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Funding for Arts is Terrible

Philip and Steven Whittington



New Zealand Music Month is now drawing to a close, and sales of Nature’s Best will once again have spiked. But imagine a world where the government didn’t subsidise art in New Zealand, would that even be a life worth living? The answer is yes.

New Zealand Music Month is now drawing to a close, and sales of Nature’s Best will once again have spiked. But imagine a world where the government didn’t subsidise art in New Zealand, would that even be a life worth living? The answer is yes.To begin with music, the usual justification for taking people’s money and forcing them to pay for music they may not like is that if we don’t, our radio stations will simply be cluttered with American crap. The Brothers in Anarchy haven’t spent any real time listening to a radio station other than Solid Gold in about eight years, but whenever we flick past one I hear either American crap played by Americans or American crap played worse by New Zealanders. The bands that get funding and go on to have commercial success are bands like 48 May. Now I have never met the young men of 48 May; I am sure they are lovely. If the government wanted to fund my music videos I would take the money – I am not accusing 48 May of doing anything unethical. But I am accusing them of playing the worst kind of American punk pop. They are guilty. It is of course no accident that bands who might be lacking in artistic merit end up getting funding. If some bureaucrat is deciding what art is good, then why wouldn’t the bureaucrat end up funding something so embarrassing? What could be a worse judge of artistic merit than a government agency spending other people’s money?
And it’s not that I hate art; I just doubt that much good art comes through government initiatives. You may ask who am I to judge good art? I am no-one special, but I do consume art, and very little of it is made with Government funding. Somehow movies, music, books, paintings and poetry are made all throughout the world without funding, and some of it is of high quality. If it is true that I have no aesthetic sense, then doesn’t it make it even worse that taxes are taken from people like me to pay for someone else’s? No one else pays for my love of Die Hard movies. There have only been four Die Hard movies – I want more of them made (at least 14), but for some reason I don’t ask everyone else to pitch in. I just let it be known that I will go to any Die Hard movie that is ever made, and so there is an incentive for those geniuses of the action genre to make it.Would New Zealand really be such a barren wasteland of drab nothingness if the government didn’t fund art? Let’s take the NZSO. The NZSO would probably be smaller than it is, and it may even disband without government funding – I cannot predict that. If it did disband, all that would mean is that people do not value having a NZSO as much as they value their money – why would anyone force them to live otherwise? The overwhelming majority of the NZSO audience members are from the highest echelons of the socio-economic ladder, but some how they’ve swindled everyone else into paying for it. Many people think that it just isn’t ‘right’ for us not to have a national symphony orchestra, but this is just a function of the tyranny of the status quo. I want to start a poetry collective with my friends. If I successfully got government funding, you can bet that in 50 years everyone would think my poetry collective was indispensable to the national psyche. But no one can say it is truly important that we have a state poet.A subsidy to art is just like a subsidy to any other industry. If the government thinks that art is ‘underproduced’ and so needs a subsidy, all they are really saying is that people do not appreciate art as much as the government would like art to be appreciated.
The truth is that we all appreciate certain kinds of art in our lives, and any government production of art will always be wholly insufficient at fulfilling our differing needs with regard to aesthetic appreciation. Despite funding for New Zealand television (Border Control anyone?), the best television shows still come from England and the USA. The Sopranos, The Wire, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Office and all the ‘cool’ bands from throughout the world don’t get produced because government steps in; they get produced because artists know what people like and appreciate, and they create art based on that. It works well. When New Zealand funds Shortland Street, 48 May and Elemeno P, money is taken from people who otherwise would not paid for that art. I know it’s easy to choose examples of ‘bad art’ like those above, but when the private market provides stuff like Two and a Half Men, and My Chemical Romance, no one else is punished for others’ terrible taste – it is only those consumers who like that stuff who have to pay for it.
Given that it is still NZ Music Month, the way to show your support for New Zealand Music might be to go to a local show that you might not have already seen, but just make sure it’s not 48 May.