In "Using the Arts to Pay for the Arts: A Proposed New Public Funding Model," Indiana University lecturer Michael Wilkerson argues that current policies and practices concerning public funding for the arts in the United States are inadequate and unstable, and a new model is needed. Arts support in the U.S. is characterized by low levels of government support, but the cultural sector has been kept relatively strong by "a combination of volunteerism, low salaries of highly skilled and dedicated employees, and, in some areas, capital investment in civic center arts facilities" (104). Wholehearted support for major increases of public funding for the arts, however, carries considerable political risks for both the Democratic and Republic parties. Citing how the economic crash of 2008 relegated the arts to the bottom of the priority list, combined with the specific example of how an exhibit of gay and lesbian portraiture at the Smithsonian Institution proved that arts were still politically controversial subjects, the author claims that the time has come to consider new models.
Wilkerson asserts seven primary ideas, presented in logical order:
1. The arts need more, and more stable, funding.
2. The American "arts and entertainment industry," for-profit sector included, is quite wealthy.
3. There need not be a hard line drawn between the for-profit and nonprofit sectors of the arts.
4. It should be relatively easy to create a funding mechanism that costs the for-profit sector little but that generates significant resources for the nonprofit sector.
5. Such a funding mechanism could be accurately represented as one that would generate income to the arts, from the arts—perhaps a persuasive basis for a political argument.
6. The argument would be strongest and most morally defensible if it encompassed both nonprofit and for-profit arts expenditures as "fair game" for some kind of user fee dedicated to public funding of the arts.
7. Based on the reaction of arts groups to already proposed instruments such as sales taxes on performing arts tickets, the advocacy process within the arts sector itself will be challenging, even prior to government consideration of a new user fee (or tax) (105).
After rejecting several arts funding schemes as untenable (e.g., endowing the NEA and NEH; promoting local tax referenda; expanding percent-for-art programs; levying restaurant and hotel taxes for the arts; establishing an arts lottery; imposing an arts tax on advertising), Wilkerson proposes that the arts should fund themselves through an automatic and more stable system. Small levies and taxes placed upon for-profit arts and entertainment (i.e. movie tickets, song vendors like iTunes, and videogames), along with a ticket levy on nonprofit arts performances and a 1 percent tax on the sale of visual art, would provide the source of funds that could then be directly allocated towards supporting the arts by a new agency ("The United States Fund for Arts and Culture").
Wilkerson acknowledges that the primary challenge of such a system is that it is essentially a politically unpopular arts tax. Nevertheless, he argues that such an "arts funding the arts" plan would help to ameliorate the current perils facing the status quo of an endangered and controversial NEA, along with bringing the for-profit and nonprofit arts closer together as two sides of a more robust cultural sector.
Wilkerson, Michael. 2012. "Using the Arts to Pay for the Arts: A Proposed New Public Funding Model." The Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society 42(3): 103-115. doi:10.1080/10632921.2012.726551.