I may have to rethink my pessimistic assessment of David Cameron. As I’ve noted before, he strikes me as a George-Bush-style big-government faux conservative. But according to this Washington Post article, the coalition government in the UK may impose some real budget cuts (as opposed to phony Washington-type cuts that are just reductions in planned increases) on arts funding. The right level of subsidies for art is zero, of course, so I’m sure I’ll still be disappointed, but if Cameron can do the same thing across the budget and actually shrink the burden of government spending to less than 45 percent of GDP, I may be in a position of having to (cheerfully) admit that I was wrong. Here’s an excerpt from the story.
The art scene exploded in Britain over the past decade…. The fuel for that boom: a surge in generosity from Britain’s single biggest patron of the arts — the government.
But now cash-strapped and desperate to slash the largest budget deficit in Europe, the new ruling coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats is moving to close the curtain on an era of what they describe as excessive government patronage.
The coalition is preparing to cut arts funding so dramatically that it could sharply reduce or sever the financial lifelines for hundreds of cultural institutions from the National Theatre to the British Museum.
The cuts would be more than a temporary fix. Officials are calling for a permanent shift toward the U.S. model of private philanthropy as the main benefactor of the arts…
The move underscores the profound changes in the role of government that are taking place from Greece to Spain to Britain. It happens as European nations scramble to rein in runaway spending, in part by slashing public funds to sectors that came to survive — even thrive — because of them.
In Britain, public aid to theaters, museums and other institutions jumped from $654 million in 2000 to $876 million this year…
…[T]he budget cuts to the arts are a small part of a broader push by the coalition government to slash spending and right Britain’s finances over the next four years.
…[C]ritics say the cuts to arts funding — cultural leaders say they have been warned that reductions could reach 40 percent over four years — appear set to be among the deepest.
…Large arts institutions in Britain often garner more than 50 percent of their budgets from public funds, compared with roughly 10 percent for major institutions in the United States. That is precisely what the British government says must change. Although the cuts have not yet been detailed, some organizations, including the UK Film Council, are already in the process of being shut down. The government has also demanded major institutions come up with contingency plans for 25 to 30 percent reductions in public funding.
Officials from the ruling coalition are openly calling for a shift to U.S.-style fundraising to fill the gap. But critics insist it could take a generation or more to open the wallets of the British elite. Compared with the United States, there is a relatively small culture of philanthropy in Britain, with little special social status bestowed on corporations or wealthy individuals who support the arts.
…[C]ultural leaders are largely resisting the notion of dramatically increased dependence on private funding, pointing to the severe shortfalls U.S. arts institutions faced as donors cut back in the aftermath of the recent financial crisis. They are also opposed on artistic grounds, insisting it would put more pressure on institutions to censor their works.
Spalding, for instance, said it was exactly the independence afforded by government funding that has helped London become a beacon for controversial pieces, such as one staged last year at Sadler’s Wells in which the pope sexually abuses an altar boy through interpretive dance.
I’m particularly amused by the final excerpt about taxpayer subsidies for an interpretive dance about the Pope molesting altar boys. Is Britain so messed up that a moocher like Spalding thinks it is compelling to cite that bit of “art” as an argument for government funding? I imagine that Spalding thinks of himself as bold and brave for being associated with such a production. Does anybody think that this leech would put on a similar production focusing on Mohammed rather than the Pope?