Government Money : Prog Rock vs. String Quartet

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Photo Credit: © Larry Beckhardt

There are many challenges when American democracy wants to give money to “the Arts”. When a single patron supports a string quartet, they are showing their personal preferences. When a string quartet is given a portion of collective money on behalf of population of three hundred and twenty million, problems arise. Should the Tulsa Ballet get money at the expense of a square dance troupe? The Fort Worth Symphony over the Madison Scouts? A string quartet before a progressive rock band? Who makes these decisions for us?

Committees can give away money on behalf of “us”, but these committees are not elected and not necessarily representative of the nation. Decisions at the National Endowment for the Arts are made based on the cultural or political bias of a cadre of people who are “experts” in their fields before being passed on to The National Council on the Arts. This public face of the endowment, to their credit, is a diverse group of people from all over the country.  However, there is no easy way to find documentation about how the “experts” make their decisions before reaching The National Council.

Let’s consider a funding death match that could rage between a string quartet and a prog rock band. Naturally, ensembles that are traditionally dependent on the government money such as string quartets are a common sense choice for funding to their supporters. This is a problem. There is no way to justify an individual giving public money to support one over the other.

Both ensembles (both bands?) play complicated music, have four members, and have die-hard fans. One could argue for the “cultural relevance” of either. Although I dare not call myself an “expert” in the wide-open plains of music, I would certainly qualify as well informed and knowledgeable in a number of music styles. Regardless of my personal feelings about the worth of one group over the other, justification is hard to find for choosing one.

In a government for the people,  giving government money for the arts based on “experts” is a problem. A possible solution to make the process more democratic will be offered in a future post.

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