Tuesday, July 07, 2009

A Tangible Stimulus

The New York Times reported yesterday on France's stimulus package. I have to admit that it sounds much more appealing than ours does currently - a big flashy project like the Château de Fontainebleau makes for much better publicity than our slow roll out of funds. Sometimes I daydream about what it would be like to live in a country in which the arts are so highly valued.

I don't mean to say that the U.S. doesn't value the arts; it's just that the folks responsible for creating our budgets tend not to put their money where their praise is. Even living in an area as artistically and philathropically rich as Pittsburgh, I wish that there was more government support.

Pennsylvania's governor, Ed Rendell, recently decided to balance the state's budget by pulling funding for an astonishing number of nonprofit organizations across the state. This includes not only traditional arts organizations, but historic preservation groups and libraries as well. It gets very tiresome to hear every few years that our local nonprofits could be in serious jeopardy.

Our local regional asset district, which collects 1% sales tax in Allegheny County for the support of public assets, made the decision several years ago to use a great deal of its money to commit to several large, multi-year projects. As a result, funding for smaller organizations was reduced and, coupled with the elimination of state-level funding in the new budget, I'm not sure how many of them will survive much longer. (This same regional asset district contributed to the funding of Heinz Field and PNC Park, both "public assets" that should be able to support themselves, in my opinion.)

I know that many Americans are suffering in the current economic situation and there are myriad sad and tragic stories as a result, but I think the arts situation is the one that depresses me the most. I'm not entirely convinced that government officials will restore nonprofit funding once the recession is over.

"It is easier to find money for castles and cathedrals, of course, in a country that believes “art is equal to other investments, not secondary,” as Mr. Devedjian puts it." -NYT

Photo: Château de Fontainebleau by Feuillu.

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