Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Are the Arts Worth 80 Cents Per Year?

The current national dialogue over federal spending cuts, combined with a Facebook post from a friend of mine, got me thinking about the place of arts and education in our national budget. I know others much more knowledgeable and experienced than I have certainly crunched these numbers before. If you know of anyone, please point me there!

In short, when discussing what activities a government should or shouldn't fund, I think it's very important to keep scale in mind. For example, direct federal funding for the arts costs the avg. taxpayer ($43,650 annual income) about 80 cents each year. That's right, a whopping 80 cents!

(Side note: U.S. arts organizations in 2004 derived only 13% of their funding from direct government support, with 44% coming from the box office, and 43% from private donations.)

And education as a whole costs the average taxpayer $248.49 annually. Of course, you'll pay more if you make more than the average income, less if you make less. Either way, not a bad price to educate our nation, I think.

So, while some have a philosophical opposition to any arts funding, and others hold the same view toward most military spending, the scale and proportion of these abstract "grievances" are certainly not equal by any realistic measure. Any serious reconsideration of the federal budget absolutely needs to address both military spending and non-discretionary entitlement programs, and not target education and arts programs as the primary culprits.

That's just my 2 (or 80?) cents, as a composer and educator myself. For visual learners, I've also assembled this data in exceedingly amateurish infographic form.

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