, are vital to our livelihood in this country. How many people come home and watch their local sports teams every single day? Do you realize the entertainment they put out? Do you really? Stop and think that every single day they give enjoyment to millions of people. They do it over and over again. What did you do today for your $40,000 salary? I’m not talking the ripple affect, I’m talking people you had a direct effect on. In this country, you get paid for enormity of the service you provide — don’t forget that. Entertaining millions of people, being a cornerstone of their lives, that makes those people worth every single penny.

  • Niki

    The money was part of a categorical grant that was going to expire soon. It could not have been spent anywhere else, not on computers, not on books, not on videos. If that annoys you, like it does me, don’t blame the library or Gaiman, blame the congressmen who allow this fund.

    As for the price being too high, Gaiman is a very busy author who would probably rather write than speak to an audience. It’s supply and demand: Gaiman sets the price high so that he is not forced to come to every little speaking engagement. Besides, he donated most of the money to library/literature charity organizations, so most of people’s complaints that the money wasn’t spent for the good of the language are unfounded.

  • Mest

    Hey CWC, Scientology is a CULT that is being investigated for human trafficking. Neil Gaiman funds this dangerous CULT and it is most definitely a problem and an insult to Minnesota. Scientology is psychologically and physically abusive, as exemplified by their Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF) where Prison camps are run for “Sea Org” members in Los Angeles, Clearwater FL, Copenhagen etc. Scientology destroys lives and Neil Gaiman funds the CULT. Only a Scientologist would make a stupid remark like “so” or “your point being…” Any himan being with empathy and a brain can see that Scientology is dangerous. The problem with attacking Gaiman is the giant pool of Sea Org members he can use to spin the dialogue.

  • Katherine

    Just because his parents became Scientologists, does not mean that he is himself a Scientologist. Check your facts, people, before trying to smear someone you actually know nothing about.