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government spending on the arts

Post #104 • September 11, 2003, 4:27 AM

Allow me to quote myself, circa four months ago:

A bunch of rich people should pay for [the expanded Miami Art Museum in Bayfront Park], not the taxpayers. It would be good on principle if this were a public project, but Miami has a long track record of turning public projects into protracted exercises in money-burning.

Yesterday’s headline story in the Miami Herald was “Arts center flaws may affect acoustics, costs; Quality may drop, price may rise.”

Flaws in Miami’s $265 million Performing Arts Center could compromise its crucial sound quality, delay its opening and drive up its cost by up to $50 million, officials overseeing its construction and management charged Tuesday. ... The [Performing Arts Center Trust] voted unanimously Tuesday to try to have the contractor removed. ... [Gail] Thompson, hired by Miami-Dade County after guiding construction of the Newark, N.J., performing arts center, said she doubts the center’s contractor can fix the problems. “I’m concerned that we’re more involved with repairs than with getting it right the first time.”

After reading about Virginia Postrel, I was struck with the notion that just as postmodernism had a basis in Marxism, and as postwar modernism had a basis in anti-totalitarian sentiments (democracy, albeit by default), the next movement might come out of Libertarianism. Research led me to libertarian.org. Like most political philosophies, Libertarianism has laudable premises.

While libertarians are a diverse group of people with many philosophical starting points, they share a defining belief: that everyone should be free to do as they choose, so long as they don’t infringe upon the equal freedom of others.

Human interaction should be peaceful, voluntary, and honest. It is never acceptable to use physical force to achieve your goals. The only time force is acceptable is when you are defending against force.

Like all political philosophies, its immoderate practitioners are cuckoo.

Although a majority of libertarians do believe that a limited government is probably necessary to carry out certain essential functions such as criminal justice and national defense, individualist anarchists (or “anarcho-capitalists”) believe there is nothing that cannot be done (or even done better) voluntarily.

That doesn’t mean anarcho-capitalists are necessarily pacificists. Most agree that force will always be necessary to defend people and their property, but they argue that defense and security services can be provided in a free market.

Although the site doesn’t say anything explicit about it, I gather that libertarians would oppose government spending on the arts. (They oppose public education, corporate subsidies, minimum wage laws, welfare, and public health care.) It’s hard-assed, but look at what government spending is getting us for a performing arts center. Allow me to quote myself again, circa six months ago:

In principle, [the expanded MAM] should be a civic institution supported by public funds. In practice, Miami has a habit of turning public projects into disasters: cost overruns, cronyism, long delays, hiring Architectonica. The airport, held to be one of the worst in the country, has been under construction since my family moved here in 1975. The Performing Arts Center, bisected by Biscayne Boulevard and delayed by years, was built for five performing companies, three of which are in bankruptcy. (This fact was told to me by a friend who concluded that we will be seeing productions at the PAC like “Smurfs on Ice.”) The Miami Arena resulted in the construction of another arena. The new Miami Children’s Museum (a stuck-in-the-80s architectural fluff piece) and Parrot Jungle are being built on a barrier island. (For a demonstration of why they’re called “barrier islands,” please stay tuned for the next hurricane.) Rich people are rich because they don’t sit around and let their money be wasted, so let them pay for it and we won’t have these problems. The public can show its support during membership drives.

Since then I’ve become even more suspicious about government’s involvement in the arts, as the state works to fix an individual fellowship program that wasn’t broken and the South Florida Cultural Consortium Fellowships become increasingly timid and trend-driven. My views on these matters, I now realize, are somewhat libertarian. I apply for every public grant I can, and I work in a subsidized, below-market\\-rent studio. But I wonder if the face of the art world would change for the better, both its aesthetics and logistics, if artists and museums were forced to find their own constituencies in a free market.

And I wonder if that’s where we’re headed, like it or not.

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