When should arts funding be cut?

Governor Tim Pawlenty took a shot this afternoon at Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, saying “Minneapolis has been on an unbroken streak of 8 percent increases in property taxes, funding things like $50,000 artistic fountains.” This just after the governor announced $2.7 billion in “unallotments” to balance the state budget.

Interestingly enough, Pawlenty didn’t make any noticable cuts to the arts today. His strategy mainly affects local government, education and health and human services. But he does raise a good question: when is it inappropriate to fund the arts? Should arts grants be cut before funding for social services for the disabled or homeless? Is saving lives more important than funding art? If that were the case, it would seem we could always find places to put public money before allowing it to trickle down to artists.

The money for Minneapolis’ ten new drinking fountains comes from a designated public art fund. And it’s supposed to draw attention to issues surrounding clean drinking water, not just look cool. But considering the recession we’re in, could the half-million dollars be spent more wisely?

  • Mary L

    Just a gentle quibble: $50K is not a half-million dollars.

  • Marianne Combs

    Mary, I’m afraid in this case it is. Each fountain costs $50,000, and there are ten fountains being built. Thus the half-million dollars.

  • I think the governor’s example is a convenient soundbite that leaves a lot of details out. Did the city need new drinking fountains? Well then, that seems to me a clever use of “designated public art funds” to fund necessary city infrastructure.

    I also think it’s artificial to decide which is more important, social service or art? We need lots of different things to be a successful society.

  • Marianne Combs

    Good points Laura, but how do you navigate the decision-making process? It’s easy to say “we need both” – but when you come face to face with the choices, how do reason it through?

  • As you might imagine, I have a lot of answers to that question. One simple way though, is to stop considering arts as an alternative to those other important needs and start seeing the ways that art is a part of those needs. For example; residency programs that put artists in schools to help with education; art crawls and festivals that contribute directly to neighborhood revitalization; large art institutions that help bring tourism and conventions to downtown areas, theater companies that work with homeless youth to engage them and keep them off the street…I could go on and on. Being able to make that case is on us in the arts community, though:


  • Paul W

    This is a such a hard question to answer! In a perfect world we WOULD have both, but we (especially now) are in a far from perfect world. Ultimately, I think arts are an expression of our humanity. If our government ceases to support art, do we cease to be human? Obviously not. Would it lessen our humanity? Probably not. Art would continue, humanity would continue. There may be less grandiose, less expensive expressions, but art would survive. As much as I hate to say it, if a government has to choose between sustaining life (health and human services) and sustaining human expression (the arts), I would rather have our leaders choose sustaining life – human expression will find a way to survive.

    What a terrible choice to have to make! Let’s hope we never get to the point where we have to make an “either/or” decision.

  • Actually, I think the water fountains are a perfect example of how we need to think about the arts…not as a separate entity to fund or not fund, but as an integral part of our other needs; city infrastructure, community development, education, healthcare, neighborhood revitalization, business development, tourism…I could go on and on.

    But I think it’s up to us in the arts to be able to make this case (and also to believe it!) I wrote a blog post on this a while ago here”>http://www.springboardforthearts.org/blog/2009/04/making-case-i-think-that-many-in-arts.html=“_blank”>here