Aren’t education budgets the easiest things for government planners to cut corners with — especially arts education budgets? If you took the Ring money and gave it to the schools this year, what do you bet that in two years there’s no money for either Ring cycles or schools? Isn’t it harder to cut the opera budget, since so many of the rich and powerful are invested in making themselves look good within the construct of City Hall? Is high-end classical music perhaps a bit politically defensible after all, just as a way to keep serious arts money in state budgets somehow?
…before continuing, “Ian David Moss: you’ve linked to Byrne’s piece, got anything to say about this?”
Here’s what I got, bro. First, without statistics on national arts education budget trends at the ready, I can’t really comment on whether the assumption/perception that they are the first things to get cut is actually true or not. They may be the first things to get cut relative to other subjects taught in K-12 schools, but the comparison here is with high-budget professional performances. The difference, of course, is that arts education in K-12 schools is entirely funded by the government, typically, whereas it’s quite rare in the United States for public funds to account for more than a small percentage of a performing/presenting institution’s budget. So it’s a bit of an apples-and-oranges comparison to start with. That said, it’s probably not too far off the mark in a very general sense to say that (grand) opera funding is less vulnerable than arts ed funding, for exactly the reasons Iverson describes. The crux of this line of thinking, though, is the last question: whether this translates into defensibility because it keeps money in the arts. For me, I think the answer is no, because the argument puts the cart before the horse. Serious arts money in state budgets is a means to an end, not an end in itself. If the only way to keep the money there is to fund things that arguably don’t need the money and leave out things that do, then as a taxpayer I’d rather see my dollars go somewhere else (including, perhaps, back to my pocket, so that I can make my own decisions about what needs the most support). Ethan does make some good points about the weird anti-intellectual bent in Byrne’s piece, but with respect to the philanthropic wisdom of this investment, I couldn’t agree more with DB.