Monday, July 26, 2010

Worth Reading: Reasons to Fund the Arts in Times of Austerity

I tweeted on this article, "In an era of austerity, reasons to fund the arts," from the Art Newspaper a while back, but it's worth repeating, I think. Written by Robert Hewison, a London, UK, professor, it focuses on British case studies, but makes some very applicable general arguments too:

Culture creates social capital, expressed as trust generated by a shared understanding of the symbols that the arts generate, and a commitment to the values they represent. It sustains the legitimacy of social institutions by ensuring that they are accepted, not imposed. Societies with an equitable distribution of cultural assets will be more cohesive, and more creative. Wellbeing, which is the true end of economic activity, depends on the quality of life that culture sustains. The word “culture”, after all, means “growth”.

Social capital—like economic capital—requires both regulation and investment. That the educated and well-off have greater access to the arts is not an argument for abandoning intervention to secure a more equitable distribution of cultural experience. Rationally, the government should be putting more funding into the arts because of the social capital they generate. There is a sound economic argument that when the market fails to provide certain kinds of goods thought useful, then it is necessary to intervene—health and education are the usual examples. The economics of the arts are particularly prone to market failure, for it is not easy to make the advances in productivity that technology facilitates in manufacturing. A symphony played on a synthesiser is not an efficiency gain.

Of course, one my points of frustration with our cultural institutions has been is that even when they do get influxes of money from the government, they don't always pass that on to the public in terms of access. Last Friday I discovered that both the ROM and AGO's admission fees quietly increased on July 1st. It's now $24 for general admission to the ROM for adults and $19.50 for the AGO. Both institutions are chalking the increase up to the introduction of Ontario's Harmonized Sales Tax on July 1st. Interestingly, some Ontario institutions chose not to raise their admission fees with the HST, examples being the Gardiner Museum and (at least according to their website) the National Gallery of Canada.


Anonymous said...

Great reference Leah.

Here at MOCCA, with the introduction of the HST in July, not only have we decided not to raise our admission fees (already a friendly Pay-What-You-Can), but we have launched a FREE ADMISSION policy for the remainder of 2010 thanks to a lead grant from the Hal Jackman Foundation. Access, access, access!

Yves Theoret
Managing Director
Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art

Leah Sandals said...

Hi Yves,

Thanks for your comment. In my tirades against high admission fees and inadequate arts access, I do often forget to note the good work that some institutions like MOCCA are doing on the arts access front--and have been doing for a long time. So kudos, and thanks for that.

Kudos also to the Power Plant for going all summer all free and (if I'm going to shout-out overlooked arts access resources for reals) all the artist-run centres in Toronto that continue to put together quality shows for the public to take in gratis.

Even the not-so-flush dealers out there doing good shows that us browsers-only can view deserve a mention! Merci folks.

All this said... Yves, do you wish to comment on impacts the HST might have on arts orgs? Is it really enough to force an increase to admission fees from your perspective?

Peter D. Harris said...

It's hard not to comparison shop to see what else my cultural dollar buys me at other world class institutions....Del Prado = 7 Euro, The Louvre = 9.5 Euro ($9.50 and $12.70 CAN respectively), National Gallery of Canada =$9. The AGO and the ROM seem a bit out of step unless I factor in a plane ticket to Europe...

My beef with the $19.50 and $24 is that for my non-artist friends and family, its very difficult for them to get the full value out of a high priced museum ticket. After about an hour I can see they've reached saturation point for new art, and the eyes are glazing over a bit-but like good soldiers they march on- not really absorbing anything new, but sticking it out because they just paid $19.50 to get in. The high ticket price encourages my out of town guests to try and "see it all", when small doses would be more enjoyable and rewarding for everyone.

Memberships are great for T.O. residents but for the infrequent visitor it's too bad the AGO doesn't offer the various galleries on an a la carte basis. For a couple bucks I could show off the great Group of Seven collection one night, then hit the modern collection another visit, without my guests feeling the pressure of trying to see everything in one go.

Leah Sandals said...

Peter, I'm a bazillion percent with you on that one. The memberships serve Torontonians *who can afford them*, but really neglect to serve Ontarians as a whole--or visitors from overseas for that matter.