Paul Jacob

Sir Patrick Stewart is a terrific actor, and quite successful. So it’s not exactly his selfish interest he’s pushing when he objects to Britain’s recent cuts in arts funding. He can find work.

Still, he and a number of other British arts celebrities have signed a petition calling for a “coherent” arts policy, and he characterizes his stance with his fellow petitioners as a unified bloc. “We know that we represent part of British culture, which is a massive success.” But what he doesn’t know is what disturbs him: “We don’t know what policy exists . . . It seems as though we’re just adrift.”

In a way, Stewart is right. Britain should have a coherent arts policy. So should America.

I suspect, however, that Stewart and I have radically different ideas about what that policy should be.

Now, though our disagreement goes deep, we’re not so far apart where I believe Stewart to be an unreasonable man, or crazy or something. (Would he extend that same courtesy of sanity imputation to me?) When he questions the British government’s snipping away at public support for arts as “unnecessary” — a nearly 20 percent drop from last year in the number of groups to receive funding — and when his colleague Samuel West claims to find equal cuts “across all sectors” acceptable, while cuts for arts and continued support for (say) banks unacceptable, they do not seem exactly crazed.

But reasonable men should be able to provide good numbers and a broad perspective for their case. West claims that the “arts industry” is the second most profitable in the country. I wonder if he discounts all the taxpayer-funded investment against those accounts. I suspect not. Advocates for subsidy rarely do.

The fairness issue, however, remains. If banks are being subsidized, as well as eco-this and eco-that, while the arts are being cut, he should ask why. If austerity is required because of budgeting, why not across-the-board cuts?

And I’d stand with him. If the arts folks come to America, and petition Congress for a coherent arts policy, I’d side right with them . . . if their demand is also that ethanol be desubsidized, the sugar tariff reduced, and, and, and.

But that’s not what these artists are really after. Not fairness. Not really. “We want a government funded Arts Council that allows us to be as successful as we are at the moment and continue to play our part in paying for hospital beds.”

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.