In light of a seeming end of publicly funded art, it is important for artists and curators to think more seriously about legitimate alternatives to public funding. Public funding of the arts in the UK came into existence in 1948 with John Maynard Keynes’ establishment of the Arts Council, there was no policy driven or comprehensive public funding of the arts (or anything else, pretty much) before that. Now we can ask a question, were there no arts before? I am quite sure any person can answer this with a definite ‘no’, and in fact we can still say that the greatest art in history probably came before 1948.
Looking at the history of music, you can see that most if not all the great composers and musicians we know of had some sort of support from an individual or from an institution – a wealthy aristocrat, the Church, or even a monarch with a liking for art. Palestrina, Monteverdi, Beethoven, Mozart, all created work for specific people and organisations.
In a way, this makes life harder for artists – as hard as it is to write a good Arts Council application, it is even harder to find individuals with money that are interested in funding a project, but in the end it is individuals who appreciate art, not the Arts Council, and it is the individuals that appreciate art who should pay for art.
Another unintended consequence of public funding is public perception of paying artists for their work. The more the idea that public funding is normal is ingrained in the minds of people, the more people think they don’t need to pay anything to experience art and assume that art is always paid by someone else.
We do not need more public funding in the arts, we need more talented fundraisers in the arts that will work with artists and organisations and help them not only get funding for their projects, but to shape a culture of voluntary giving to the arts, and an understanding that just like everything else in this world, art costs time, and time costs money.