‘This is why art is important!!!’


Consider this picture a gentle protest against our governor again putting the state Arts Commission in the crosshairs.

Here, of course, is the problem with her repeated efforts to do this agency in: It’s not, near as I can tell (and maybe I’ve just missed the stories explaining this), because she thinks there is a better, more efficient way to accomplish the agency’s mission.

It’s because — and please, I’d love to be shown how I’m off-base on this — she wants to be seen by her base as attacking government-funded arts, period. Which I know some of my readers will applaud. Others will not. (Doug will likely argue that we shouldn’t fund the arts when roads, prisons, etc., go unfunded. I will reply that we can adequately fund all those things and give the arts a boost as well. Just because we haven’t doesn’t mean that we can’t.)

My headline, by the way, was the text that accompanied the above photo, which I saw when my wife shared it on Facebook. For a split-second, I thought it might be one of my granddaughters, because that’s just the sort of thing they would do. But the hair was wrong.

The picture, and the message, seem to have originated with Marymount Manhattan College’s Department of Theatre Arts.

53 thoughts on “‘This is why art is important!!!’

  1. Burl Burlingame

    Cutting off the arts means cutting off half a person’s brain functions. People like Haley don’t want rounded human beings, they want workers with repressed imagination and dreams.

    1. Doug Ross

      Because art cannot exists without tax dollars, right? Take away the tax dollars and art just disappears.

      If it’s good art, people will pay for it.

    2. Steven Davis II

      “Cutting off the arts means cutting off half a person’s brain functions.”

      I’d like to see proof of Dr. Burlingame’s theory.

      Important or not, it’s not a vital function of government.

  2. Doug Ross

    We also shouldn’t fund the arts because the funding decisions are made by a small group of people to address the desires of well connected people. The spending decisions reflect a very biased set of opinions on what “art” is and what “art” is worthy of using other people’s money to support… Art can and will exist without government support. If you need money to support your artistic endeavors, go to a foundation that solicits donations to support it. Don’t take tax dollars that could be used to directly help people in need.

    If we can’t eliminate arts funding, then at a minimum, the process used to select where the money goes should be done completely in the open and involve allowing the community at large to determine where the money is spent. There should not be an expectation that certain art forms always get the most money. Spread the money around.

  3. bud

    This is an area where government should turn this function over to the free market and philanthropy. Don’t see this as any more vital than funding professional sports.

    1. Silence

      @ Burl & Kathryn – the personal attacks are uncalled for. Let’s try to discuss the issue on the merits.

  4. Karen McLeod

    Anything can be privatized, but it damages that cause and society as a whole. One could privatize roads, but then you’d end up with good roads only in well moneyed sections, and very few that went from state to state. One could privatize medical research, but then some diseases would be well funded while others languished. Think what would have happened if AIDs had been funded that way. We’d have had a spurt of contributions when so many stars were dying, but after that I suspect that there would have very little. Art funded privately would fund only the most mainstream art of the rich. Undoubtably it would be lovely, but then we’d miss the expression of some counter-cultural ideas, and new artists might well starve before their work attracted enough to support their art.

  5. Silence

    I’m a patron of the arts, personally, but I find it irresponsible that we are funding non-essential budgetary items when there are real and very great challenges to meet in the public sphere.
    Ultimately, the real question is: What services are essential for a government to provide, and which ones are non-essential niceties? Where do we draw the line?
    The second question that comes to mind is: How, exactly should non-essential services be funded?

  6. bud

    I just really don’t see a difference between funding for the arts and funding for a baseball or football team. But of course we do that also. The test for me is whether there is a spillover, social benefit involved. Both education and healthcare contribute to the well being of society as a whole. Same for police and fire protection. But sports and the arts are, at their core, just forms of entertainment that benefit the folks who happen to have an interest in them. From a personal perspective I’d rather see government fund a professional baseball team. But since that is just a matter of personal taste in what type of entertainment I enjoy it would be correct to say this is a selfish proposal on my part. And rightfully so. Same with paintings and sculpture. Neither offers me any particular entertainment value hence it is selfish of others to require that I fund them.

    1. Steven Davis II

      Neither “the arts” or sports are essential to run a government. Both should be self funded. Doing so and approving taxpayer paid funding is part of the reason we’re in the economic trouble we are in.

  7. Brad Warthen Post author

    My own position on public funding for the arts is probably pleasing to neither the left nor the right (like many of my positions).

    I’m happy to pay taxes that go to support the arts.

    However, if the state is involved in the arts, it should be mainly in educational and preservationist sorts of roles. It should be to expose young people to the vast heritage of art. I can see some role for grants to artists, but I would be extremely conservative in the kinds of art I would support. It shouldn’t be the state’s role to “pick winners and losers” among the latest wave of avant garde wannabes. That truly is something for the marketplace to do.

    1. Doug Ross

      I’m okay with your proposal. Exposure to the arts through education is fine as is preservation of art in the form of museums open to the public. Paying for a specific artist or group to perform their art is not a basic function of government. A decision to fund X means that X is considered more valuable art than Y. And that’s not right nor fair.

  8. bud

    It should be to expose young people to the vast heritage of art.

    Isn’t that picking winners and losers? Isn’t it arrogant to proclaim the Mona Lisa a classic whereas something like P*** Christ is a lowlife avant guard piece of crap. The market can easily make those types of decisions.

  9. Brad Warthen Post author

    No, it’s not a bit arrogant. I’ve always thought that “who’s going to decide” sort of argument wanting.

    People decide such things all the time, and manage to do it well enough that it does not generate controversy. Which means there is such a thing as a canon in art, and it’s not that hard to reach a consensus about it.

    The Columbia Museum of Art manages it. So does the National Gallery in Washington. So do most museums and galleries in America, whether public or private. They assemble very diverse collections that millions of visitors are able to agree are worth having in those places.

    And really, when was the last time the Arts Commission funded something that was controversial?

    A lot of creative types would decry such pragmatic conservatism, but they are wrong, when public funds are involved. Controversial, ground-breaking art SHOULD have to find its own market in the private sector. When the state funds art, it should be noncontroversial. And it almost always is.

  10. Doug Ross

    But why should the expenditure of tax dollars (other people’s money) be left to the tastes and whims of a small group of (likely) older people? I’m sorry, but I would have a real hard time accepting even 10 cents of our tax dollars going to support a Mark Rothko painting. That’s not art – that’s hype and lemming-like behavior of the art snobs. He couldn’t sell his painting for $25 on the side of the road.


  11. bud

    Brad if it wasn’t controversial the governor wouldn’t be pushing to defund the Arts Commission. Isn’t that self-evident?

  12. bud

    Doug’s proposal strikes a good balance. Teach the arts in school but don’t fund public arts venues.

  13. Mark Stewart

    STEM into STEAM.

    Figures our broader society would more in one direction, and some close-minded, regressive SC politicians would jink the other way.

  14. Phillip

    “Controversial, ground-breaking art SHOULD have to find its own market in the private sector. When the state funds art, it should be noncontroversial. And it almost always is.”

    There’s another, opposite way of looking at that, which is that art (whether we’re talking visual arts, or music, or other forms of expression) that is reliant on the rules of the marketplace is naturally going to gravitate more closely to the “safe,” the well-trodden path. An environment where art can be produced without concern for the marketplace is one that can potentially be a laboratory for artistic innovation, for the creation of works that can provide viewers/listeners with entry to unfamiliar worlds. There’s a parallel with public universities and the concept of academic freedom. When you say you would support state role for the arts in education and preservation, that’s all well and good, but art doesn’t exist, can’t exist, purely in the retrospective view. It’s a thing that humans do, and it’s the doing of it that in large part, makes us human. A society that fosters the ongoing creation of art (including art that challenges our hidebound ways of thinking) is one in which there will still be things to see in museums of the future, to hear on concert programs of the future.

    It would be interesting to hear what the composer Charles Ives would have to say about public funding of the arts (I think he would probably be very suspicious of it). Ives, considered by many to be the most significant composer in American history, found out early on that his music was WAY too revolutionary and mind-blowing to make him a darned cent as a professional composer. So instead he went into the insurance business, built a successful business and was one of the real innovators in life insurance in the early 20th century, made a lot of money, and then he could continue to write whatever music he darned well pleased…which he did, much of it in his lap on the Metro-North commuting between his office in NYC and his home in Danbury, Connecticut.

    1. Steven Davis II

      “A society that fosters the ongoing creation of art (including art that challenges our hidebound ways of thinking) is one in which there will still be things to see in museums of the future, to hear on concert programs of the future. ”

      Fine, just don’t expect me to pay for it. There was a course at USC a couple years ago where the instructor was teaching a creepy old man instructor’s obsession with Lady Gaga. Is that what taxpayers are supposed to be funding? Most of the music and fine arts majors I knew in college were people either too lazy to get a “real degree” or who’s parents had too much money that they didn’t need to get a degree where they could actually collect a paycheck. If the government stopped funding every dime to fine arts schools today, the government wouldn’t even hiccup tomorrow.

  15. Brad Warthen Post author

    Bud mentions public funding for sports teams…

    As in happened, Mayor Benjamin mentioned something related to that in his State of the City speech last night. I didn’t get the exact quote (it appeared to be a departure from the prepared text), but as John Monk reported it, “Bringing a professional baseball team to Columbia in a private-public partnership is a high priority. A new stadium would possibly go in the Bull Street area.”

    Speaking of Bull Street… Today, Mike Wukela, the mayor’s strategic policy adviser, told me this: “Mayor Benjamin city staff met with Bob Hughes as recently as last week about Bull Street as a whole and that the Mayor is confident that we’ll have a Bull Street development agreement by the end of this quarter.”

    1. Steven Davis II

      This is not news, it’s just another mayor’s plea to try and get another baseball team to come to Columbia. It’s to cover his butt for the wasted Bomber Stadium that’s now giving homeless bums a place to nap and drink.

      Baseball team or Bull Street developer, nobody’s going to come unless they can get a deal where they’re guaranteed to make money.

      ” the Mayor is confident that we’ll have a Bull Street development agreement by the end of this quarter”

      I hear Pastides is going to use line in a speech about a tenant and the Innovista. I don’t believe either person.

    2. Doug Ross

      Greenville, Charleston, Myrtle Beach, and Rock Hill have minor league teams with great stadiums. Throw in Savannah, Augusta, Durham, and Asheville and you have at least eight very viable baseball teams in a three hour drive of Columbia.

      My guess is that the reason we don’t have a decent minor league stadium and team is because the powers that be at USC won’t allow it. They stopped the Panthers from playing here. They want to be the only game in town.

  16. Phillip Bush

    Doug, if you see a Rothko for sale on the side of the road and somebody’s asking $25 for it, I would take that deal. Heck, round things off and give him $100…you’ll still make a wee bit of profit.

      1. Phillip

        Isn’t that the beauty of the free market, though? It’s worth whatever people are willing to pay for it.

  17. Brad Warthen Post author

    That reminds me of a funny line from Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.” If you haven’t seen it, the premise is that the protagonist, played by Owen Wilson, goes walking in the city at midnight and finds himself transported in time to Paris during the “Lost Generation” period and gets to hang out with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dali, Picasso and others, night after night.

    There’s a scene in which Gertrude Stein tells him she’s planning to buy a Matisse for 500 francs, and she asks Wilson’s character whether he thinks that’s a fair price.

    His response: “500 francs for a Matisse? Yeah I think that sounds fair! You know, I wonder if actually I can pick up 6 or 7?”

  18. Burl Burlingame

    I didn’t realize I was making a “personal attack” by postulating that those deprived of arts education may not turn out to be completely rounded citizens, but… Since literature is part of the arts, perhaps we should do any [away?] with English education as well and let the free market decide. But the nation might switch to Spanish.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      The above comment was edited to bring it into line with our civility policy. And as long as I was in it, I offered a word substitution: “away” sted of “any.” Sorry if I assumed wrong, Burl.

  19. Kathryn Fenner

    I doubt USC needs to do anything to be the go-to baseball game these days. They are done in early summer, and pack the stadium as it is. USC could not share its stadium with a for-profit enterprise because of how it was financed.

    1. Mark Stewart


      I so wish that were true; then we never would have received the bountiful benefits of INNOVISTA – the bricks and mortar boondoggle, not the aspirational/transformative strategic goal.

  20. Doug Ross

    It’s not about sharing the stadium, Kathryn, it’s about sharing the entertainment dollars. A minor league team would overlap with USC’s team for a couple months. It would be pretty easy to determine USC’s support by asking Ray Tanner if he supported the idea.

  21. Kathryn Fenner

    I still cannot believe that Gamecock Baseball is at all threatened by any pro team we’d pull.

  22. Brad Warthen Post author

    FYI, y’all, this email came in this afternoon from the South Carolina Arts Alliance:

    As you know, the 2013 legislative session is in full swing and the South Carolina Arts Commission has just presented its budget to a House Ways & Means Subcommittee. Their request is outlined below and does include some additional funding that would greatly strengthen the Arts Commission’s ability to support the work of arts providers statewide and take advantage of opportunities to grow our creative economy through a combination of grants and other services


    #1: $25,000 in non-recurring funds for planning of a Cultural Districts Designation Program.
    Cultural districts are special areas, designated or certified by state governments that utilize cultural resources to encourage economic development and foster cooperation between the arts and other local businesses. There are now 12 states-including Kentucky and Louisiana in our region-that have a formalized state role in the creation of cultural districts, and results are very positive. Outcomes-in both urban and rural areas-have included
    Attracting artists and arts business to communities
    Local business development and job creation
    New tourism destinations
    Productive reuse of historic buildings and
    Increased property values
    The Arts Commission is requesting one-time funds to support the work of a statewide task force to plan such a program for South Carolina and to develop proposed legislation to enact it.

    #2: $30,000 in recurring funds to support on-going professional development for SC Artist/Entrepreneurs. With support from a national funder, the Arts Commission has developed the S.C. Artists Ventures program, a strong new approach to helping artists succeed as small business people, but that national support will end this year. The Arts Commission is requesting funds to continue to build on the successful model of intensive training and one-on-one coaching that they have developed.

    #3: $1,000,000 in recurring funds for Statewide Grantmaking. This new appropriation would bring the agency’s total grantmaking to more than $2.5 million for FY2014, or about 50 cents per capita. For the current year the Arts Commission will award about 35 cents per capita. An additional $500,000 in one-time funds appropriated by the General Assembly in 2012 would have brought grants to 43 cents per capita, but when the surplus fell short of projections, the additional funds were lost. By comparison, the State Library is at $1.46 per capita in state aid to subdivisions this year. While these new funds would provide a substantial increase to local arts organizations, schools, and other community arts providers that receive Arts Commission grants, this would still not bring the Commission’s grantmaking back to its FY2008 level (more than $3 million).

    The functions of the Arts Commission would be performed by the State Museum beginning FY 2013-2014.
    The positions of the Arts Commission’s Executive Director and their Commission would be eliminated.
    The State Museum would take over the Arts Commission’s grantmaking program.
    Administration and salaries associated with the Arts Commission would be cut by 30%
    Under the Governor’s proposal, the Arts Commission would be eliminated. Without an officially designated arts agency or department with its own commission, board or council, South Carolina would not qualify for funding from the National Endowment for the Arts ($800,000 to $1 million annually. Coupled with the proposed reduction in state funds to support the remnants of the Arts Commission’s functions transferred to the State Museum, this loss would be devastating. For this and many reasons, the Governor’s plan would be the wrong direction for the arts in South Carolina. Our citizens deserve better.

    Although we are not putting out a call to action at this time, we did want you to be aware that the stakes are high in the fight to preserve state arts funding. Please click HERE for additional information and talking point related to the Arts Commission’s budget request and HERE for a response to the Governor’s proposal by the Arts Commission.

    What can you do to help at this time? Plan to attend Arts Advocacy Day on February 5th at the Statehouse and/or the Legislative Appreciation Luncheon at the Capital City Club with your legislators and arts supporters from around the state. Come meet the newest Legislative Arts Caucus Co-chairs and enjoy a performance by the Logan Elementary Honor Choir. If you can’t be with us in Columbia, you can always contact your legislator in support of all that Arts Advocacy Day stands for – a day to celebrate and appreciate the vibrant community arts programs and services and innovative school arts programs throughout our state – and to thank legislators who have been supportive of the arts and arts education for a better South Carolina. We will need their support again this year!

    You can find a contact list for the General Assembly at the Arts Alliance website: http://www.scartsalliance.net or go to http://www.scstatehouse.gov to learn who represents you in at the Statehouse and how to contact them.

  23. Burl Burlingame

    Yep, “away” is correct. But still not sure how I made a “personal attack.” Or how KF did so also.

  24. Doug Ross

    $ 1 million dollars for an unelected commission to spend as they see fit? I don’t think so. Too much cronyism and personal bias there.

    1. Phillip

      Doug, I don’t know exactly how all grants are decided by the Arts Commission, but I believe a substantial portion have the applications reviewed by panels of outsiders, i.e., not people from South Carolina with a potential connection or conflict of interest. I know that when I received an Artist Fellowship from the Arts Commission 3 or 4 years ago, my portfolio was reviewed by people from out-of-state.

      Where there might be greater questions than the Arts Commission which I think is run very honestly and professionally, might be at the local level. There is some overlap, for example, between staff of particular institutions and members of the Hospitality Tax granting committee. Whether people recuse themselves from certain decisions or not, I really don’t know.

  25. Kathryn Fenner

    Burl, I think we dissed the governor. My point is that a systematizer as our governor seems to be might not value or even understand the arts.

    1. Steven Davis II

      I’m curious as to what Burl has to say about his own governor. He seems awful concerned about a governor in a state that he doesn’t even live in. Why SC, why not Idaho or New Hampshire?

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Because he likes this blog. They probably don’t have blogs this good in Idaho or New Hampshire.

        And I’m flattered he likes it enough to hang out here. Burl was one of the cool kids in my high school class (whereas I was on my third high school, and didn’t get to know anybody well until close to the end of our senior year). I figure maybe some of the other cool kids will want to hang out here, too, since he does. Hey, it COULD happen…

        1. Steven Davis II

          ” Burl was one of the cool kids in my high school class”

          Probably the saddest thing I’ve ever read on this blog.

          1. Burl Burlingame

            Likely because Haley’s rampant and arrogant idiocy is a nationwide concern.

            There. NOW I’ve dissed the governor.

            Oh, and many people in America are interested in other parts of America.

          2. Steven Davis II

            “Likely because Haley’s rampant and arrogant idiocy is a nationwide concern.”

            You give her way too much credit.

            “There. NOW I’ve dissed the governor. ”

            I’m sure her feelings are hurt.

            “Oh, and many people in America are interested in other parts of America.”

            So you picked South Carolina over 48 other states.

  26. Burl Burlingame

    There’s only one problem with female politicians — you can’t use the old saw about heat and kitchens without sounding sexist.

    1. Burl Burlingame

      What’s funny about this is that, in Hawaii this year, the REPUBLICANS are trying mightily to pass marijuana legalization and preferred-crop bills. They smell the potential profits. With any luck, Kona Gold won’t just be coffee any more.

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