by Chad Higgenbottom
I wish I knew the full answer to why so many within the music world are predominantly left-wing; Thomas Jefferson was a fine violinist, if nothing else. But I believe that one likely culprit is the government – in particular, Mecklenburg County. Through a sort of superficial allegiance to the nourishment of the arts, they have banded together with much of the artistic community to publicly proclaim that further spending on the arts “improves the quality of life for our citizens.”
Mecklenburg County is placing a quarter-cent tax referendum on the ballot this November, and, if passed, it would raise their local sales tax to 7.5 percent. Its sponsors passed off the initiative as yet another dire aid to education, but County Commissioner Bill James offered a more feasible opinion: “I think this is about the fact that the ASC (Arts and Science Council) has a funding problem.” He continued, “Everyone around this dais knows that the chamber and other interested parties have been trying for years how to pry government money out of the taxpayers for the arts.”
So here, we have yet another case of a bureaucracy pulling its bundle of strings to elect their own preferences as the cultural standards of an entire community. In an era where sensitivity training is a reality beyond a Saturday Night Live-type sketch, this initiative doesn’t really seem like a touchdown for the appreciation of diversity. Some people enjoy watercolor exhibits; some are Broadway frequenters; some are “Metalheads” when it comes to music, and the list goes on. Why then would you take money from people on an annual basis to fund projects that they will never care about? Historically, most people under the age of 50 are not going to care much for attending the symphony. I have friends that despise theater arts. More often than not, a farmer from a completely rural background is not going to seek out urban post-modern paintings for personal enjoyment. You have made the elementary mistake, dear commissioners, of assuming that government spending can universalize preferences for the arts from a population of nearly one million into one subsidized category. If you honestly desire for Charlotte to thrive on the basis of its own citizen’s ingenuity, perhaps you should refrain from discriminating against the scores of artists that aren’t apart of your network.
As JLF scholar Roy Cordato reminded me, jazz music, arguably the pinnacle of American art, came into the scene upon its own energy, innovation, and influence. This wasn’t an era where artists could just ask for government donations. Similarly, movies and popular music thrive today in the public marketplace because of one simple principle: popular demand. For example, people want John Mayer’s music. They pay for it, and they get it. People want to see a blockbuster flick, so (drum roll please): they buy a movie ticket. Moreover, as Pete Spence from the Adam Smith Institute stated during a debate on this issue (and a rather fine one at that), “‘High’ art can survive without government support. The Royal Academy of Arts has lasted 244 years, and promotes 5,000 new artists every year at its Summer Exhibition, the largest open exhibition in Britain. It does this on entirely private funding. The Royal Albert Hall stages over 350 events each year without public funding.” Don’t get me wrong; I often wish that the classics of art had much more appeal to my generation than they typically do today. However, as Roy reminded me, it’s equally as possible that I simply don’t understand the favored music of many of my peers as they don’t understand mine. They are who they are, and I will not condone a bureaucracy of elitists that want to punish them through taxation for having tastes separate from those of the state.
I don’t mean to discourage the activities of the Arts and Science Council. I’m sure that its members have commendable ambitions to improve the artistic scene throughout Mecklenburg County, and, if they do their work purposefully, I’m sure that more donors will come their way. But that doesn’t change the fact that supporting the arts is not a proper function of government. Musicians, painters, writers, sculptors, poets, dancers, etc. would like to think that they can make a name for themselves through their own abilities and resources. I know that I, along with the billions of others on this planet that have certain tastes for the arts, will support them.