The Bruce High Quality Foundation have responded to my post critiquing their Teach 4 Amerika stop in Philadelphia. Please read the full text here:
I was thrilled with their response, even though I still think they are off base. Below is my reply, also posted in the comment section of their blog post:
First of all, thank you for engaging with this topic and taking the time to respond to my critique. I am also glad to hear that I am not the only one who voiced a concern of a similar nature. I could not agree with you more that to be an artist and to present art for the right reasons is a moral imperative. But what I was reacting to in my original post was the impression that I got from your presentation that even mentioning money or economic value is to denigrate the arts in some way, which I thought was either naïve utopianism, to lift one of your descriptors, or textbook contrarianism. You seemed to be more interested in subverting the existing systems that you felt had done wrong by you, rather than trying to improve or repair them, in your advocating for the type of antiestablishment model that BHQFU represents. I found this attitude unhelpful to a larger public and ultimately self-serving.
Now it seems that you acknowledge the importance of public funding for the arts, even though chasing after and distributing public funds for the arts is a labor-intensive process fraught with agonizing bureaucracy, and the recent federal budget battles mean the outlook for the NEA and NEH is hopeless. Are you asking: why even bother? It is not necessary for me to debate with any of the Tea Party/Conservative devil’s advocate playing here, because I know that this is not what you believe. In my own idealist fantasy, public funding the arts would never be looked at as a political issue or a superfluous luxury; it would be universally accepted as providing access to a basic human right.
However, I fully embrace that our free market system means that corporations and individuals can contribute to the arts at the highest level they choose, make stipulations for the use of the money, and demand to be acknowledged in a certain way. I concede that I am a Development person, so something like Target Free Nights (we have these in Philadelphia at the Franklin Institute, too) does not bother me in the way it may rankle you. It is an outward signifier that the leadership of the Target Corporation, or any company that sponsors an event or series, sees the value of the arts and makes a commitment to culturally enriching the lives of people in places where it maintains a business presence. I am not naïve enough to think they are doing it for nothing. They have a right to want people to be aware of their contribution, just as a person who gives money to endow a curator position or pay for a new museum wing wants his or her name in the title. I do not have a problem with this; I do have a problem with an institution accepting money that may have ridiculous reporting guidelines, strings attached that hobble the fulfillment of mission or lead to “mission creep,” or specifically support a program that inordinately benefits the gifting entity. I also disagree with accepting money from a company that has a poor public image or reprehensible corporate values (e.g. BP).
It is not wrong to lead the fight for the arts with the economic argument. You astutely mentioned that in the halls of Congress, the economy has taken precedence over all other debates. Citing the model of the arts as an economic stimulator gets a foot in the door with officials who want to know what good this will do to helping their constituents and to getting themselves reelected. It does not stain the nobler elements of the arts to report on well-researched data that demonstrates the substantial financial impact that the arts generate in a community. The economic imperative is the tactic that works today; the “Great Nation” claim that inspired the NEA’s creation, though still credible, is no longer compelling to those in a public arena. You do not have to soil your hands with championing the economic effects of the arts if you do not want to do so; leave that to arts administrators and arts advocates. But do not reject us outright, because we share motives and goals that have everything in common. If I did not think that the arts are the most fundamentally important thing in life besides physiological human needs, there is no reason that I would be in this profession.