Persimmon Tree Forum



Autumn on the Water, photograph by L Maristatter

 

Introduction: A Bone of Contention — Government Support for the Arts 

One of the honors and perks I enjoyed in my years working in the Library of Congress Publishing Office was dipping into the Library’s amazing and disparate collections. In the Prints and Photographs Division, I became familiar with the artistry of the photographers who chronicled life in Depression-era and World War II America under the sponsorship of the federal government’s Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information. Dorothea Lange, Marion Post Woolcott, and Gordon Parks were among the photographers who worked under these government programs, providing an enduring, sometimes searing record of the everyday lives of Americans experiencing the pressures of financial disaster and war. 

 

Art Editor Greta Berman writes in this issue about her work helping to restore murals created under the auspices of the Depression-era Federal Art Project, which made it possible for muralists, easel painters, sculptors, and others to concentrate on and nurture their talents. The Library’s Music Division houses the records the Federal Music Project (1935-39)—later the Works Progress Administration Music Program (1939-1943)—which employed professional musicians of all types who would otherwise have been on the relief rolls. That division also houses records of the Federal Theatre Project (1935-39), which supported actors, directors, playwrights, and scenic designers, and provided access to excellent theater for Americans across the country.

Some of this government-supported art did cause controversy—most notably Orson Welles’ production of Macbeth, which he set in Haiti with an all-Black cast, voodoo replacing the element of witchcraft. Controversy over not only federal but also municipal and state government support of the arts has continued to surge and ebb ever since—largely because, as professor of theatre James M. Brandon wrote in a letter to the MIT publication TDR (Winter 1997), 

Art has never been about the status quo. Art is about conflict, changes, questions, and taboos. Art is ahead of its time even as it stands firmly rooted in the traditions of the past. The creation of art is something magical, and doesn’t fit into neat categories . . . [it] tends to elicit strong responses and is often derided when it challenges “conventional wisdom.” 

 

Governments at all levels, on the other hand, tend to be conservative as they grapple with financial constraints, political movements, and crises ranging from crime to climate change. Still, if, as we believe and history indicates, the arts are vital to the life of the mind and spirit, should governments support them? And if so, how and in what ways? We’ve asked our readers to send us their thoughts and experiences on this subject. Four of our readers responded in the short window we were able to leave open for Forum submissions. All four give us ample food for thought, and we are grateful for their contributions. This is an “evergreen” subject, and we hope to receive more comments from our readers, via the comment window at the end of this page and/or through emails to editor@persimmontree.org with the subject line “Support for the Arts.” 

 


Floating Downstream, photograph by Linda Allison

 

* * *

I received funding from the Massachusetts Cultural Council for my work as a visual artist specializing in printmaking. My 2006 grant funded project was Dynamic Signals in Times of Danger: Kites, Lanterns and Fans.”
 
My interest at that time was in how people signal
 

  • that they are in danger
  •  

  • that they want peace
  •  

  • that they want to communicate their needs to others when communication is dangerous or forbidden.
  •  
    My inspirations included:
     
    KITES that flew over the barrier wall between Israel and the West Bank in a project called 10,000 kites (Spring 2005).
     
    My work was not restricted or censored by the funds that I accepted from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
     
    The support from state funds I received was invaluable for continuing my studio work. I supplemented these funds by working at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, as an artist/educator.  Combining government grants and salary from my work at the museum helped me to sustain my work as an artist. At age 82 I am still actively engaged in work in my studio. My prints and watercolors are in collections such as the Boston Athenaeum and the print collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


    Eleanor Rubin
    Canton, Massachusetts

     

     


    Organic Introspection, acrylic paints on rice paper, by Lilian Hill

     

    * * *
    I am not against government sponsorship of the arts, but I am against the inappropriate or wasteful use of taxpayer dollars to promote less than worthy artworks. I personally would welcome government programs, like the arts wing of the [Depression-era] Works Progress Administration (WPA), which employed many, worked for the common good and provided a training ground for a whole new generation of talented artists, writers, actors, and musicians. We don’t have to use tax dollars to fund art which is too controversial or political or which only serves small subsets of the population. We don’t have to sponsor “artists” whose work doesn’t exhibit a mastery of their medium. We’re already bombarded with enough of that in the commercial arena.  
     
    I’ve personally been barred from a government-sponsored, local visual arts organization’s juried shows because I refused to paint pornography. The non-artist head of the group, acting as a committee-of-one, went so far as to say my work, while being technically very good, was not “art” because it was not controversial. He was substituting his own standards of indecency for more traditional hallmarks of good art.
     
    We can do better.
     
    Jan Miller
    Coconut Creek, Florida

     

     


    Sunset, photograph by Lynn B. Connor

     

    * * *
    A natural symbiosis exists within the question: Art captures and reflects the creativity of individuals and groups of people. Governments collect tax monies from those people and should make grants that encourage local administrative authority. 
     
    EXAMPLE of Government monies challenging local art growth:
     
    1963: A small group of socially active individuals created the Memphis Arts Council as an umbrella organization to manage an annual fund drive and coordinate scheduling for six major art groups in Memphis. Staffing money was borrowed.
     
    1973: Fundraising goals were reached in only two of the past ten years. Council, having assumed member groups’ deficits, was deeply in debt. Member group allotments were cut, financial obligations paid off, board restructured with strong business/corporate representation.
     
    1975: Council secured a “first” in National Endowment for the Arts’ history: a grant challenging a state to help fund a project that was to be administered by a community agency, thus encouraging state funding of local arts.
     
    1984: NEA issued Memphis another challenge—$250,000 for three years if matched in new funds from the city, county, and corporate donors.  $1,156,477 was raised. Memphis arts flourished over the next decades.
     
    2023: Arts Memphis (Council’s new name) invests over $3,000,000 annually in the arts of its city. 
     
    Sally Palmer Thomason, Ph.D.
    Memphis, Tennessee

     

     


    Autumn Leavings, photograph by Linda Allison

     

    * * *
    As a writer, I strongly believe that federal, state, and local governmental funding is crucial for the arts in this post-COVID environment. The pandemic has been devastating for artists, with galleries closing, exhibitions canceled, and performances postponed indefinitely. 
     
    Without government support, the arts industry may crumble.
     
    Governmental funding is essential to revive and sustain the arts sector. It provides financial stability for artists, enabling them to continue creating and sharing their work with the world. It promotes accessibility by supporting affordable cultural programs, exhibitions, and performances, ensuring diverse voices and perspectives are heard.
     
    Critics argue that government involvement in funding may lead to artistic content manipulation. It’s important to distinguish between funding allocation and artistic content control. Government support can be increased without interfering in artistic content. Funding should focus on nourishing artistic expression, supporting artistic development, and facilitating access to the arts for all.
     
    [G]overnment funding… provides necessary financial aid, encourages inclusivity, and helps strengthen the arts industry as a whole. By increasing funding without meddling in artistic content, we ensure a vibrant and thriving arts scene that enriches our society and uplifts us all.
     
    Concetta Pipia 
    Queens, New York

     


    Urban Autumn, photograph by Elsa Lichman

     

     

    In the Christian States of America, where religion rules, one woman discovers the only rules are about survival. Although she’s legally an adult, eighteen-year-old Meryn Flint must live at home until her stepfather, Ray, finds her a husband. That’s the law. But when Ray kills her mother and Meryn must flee for her own safety, she quickly discovers there’s no safe place for a woman on the run. Unless she’s willing to marry her former boyfriend—a man who’s already demonstrated his capacity for violence—she’ll be forced to live on the street. And that’s a dangerous option for a woman alone. As time runs out, Meryn is offered a third path: build herself a tiny house, a safe place to call home. Even though it’s a violation of her Family Duty as well as every moral law on the books, Meryn seizes the chance. But even a tiny tin house might not be enough to save her . . .
    "A dystopian science fiction novel that is a believable extrapolation of current social, cultural, and religious attempts to restrict and roll back the rights and freedoms of women, Tiny Tin House is a masterfully crafted and riveting novel populated throughout by memorable characters.” ~ Midwest Book Review
    L Maristatter has published poetry in the web journal Defunct and fiction in The Saturday Evening Post online. She is on Facebook and Twitter (regularly), and Instagram and TikTok (when she's feeling brave).
    Support independent booksellers by finding Tiny Tin House on Bookshop.org or in your local bookstore. It’s also available on Amazon.

     

    Bios

    After forty years in finance, Linda Allison is enjoying a second life as a writer, photographer, and explorer. Her written work has appeared in Bright Flash Literary Review, McQueen’s Quinterly, Star 82 Review, Dark Winter Lit, and others. Her photography was recently included in Burningword Journal.

    With degrees in Asian history, Lynn B. Connor  planned to be an academic. That was short-lived. She realized that sharing stories that explore other times and places is what she enjoyed. Her stories and poems have appeared in literary journals over the last fifty years. A few years ago she remembered the title of a book, Painting with Light, which she’d read as a teenager. The only thing she remembered about it was the title, but that made her see differently when taking a photo. Go to ArtsMart to purchase her work.

    Lilian H. Hill, PhD, ACC, is professor emerita, School of Education, University of Southern Mississippi. She was inducted into the International Continuing Education Hall of Fame in 2018. She retired in 2021 and has a composite career as a certified life coach, artist, and author.

    Elsa Lichman, MSW, LICSW, is a retired social worker who worked for 43 years in the field. In retirement, she turned to the arts, becoming a newspaper columnist, poet, solo singer, choral singer, and photographer. Her love of nature has taken her on many magical adventures.

    L Marisatter is a photographer, graphic designer, author, and publisher. Her debut novel, Tiny Tin House, is available here.

    Leave a Comment

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *