Thursday, February 10, 2011

Is Dallas Dumb, or Just Its Culture Critics?

Bringing things a little local (for me), there is an article in D Magazine by Richard Patterson, When It Comes to Culture, Texas Has Its Head in the Ground, who claims that so long as the government doesn't support the arts, the arts will continue to be bad in Texas.

The fact of the matter is that practically every claim in this article goes against all the empirical evidence available. As far back as the late 19th century, Nietzsche correctly observed that there was an inverse correlation between government strength and the strength of a nation’s culture. All a government ever does is support those that have already established themselves as not needing government’s help (this is true whether it is business subsidies or art subsidies). With government money inevitably comes government restrictions. Who wants their art controlled from Austin, let alone Washington? I don’t want my plays to have to conform to Republican or Democratic world views. Nor do I want my survival attached to my ability to donate to the campaigns of elected officials. Worse for this thesis (even worse than quoting Krugman, whose ignorance of economics outside his narrow specialty is truly bizarre for a Nobel prizewinner) is that the evidence is completely against it. There is no correlation between the having a strong arts scene and strong, intelligent economic growth (see Richard Florida’s work). More, the only things that attract people from outside the city are things like Broadway musicals. Which are fine, but surely not the idea of culture being promoted here. Government funded art comes in at the end, when the culture is dying, to try to prop it up.

I do wonder if the reason why Florida didn't find a correlation between strong economic growth and a strong arts scene is that the modern drivers of economic growth do not receive a good education in the arts and humanities. More, art patrons tend to be older, while the new ideas creators and entrepreneurs tend to be young. The real question is how to bridge the gap between the drivers of economic growth and arts appreciation. There is no government program that will do that.

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