Public funding for the arts is examined in terms of participatory democratic theory
The Unfulfilled Promise
Public Subsidy of the Arts in America
Search the full text of this book
Since the creation of the National Endowment for the Arts in 1965 and the subsequent establishment of state arts agencies, government support of the arts and the recognition of public responsibility for the state of culture in America has become a reality. "Why, then," Edward Arian asks, "after more than two decades of public subsidy at both federal and state levels, have we failed to achieve cultural democracy?" In this book, Arian makes an eloquent appeal for cultural democracy as a national policy and offers a number of successful state and local programs as models.
The Unfulfilled Promise demonstrates that cultural experience is essential for both personal and community development, and for the maintenance of a free and humane society. Therefore, it is a public right, not unlike health or education, and is characterized as such in the enabling legislation of public arts subsidies and agencies. It is clear, however, that public funds, both federal and state, primarily have been used for the gratification of a small elite segment of the population whose cultural milieu is white, Western European, noncontemporary art in traditional, formalized settings. This means that in a country of great cultural pluralism, such as ours, the masses are deprived of the artistic experiences within their own cultures and communities that could be provided by public funding. Moreover, an equally important declared purpose of subsidy, namely, the nurturing and stimulation of our creative artists, is neglected at a great cultural loss.
Arian carefully analyzes what is at stake in the competition for cultural experience and how public support has been coopted through the process of interest group politics. Instead, he proposes a policy of cultural democracy consisting of equal representation in decision making and support for all cultures, increased support directed to the specific needs of creative artists, and democratic participation in funding and program determinations at the local level. He cites numerous successful models at the state and local levels that include a greater appreciation of indigenous state cultures.
"Edward Arian tantalizes with this fascinating...account of the failure of the National Endowment for the Arts to bring culture to the masses.... He certainly raises a number of issues that the arts community will have to confront in the nineties, including those of its relationship with what will doubtless be a more populist, more timorous NEA."
"[Arian] advocates a decentralized course toward cultural democracy that encourages growth of community arts organizations, directly subsidizes creative artists, and deemphasizes public investment in traditional elite performance venues such as symphonies. Arian's bureaucratic prescriptions look like a blueprint for...individual and collective initiatives."
"This important book makes a significant contribution to political science, both in the fields of American Government and political theory. Further, it may well shake up the cultural establishment by becoming a catalyst for democratic reform in this area."
Edward Arian is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and co-director of the Arts Administration Program at Drexel University. A professional musician for more than two decades with the Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Denver Symphony Orchestras, he is the author of Bach, Beethoven, and Bureaucracy: The Case of the Philadelphia Orchestra.