Public Funding of Art

George Kelling and Ester Fuchs

Public Funding of Art

George Kelling and Ester Fuchs

Public Funding of Art
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Sept. 30 1999 10:22 AM

George Kelling and Ester Fuchs


Received last night.


Dear Ester:

Alas, this is my second attempt to respond to your last message. Apparently, I was writing to slowly for my service provider. It inquired whether I wanted to stay online, and despite my assurance that I did, I was promptly disconnected--losing my draft in the process.

What I was writing about was your initial discussion of art and funding, as represented by the Brooklyn Museum dispute. Frankly, I sidestepped the issue because I am of a very mixed mind about the whole thing. On the one hand, I treasure the principle that artists should be able to express themselves in relatively unrestrained fashion. On the other, I have concern about public funding of art. I am uncertain about the extent to which public funds should be used to fund art--whether that art be kitsch or politically controversial statements.

Likewise, I am perplexed by public funding of churches to provide certain kinds of social or other kinds of public services. In each case my concern is not just on the impact on the public or public policy but also about the impact on artists or the church. Is it possible that the public funding of art or church social services (or schooling) has a deleterious impact on their integrity? Moreover, should the state be funding activities that the general public finds offensive or services that compete with public services? As I noted above, I find myself really quite confused in each case. School vouchers, alternative schools, charter schools, and church schools all compete with public schools and probably challenge public schools to improve. Moreover, such school programs offer the working class and the poor the same opportunities that the wealthy have to send their children to alternative schools. Yet, it is fair to ask whether the diversion of public funds from public schools weakens and further threatens what was once a powerful institution of upward mobility for the poor and immigrants.

I guess that pushed to the wall, I would choose school choice, if only because schools have suffered from the same kind of stifling bureaucratic climate that has so hindered so many public services. Yet --.

So, as you note this is an awfully late breakfast. Tomorrow, my response will be at breakfast.

Be well,

George Kelling teaches at Rutgers and Harvard and is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He and his wife, Catherine M. Coles, are co-authors of Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in Our Communities. (Clickhereto buy the book.) Ester Fuchs is director of the Center for Urban Research and Policy at Columbia University and teaches at Barnard College. She is currently editing New York City: The End of the Liberal Experiment.