Tuesday, June 8, 2010

More on grants and cultural funding…

In my previous post about Chamber Music America I mentioned that I had encountered some strange ideas in the jazz blogosphere with regard to grants and funding. I was surprised to find that not everyone thinks it's a good idea. We're not talking about the political right and left (at least I don't think so) as much as we seem to be dealing with a nostalgic regret over jazz having become detached from it's popular/folk music roots, apparently with the assistance of grants.

I really don't want to dredge all that up, honestly. But I responded to a recent blog post on the NPR website regarding this topic and thought I'd mention what I see as being a fundamental misunderstanding about the market for jazz or any other cultural art form in the US. Intertwined with the aforementioned lament about jazz having become an art-music there seems to be a lingering sentiment that in order to get closer to those lost roots jazz ought to be, if not dependent upon, at least tied to some degree to the so called "free market". In my view that argument is fundamentally flawed in as much as there really is no such thing as a "free market". At every level, starting with the largest of corporations, the government offers every manner of subsidy, tax break and pork-barrel spending imaginable. In spite of all the anti-socialist rhetoric from the right it's apparent that even they don't believe in free markets. So why should I? They would tell us that we in the arts need to survive in that imaginary free-market world, as if we all didn't know that the deck is heavily stacked against us.

I don't agree with everything our government spends money on. No one does. But that is in fact the true nature of our economy. And so we must continue to fight for what's left of our culture and demand that the nation's artistic and musical traditions not be left to die a slow death in the name of the almighty dollar. Despite the arguments pro and con regarding public and private support of the arts, within the political and economic structure that we live in, the music will not survive without such assistance.

Given the tone of my post I should point out that I dislike rants and negativity. However, if I see sentiments such as the ones I've described, I can't help but weigh in, especially when they come from inside the jazz world. But I don't want end on a depressing note. Let's look at the greater context. For example, in spite of all difficulties, it's amazing to me to realize how much good and positive work is currently being done by so many people under so many different sets of circumstances. I'm going to make it my business from time to time on this blog to mention and promote those people and projects that uplift my life in the hopes that they might do the same for you.


  1. I’d like to respond to what Ellery posted on his blog (More on grants and cultural funding… June 8, 2010). I agree with him when he writes that public and private subsidies have to guarantee the chance for artists – young or mature – to carry out some degree of activity. But subsidies are not enough. Financing artists can only be a portion of the transformation process of societies towards a fairer world. For example in Italy, my country – where we live in a critical situation in terms of the support to contemporary arts, partly due to the high cost imposed by the huge historical artistic heritage – only too rarely banks and a few private companies sponsor artistic activities for advertisement. None of them ever considered starting to address these initiatives also to their employees, starting up plans for cultural education of their own staff in parallel. A musician, with or without financial aid, needs to sell his/her music and to achieve this an audience capable of appreciating and participating into what he/she is proposing has to exist.
    Finally I believe it is a bit naive to think that “it's apparent that even they don't believe in free markets”. After all it’s not really important knowing whether the economic-financial oligarchies believe in free markets or not. What’s important is what they do or will do, their “repetition compulsion”, being aware that the “sprinkle” of welfare (on our shoulders) will only allow them to continue the mad rush towards profit. The only choice is standing up to them, “continue to fight”, contriving original solutions and methods, creating aggregation and sharing hotspots.
    Ciao! Fabio Martini

  2. Hello Fabio,
    Thanks for your comments.

    I do find it necessary to point out that that our economic system here in the US is not a free market. Our conservative political wing in particular pretends to emphasize so called "laissez faire" solutions all the while participating in and condoning enormous corporate subsidies, tax breaks and government spending. And yet a sizable portion of the citizenry here still seem to believe their empty rhetoric when it comes to rationalizing why we should not fund the arts. It may seem naive to folks in Europe for me to have to point this out but this is often the level of political discourse that we have to contend with in the US.

  3. I'm in Canada, where the bulk of the arts-funding (probably more than 90%) comes from various levels of government grant programs.
    I make my living playing the drums, writing music and doing freelance grant-writing, often for individual artists seeking funding for recording, touring, etc.

    I actually take issue with many of the available grants here in Canada; I think too much money gets squandered on artists with no drive to actually finish their work and/or make it available publicly. To me, the underlying purpose of a government arts grant is to enrich the collective culture of the country (who funded it in the first place). This does not mean that such art has to be patriotic or made on a grand scale to reach the masses, it just has to be true to itself and actually exist for anyone to seek out, not squandered on a hard-drive or a tape reel in someone's closet.

    To that end, that is why I got into grant-writing. I figured that as long as the grants exist, why not do my part to make sure the money was well-spent on great art and artists? To me, if the funded work is of quality and sincerity, that will resonate culturally and the validity of funding such ventures becomes unquestionable.

  4. Thanks Chris…seems odd to me that many musicians would leave their work unfinished or unheard. But then I live in NYC where drive is a prerequisite. I agree with you that it is the culture that is to be enriched by the use of public monies.