Return of the Medici

Yesterday’s New York Times brought tidings of great joy that shall be to all creators: the decision by a consortium of foundations to begin offering grants of $50,000 to individual artists.  No, we don’t want people expecting philanthropy to do the government’s job–but funding artistic creation is not the government’s job.  Or at least, not this government’s job.

The Medici funded artistic creation; but the Medici also told those artists what to do.  In a democratic society, we don’t cede to the government the right to tell us what to create–but then I don’t see how we can claim the right to have our creations funded.  If we want the benefits of autocracy we have to take its drawbacks as well, and I doubt anyone would regard that as a good trade.

It’s also a fact that people who identify themselves as artists are overwhelmingly upper-middle-class.  I’ve never understood why it’s appropriate for Jesse Helms’s hardscrabble constituents to pay taxes so well-educated white people don’t have to work. 

In any case, cheers to the private foundations for stepping into the breach.

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