Why Arts Funding Needs The Viagra Approach

There’s a lot of talk in Ireland at the moment about state support for the arts, or lack of. This is because we’ve had a bloom of homely politicians taking photo opportunities with various literary prize-winners, Oscar nominees and theatrical trailblazers, whilst simultaneously, members of both current and past governments have been systematically reducing arts funding to almost every sector (except historical anniversary celebrations).

For most people, investment in the arts comes somewhere lower in the hierarchy of needs than botox injections. It’s nice to have them, says the taxpayer. Indeed, we probably look better when we have them. But do we really need them, when hospitals resemble mental institutions in 1873, and small children can’t get a school place?

Yet much like other political and public discourse, it all depends on where you’re starting from. And as the fella says, I wouldn’t start from there.

Why Arts Funding Needs The Viagra Approach

Whose Pocket Is It Anyway?

When we think of funding for cultural activity, we’re tempted to think of that particular government minister who got the Arts portfolio because they wanted something else, but were never going to get within an ass’s roar of it since they were overheard calling the party leader a poo in a suit. Or the guy in local government who has responsibility for allocating bursaries to everyone from writers to sculptors, and whose idea of a good play is a young man’s foot connecting with a ball.

The way much of current funding is allocated makes about as much sense as a bank does when it’s justifying a mortgage rate hike. The logic is questionable, the apathy is palpable, and the self-interest is clear as a bell.

But let’s make a little parallel here, and try a different approach. Instead, let’s try to think of an artist like a chemist in a big pharmaceutical company.

Discovery 101

Let’s say this chemist makes a little discovery. In the middle of a trial for a drug which is supposed to treat angina by affecting blood flow, she discovers that male test patients are reporting a very different side-effect to the drug. An excitable result, let’s say. An effect which makes wearing tight trousers at work a problem for everyone except actors in the adult entertainment industry.

She develops these findings, and the end result (following one hell of a cash injection into the project) is a blockbuster drug for erectile dysfunction which makes an absolute killing for the company.

Incidentally, the drug doesn’t work for angina. But absolutely no-one cares.

Why Arts Funding Needs The Viagra Approach

For every scientist who finds a blockbuster drug, or even a less exciting drug which simply earns its keep with a tidy profit, there are hundreds of other drugs which never make it through chemical trials. Some cost billions before they end up being shelved, never to earn one teeny tiny little cent for their makers. But the risk is incorporated into an R&D budget which is understood to produce both winners and losers. Because you can’t find winners without also developing the also-rans.

For every Oscar-nominated director, there are thousands of filmmakers who are willing to work, often for very little money, in the hopes that they will get to stand on a stage some day in a tux. For every poet who wins an international prize, there are hundreds who find that poetry collections are unlikely to ever earn them a penny.

But a more important argument for public administrators is that for every commercially produced piece of art, there are supporting artists, working in production; logistics; hospitality; marketing; distribution; sales; tourism, and a hundred other related professions, whose net contribution to the economy is more than all the local and national politicians and their families put together, times a thousand (million).

Have These People Never Heard Of Double-Entry Accounting?

Commercial cultural ventures are a double win for a government, because workers pay tax, but also don’t seek unemployment benefit (even if they were entitled to it, which many aren’t). Not only that, but the vast majority of workers in the arts get paid little and have relatively poor working conditions: yet they accept this and still choose to do it. What other industry would get away with this?

For any art to be commercially produced, it must first be developed. Nobody wants to fund stuff that is clearly bonkers. But there’s a big difference between allocating funding to get infant projects off the ground, and stepping in at the last minute when something is already fully-formed, seeing it’s got the potential to go large, and proudly announcing that you’ve been behind it all along. (Which happens a lot in Ireland – in film especially.)

Why Arts Funding Needs The Viagra Approach

Not all art can be successful. Not all art can be great. As with every industry, we need some also-rans, pedants, piggy-backers, stick-in-the-muds, grunt workers and followers in order to produce an eventual blockbuster. (I work in the financial sector, and I can confidently say that I’ve never worked with anyone or anything which could be even vaguely described in genius or blockbuster terms. And yet government support is legion.)

It’s time to stop thinking about the arts as something we need or don’t need; or something successful or unsuccessful. In this – the centenary of Ireland’s Rising – let’s think about the arts as Viagra. Because just like Viagra, cultural pursuits are:

  1. Not anticipated, until actually there
  2. Considered essential by some, but not all people
  3. In the end, directly responsible for a torrential flow of employment, tax revenue, and well-being.

Plus, it’s a growth industry. I’ll stop now.

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  41 comments for “Why Arts Funding Needs The Viagra Approach

  1. June 2, 2016 at 8:29 am

    This could have been written about Australia – Arts Minister photo op with Oscar winner – check: said minister with Cate Blanchett one day, slashing budget of Australia Council (for the Arts) the next. Historical celebration – check: centenary of Gallipoli landings – cartoonist Michael Leunig’s description, “They’ve put a big thumping hoon outboard motor on the back of a tragedy.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 2, 2016 at 9:48 am

      I’m glad it travels, Kathy, if only because misery loves company. Sounds like your centenary of Gallipoli is on a par with our Easter Rising celebrations. I’m surprised more politicians didn’t get black eyes in the scramble to take credit for an event which ultimately killed a lot of people.

      Like

  2. June 2, 2016 at 9:30 am

    Ireland’s still better than the UK. Fear we are and always have been a nation of philistines. *going into the garden to eat worms*

    As for Gallipoli landings as a photo opportunity for anyone, let alone politicians – the blood boils.

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 2, 2016 at 9:49 am

      Yep, Jenny, it’s disgusting, isn’t it? Worms for everyone. I like mine with a dash of tabasco, incidentally. You?

      Like

  3. June 2, 2016 at 9:41 am

    But Tara you can’t spend too much money on historical celebrations! No one ever gets sick of those. I certainly didn’t request these from my disgusted fella – http://www.broadsheet.ie/2015/04/01/1916-plugged/

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 2, 2016 at 9:59 am

      Those are BRILLIANT, Donna. Why didn’t I get some of those? Although I did fashion my own 1916 Centenary Tedium Blinkers. They blocked everything in black & white or khaki, which was a bit unfortunate, given this season’s fashion trends.

      Liked by 1 person

      • June 2, 2016 at 10:02 am

        🙂 I love it! I got 1916 fatigue about 3 years ago. Himself thinks I’m going straight to hell for all the eye rolling I’ve done this year. Those blinkers would’ve hidden it well for me.

        Liked by 1 person

        • June 2, 2016 at 10:06 am

          I’ll post them to you. It’s never too late, and they’re still bloody banging on about it anyway.

          Like

  4. Sue Bridgwater
    June 2, 2016 at 10:20 am

    Reblogged this on Skorn.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. June 2, 2016 at 11:09 am

    Thanks Tara. For hatching the everlasting association between Heather Humphries and a hard-on.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. June 2, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    A serious post, Tara? Are you Tara? 🙂 This applies equally to the US. Our arts budget is zip except in the schools where it’s also plummeting. 80% of funding for our school’s arts program is through community donations and fundraising events. It’s really sad because children are losing the opportunity to explore whether this is something they enjoy (personally or professionally) and the world loses some potentially fabulous artists. A shot of viagra would be great and you’re right, it’s not a black hole – arts strengthens community in multiple ways.

    Like

    • June 2, 2016 at 2:39 pm

      I know it’s a shock. But come on, I threw some Viagra in there. Imagine if I’d made it a life-saving drug! Which cured children! That wouldn’t have been funny at all.

      I got the impression things were rather worse in the US, but I’m not sure you’ve ever had a culture – pardon the pun – of state-sponsored arts funding, whereas it’s noticeably being withdrawn here, prompting a public outcry. Still doesn’t deter the grabby photos though.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. June 2, 2016 at 5:18 pm

    You make a strong case, Tara. I realize that from the government’s point of view, it would be cheaper and more convenient all round if the literary geniuses of the age would simply announce themselves at birth, but that’s not how it happens, generally speaking.

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 3, 2016 at 9:41 am

      They don’t listen, Bun. I sent out a press release with my first 6 poems when I was 8 days old, and nobody took a blind bit of notice. The government doesn’t want to hear from the people, that’s the problem.

      Liked by 1 person

      • June 3, 2016 at 3:11 pm

        Another shocking case of government neglect. (I’m shaking my head and saying, “Tut tut tut” as I type.)

        Liked by 1 person

  8. June 2, 2016 at 8:42 pm

    I might be in a position to commission works of art soon. I’m looking forward to the ‘applying for funding bit.’ Thanks to economic growth and the government’s austerity measures, the UK is currently awash with money for the arts; in fact, there’s so much money they’re now making it out of plastic to stop it blowing away in the wind.

    When you say you work in the financial sector, is that a subtle way of saying we can come to you for a sub before pay day?

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 3, 2016 at 11:14 am

      You can come to me anytime, Chris. The answer is generally no, but I say it really well, sometimes in avant garde ways. The financial ‘no’ actually evolved into its own tonal language following the financial crisis. Not many people know that. I’m glad you’ll be getting lots of arts funding in the UK. After Brexit, we’ll all be even more jealous.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. June 3, 2016 at 11:09 pm

    Well said, Tara, it’s a pity it would fall on deaf ears if it reached the appropriate heads. About thirty years ago we had a German neighbour who gave up a teaching career in his own country to live in Clare and raise sheep and goats. He told us back then, that the education system he was part of had an agenda to churn out factory fodder, not creative members of society. If the system was to encourage the arts and nourish the natural creativity of children they would not be satisfied with mind-numbing labour, so funding for the arts, particularly in second level education, had been drastically reduced. This was his impression at the time. Only those students who could afford the after school private classes had the opportunity to explore their artistic talents. This teacher was so disillusioned with it all he gave up teaching altogether. He was very impressed with Ireland’s inclusion of the arts at all levels of the education system, but ‘prophetically’ he wondered how long it might last.

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 8, 2016 at 11:14 am

      Again apologies for the delay to posting your comment, Jean…. I’ll be having words with the Akismet people (and a few slaps). It seems to me that Ireland’s inclusion of the arts in education is by accident rather than design. All the teachers I had who led creative endeavours did so on their own time, after school, and sometimes even at their own expense. I was very lucky to have such good people in my life, and I’m not sure there’s many can afford to do that now. There’s also a lot of discussion in the UK at the moment about how the crop of leading young actors come from extremely affluent backgrounds. They’re the only ones who can afford to take the risk.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. June 5, 2016 at 12:47 am

    Aw… you stepped off your soapbox to early… I was enjoying that. Most people think of books, plays, music, dance, art, movies etc as nice to have but not essential. Strip all that creative stuff away though, and what are you left with? A dull monotonous life with no hope. It seems to me that actually they are very much needed for our sanity and well being. But then I would say that…

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 5, 2016 at 9:04 pm

      But of course you would say that, Ali. Because you’re right! I didn’t want to get off the soapbox, but there’s been quite a few new readers around here lately and I was afraid of scaring them off. I’d like a few weeks to do that. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • June 7, 2016 at 3:05 pm

        I dont think there’s much you could do to scare anyone away, Tara, unless it was to dress up in your 80s suit again… that was pretty scary!

        Liked by 1 person

        • June 8, 2016 at 8:40 am

          Scariest thing is that similar pink pleather skirts are still appearing in shops, Ali. It’s a conspiracy…

          Liked by 1 person

          • June 8, 2016 at 8:51 am

            Well then I hope you held on to your original item… it may be valuable on the collectors market. Although it’s hard to imagine…

            Liked by 1 person

            • June 8, 2016 at 11:06 am

              I may have trouble tracking it down, Ali, seeing as it landed in a charity shop approximately 15 minutes after I took it off! Who knows? Perhaps Penneys made more of them. I hear they’re not that exclusive.

              Like

              • June 8, 2016 at 12:47 pm

                And there was me thinking it was an exclusive one off design made by your granny…

                Liked by 1 person

                • June 8, 2016 at 12:55 pm

                  Please don’t remind me of the granny in pleather incident. It’s a sore point.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • June 8, 2016 at 12:57 pm

                    Lol! I don’t even want that picture in m mind! Aaaargh! Too late…😣

                    Liked by 1 person

  11. June 6, 2016 at 11:46 am

    Only you could have made THAT connection! A growth industry indeed…

    Liked by 1 person

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