Corrections or additions?
This article was prepared for the March 12, 2003 edition of U.S. 1
Simon Saltzman on Funding for the Arts
Governor McGreevey’s proposal to eliminate the New
Jersey State Council on the Arts, thereby cutting $18 million in
to 700 arts groups (and probably incurring an additional loss of $2
million in federal grants) for arts and culture, prompted his
Ellen Mellody to tell a gathering of arts leaders: "It’s hard
to justify hanging a picture on the wall when you can’t put food on
What is most troubling about this statement is the notion that anyone
would equate the arts with "putting a picture on the wall."
With all due respect for the governor, who has (according to Mellody)
"been forced to cut programs near and dear to his heart,"
it is possible the he and our legislators are being purposefully and
artfully (no pun intended) duplicitous.
That this drastic proposal has been planned as a justification for
a tax increase would not surprise anyone and frankly is anticipated.
However, in our politicians’ attempt to confront a budget deficit
spiraling out of control, they are also telling us there is no
between support for art and culture and the basic necessities of life.
The statements I quote, while they may seem to be in one case
and in the other gratuitous, also suggest what may be at the root
of our state’s, indeed our nation’s, callous and shortsighted reaction
and response to the needs and purposes of our non-profit arts and
McGreevey’s draconian proposal implies that there may be more to it
than a simple lack of money. It doesn’t take an analyst to see how
anger, frustration, and power (consider his thwarted attempt to remove
a poet from his appointed post) is more of a motivating force than
is a clear-headed attempt to approach the problem with the active
input and alliance of a committed arts council. Although not consulted
beforehand, the administrators at the New Jersey State Council on
the Arts, and ArtPride New Jersey, an advocacy group, may have helped
provide just the kind of imaginative and dedicated know-how needed
to initiate skilled and equitable solutions to the budget crunch.
Since New Jersey is not the only state to embark on a wholesale
of arts funding, it might help to understand how and why such a
perception exists between life’s daily necessities and our artistic
and cultural needs. To this end, I spoke with Steven J. Tepper, deputy
director of the Princeton University Center for Arts and Cultural
Policy Studies (CACPS). The center, created in 1994 by Stanley N.
Katz, a Wilson School professor and historian of constitutional law
and of philanthropy, and Paul DiMaggio, sociology professor and
director, is dedicated to informing the development and implementation
of policies related to arts and culture.
Tepper specializes in various "culture wars." For his
in sociology, he researched conflicts over art and culture in 100
American cities. I asked if his study produced any particularly
"What was revealed," says Tepper, "was that the conflicts
are generally bigger than the particular art or cultural expression
being targeted. Provocative art provokes people. Looking underneath
the art, one can find the lightning rods for deeper anxieties and
tensions within a community. People take out their frustrations on
Tepper is currently at work on a book — an extension of his
— in which he attempts to understand and explain the conflicts
over art, history, and education in America.
"Working with other colleagues I have been trying to understand
the state of American theater, the extent to which we see innovation
and new plays, where that happens, and why," he says. "We’ve
also been doing a case study of a new law in Chicago that shut down
`rave’ events (the all-night dance parties with electronic music).
The mayor passed a bill that made it a criminal act to be a DJ for
these events. We have since interviewed about 35 people on both sides
of the debate — government officials, police officers, DJs, and
others. We are trying to explain this conflict and what has been the
consequence of the law."
Would Tepper be willing to make a personal statement about Governor
McGreevey’s proposal to slash arts funding in New Jersey? "The
amount of money given to the arts is so insignificant," he replies
emphatically, "that the governor’s proposal has to be considered
"One could make a political science hypothesis on how this serves
the governor," he continues. "Making the arts the sacrificial
lamb probably makes it easier for him to cut other programs. It makes
it easier for him to say to other groups that their cuts could have
been worse. Used as a symbol, the arts can be seen as important to
the people. The unintended signal he gives is about what we value
as a society and how the arts are not valuable enough to keep even
at a minimal amount."
Although many organizations take a stand on whether
art should continue to be a priority in the face of a budget crisis,
Tepper confirms that the CACPS "steers clear of getting into any
kind of advocacy position. We need to gather more information about
the cultural sector, so that when events like this come about we will
be better prepared to know what the consequences are."
Since the question of the economic impact of the arts is everywhere,
I ask Tepper for his opinion of Stephen Kinzer’s reporting in the
New York Times (February 20). In an examination of major arts funding
cuts in Arizona, Missouri, and New Jersey, "studies conducted
over the last few years have shown that spending on arts programs
produces handsome economic returns, and many state officials have
come to agree that supporting these programs is a wise
In this vein, in a campaign to restore funding, ArtPride New Jersey
states that the non-profit arts and history are vital "because
they produce a $1.5 billion impact on the economy; employ 17,000
attract 21 million people to 14,000 events annually; and return over
$90 million in state taxes."
"Right now, despite what other economic impact studies choose
to say," Tepper replies, "we do not have evidence that we
[CACPS] can marshal to say this will be the result."
He makes it clear that CACPS is an advocate solely for research. But
does this research tend, or rather is it designed, to strengthen the
position of those who are advocates for the arts? Is there any area
of research that gives ammunition to the opponents of arts support?
"We hope we pick a research project that will be of interest and
salient to the arts community and policy makers, but we would just
as easily publish things that the arts community would prefer not
to have published," he says. He cites "research that debunks
the economic impact studies. Those studies, although popular and
are flawed and the information unsubstantiated."
Does Tepper know of any studies that conclude that
is actually better off without having any kind of standard
"Not empirical studies based on data," he says, "but there
are certainly philosophical arguments to that end." He also
why most people are confused and confounded by the various systems
that support art in this country.
"It’s very decentralized and there are a lot of blurry boundaries
between high art and low art," says Tepper. "Non-profits are
often acting more like commercial entities with the reverse also true.
One of the studies the center would like to do is to map out and
how the cultural system works in New Jersey, and how the funding
"Had we done that two years ago," he continues, "we would
be in better position now to say: With a particular part of the
shut off, who is likely to thrive and who is likely to suffer? If
we knew more about how the arts work in New Jersey, we would have
the data to supply to policy makers who would then have a better idea
of what they were doing."
Tepper’s guess as to the most significant losses for the state’s many
"Most would have to drop community outreach, community focused
programs, programs for children, and rely on their own earned income.
The performing arts will have to be a lot more conservative and focus
on what gets people into seats and not risk a new play; while the
visual arts are not likely to take a chance on exhibiting a new
What we will see is a less creative and expansive New Jersey."
In 1999, Tepper responded to a New York Times op-ed piece by Alice
Goldfarb Marquis with a letter in which he wrote: "Marquis argues
that we don’t need a `national policy’ for arts and culture because
they are too diverse and amorphous and because there are plenty of
signs of increasing support for them. But diversity can be, and often
is, the explicit goal of cultural policy. Moreover, we cannot assume
that a laissez-faire approach is the best way to insure variety."
While it is fair to say that the institutions, groups, and individuals
who benefit from the limited largess (excuse the oxymoron) of various
grants and provide an essential need, it is also true that our federal
and state governments have never considered it as part of their
to encourage the visionaries and artists who continually define for
us what makes life meaningful. Roman Polanski, the director of the
Oscar-nominated "The Pianist," said about his film, "It
was a way to show how the pursuit of art can overcome life’s
that music and art help someone go through difficult, sometimes the
Tepper recommends an unusual upcoming lecture on the economics of
happiness by University of Zurich professor Bruno Frey, Thursday,
March 27. Frey’s research has shown that economics is only one part
of a people’s sense of well-being. According to Tepper, Frey’s studies
disclose that in many countries where incomes have gone up, the sense
of well-being has gone down. In short, we concur that we shouldn’t
be confronted with a choice between hanging a painting or putting
food on the table. Both acts are significant and essential.
Studies, 429 Robertson Hall, 609-258-5023.
University, Robertson Hall. Bruno Frey, University of Zurich.
Thursday, March 27, 4:30 p.m.
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