Sir Patrick Stewart is a terrific actor, and quite successful. So its not exactly his selfish interest hes pushing when he objects to Britains 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 doesnt know is what disturbs him: We dont know what policy exists . . . It seems as though were 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, were 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 governments 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 Id stand with him. If the arts folks come to America, and petition Congress for a coherent arts policy, Id side right with them . . . if their demand is also that ethanol be desubsidized, the sugar tariff reduced, and, and, and.
But thats 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.
They want the status quo.
Its the same all over. When times are good, they want more. When cuts become necessary, theyll demand only the status quo.
But why not stick to their alleged guns and demand a coherent policy, anyway?
Well, it could be asking for too much. Too much of democracy. Economists far more skillful than I with algebra and calculus have demonstrated that voting procedures in a representative democracy can never yield consistent policy. Its always going to flail around.
Thats one reason why we shouldnt put everything up for a vote. Indeed, in America it used to be said, commonly, that the purpose of government was to protect our rights, not give us a myriad other goodies. Limited to a fairly narrow task, our elected representatives wouldnt find themselves in an incoherent realm where anything goes.
Export the policy to Britain. And re-import back here.
For the best arts policy is no arts policy as such. Government defends our rights to life and liberty, and we negotiate how best to promote some luxuries (that seem so necessary, some of the time — Im on board) without having to demand that other people spend more of their money on the arts in ways that I like (quite coherently, I dare say).
In the realm of the market, Ill no doubt support Mr. Stewart in the future, should he make a decent movie again. And in the realm of community action, Ill watch plays put on by kids and high-schoolers, and maybe even plunk down some of my own money for them.
And thats the way it should be.
Is it coherent?
Its sensible. Its justifiable. And its not as incoherent as the vast array of subsidies and programs that Stewart and his friends think the ne plus ultra of British (or any other) culture.
A free culture is possible.
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