Escondido, CA

What’s wrong with cutting federal funds to the arts?

I’m a great lover of the arts. I love movies, adore plays (being in them too occasionally) and I’m a sucker for writing profiles of artists, but I think that federal funds for the arts should be cut by budgeteers of the Trump administration—perhaps even eliminated altogether.

Obviously, Escondido is a great home to the arts, what with its fabulous California Center for the Arts, Escondido, plus the great arts community that exists along Grand Avenue and elsewhere. The city has several arts associations, such as the Escondido Art Association.

I’m sure many of those artists are outraged at the idea that federal arts funds might be cut. I’m equally certain that none of those artists have ever gotten a penny of federal arts funding. There are certainly professional artists in Escondido. How many of them have gotten federal funds? I’m betting close to zero.  Great art doesn’t require subsidizing by the federal government.

Forget for a moment some of the controversial arts projects that have been sponsored by federal funds and that greatly offended conservatives, such as the 1987 photograph of a crucifix in a jar of urine by Andres Serrano that won first place at a visual arts competition sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA.) I’m sure that the NEA has sponsored some worthy pieces of art, but my problem is that I don’t think that a government agency should be judging what is good art and what is bad art. I don’t think the government (any government) should be picking the winners and losers in the world of art. Art is a subjective endeavor. Even experts can disagree when it comes to matters of taste. If that were not so there wouldn’t be multiple art critics. There would just be one or two.

Would you shudder at the idea that Donald Trump would have a hand in picking what books should receive funding? How about Barack Obama?  I personally cringe at the notion that anything other than the free market should choose what books rise to the top. Why should it be any different for works of art?

Art should not be done by a committee, and neither should a committee decide the value of art. Sure, there is plenty of civic art out there that is worth our admiration. Escondido has several examples that invite and delight the eye. Consider the wonderful statue out front of the Escondido Charter High School, as well as other statues within. I doubt that Coach Denny Snyder paid for them out of federal funds.

Or the touching statues honoring our veterans in Grape Day Park. That was the suggestion of elementary students who in 2006 inspired a group to form the Military Tribute Committee. They raised money through the sale of tiles.

During the Renaissance, the Dukes and dictators of Florence and Venice, along with the Pope, were the great patrons of the arts. They paid geniuses such as Leonardo and Michelangelo who rewarded their patrons by creating masterpieces that crowned them with immortality that far outlasted the fame they acquired as secular princes. However, artists no longer require princes to prosper, nor do they require the federal government. Today only a small percentage of the arts are funded by the government. By far the greatest share comes from charitable giving.

I would actually be fascinated (and happy to share the information) to find out if there are any arts programs in Escondido that are recipients of federal funds. I’m NOT talking about state grants, or money paid out by foundations. I’m talking about recipients of federal funds for the arts.

Do we really need federal funding of the arts? I don’t think so.

*Note: Opinions expressed by columnists and letter writers are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the newspaper.

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