The Art Newspaper, 1

I apologize for getting political, particularly for those who might not agree with me. But, I imagine most of you probably do, so I’m not too worried.

There was an article in the Art Newspaper reminding us, in case we forgot (which we might have, because it’s ridiculous–see below), that Romney and Ryan, like all Republicans eventually do, would propose to cut the budgets of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). I did my second graduate school qualifying paper (I wrote a bit about the first one here) about the removal of a video by David Wojnarowicz from an exhibition at the Smithsonian in 2010, and by extension, about public funding for the arts. This included a slight detour back into the culture wars of the late ’80s and early ’90s, which eventually saw the end of grants to individual artists and the budget of the NEA drastically cut. It has steadily risen since, only to be hacked at again and again.

I don’t plan to go on a rant about how important the arts are to society. I won’t even give you numbers detailing how the U.S.’s arts budget falls far below much smaller countries with much smaller budgets, revenues and GDPs. I will say this: the combined budget of the NEA and NEH is currently $292 million. They would like to cut that in half, and that is part of their plan to lop $3.3 trillion off the federal deficit.

Let’s do some quick math-how many zero’s is a trillion? Oh, interesting, my computer calculator won’t do that many. OK hang on… got it. Cutting the NEH/NEA budget in half would get you — drumroll please — 0.44% of the way towards your $3.3 trillion goal! Congratulations, dream team!

In the meantime, the three R’s, Republicans Romney and Ryan, would lose us $2 trillion in revenue over the next ten years by reducing the tax rate on the top income bracket to 25%, and ending taxes on income from interest, capital gains, and dividends. Fun fact: this means Romney, for one, would pay only .82% on $21 million he earned in 2010/2011. Not a bad deal! For him. Not a bad deal for him.

If I’m being snarky, it’s because I’m absolutely befuddled how anyone could fall for this. This is a lot like my math about how fast I’m reading the many e-flux articles flooding my inbox. It does. not. make. sense.

There’s a note towards the end of the article about how the Reagan administration increased charitable giving from the private sector through tax incentives, and that’s great; it was particularly important for corporations and wealthy patrons to step up to the plate once public funding for the arts went kaput. The implication in the article, however, is that maybe letting the rich keep more of their money will also help with private giving. This is also pretty anti-logical. As an artist/blogger quoted in the article says:

When your tax rate approaches zero, the tax benefit of donating money or art drops, too.

Right. Getting a break on your taxes is no longer a benefit if you’re barely being taxed. This guy adds that there are social and cultural motivations to donating money for the arts besides tax incentives. Of course there are! But those won’t radically shift giving trends, whereas it’s clear that tax incentives do: charitable giving rose 25% under Reagan’s incentives (I would like to state that despite this one policy, I am not a Reagan fan: he is the one who got us into this mess in the first place). The end of the tax incentive would once again cause this number to drop.

It’s basically the same argument they’re making about the economy: putting more money into the hands of the extremely wealthy will “trickle-down” to the rest of us (see! goddamn Reagan!). I wonder how Romney’s charitable giving is.

NOTE: Of course the Art Newspaper requires a digital subscription; I’ll try to get a good scan of the article and post it later. Coming up, a repatriation controversy special! Nigeria demands back Benin bronzes from the MFA!

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