Divert sports funding to arts?

A Gary Gutting piece at the NYT’s philosophy blog starts out reassuring us that the lack of humanities majors isn’t a bad thing (after all, we can’t everyone being like me) then meanders to suggestions for shoring up the “cultural middle class.”

Then it gets interesting:

Fair treatment for writers and artists is an even more difficult matter, which will ultimately require a major change in how we think about support for the arts. Fortunately, however, we already have an excellent model, in our support of athletics. Despite our general preference for capitalism, our support for sports is essentially socialist, with local and state governments providing enormous support for professional teams. To cite just one striking example, the Minnesota State Legislature recently appropriated over $500 million to help build the Vikings a new stadium. At the same time, the Minnesota Orchestra is close to financial disaster because it can’t erase a $6 million deficit. If the Legislature had diverted only 10 percent of its support for football, it would have covered that deficit for the next eight years.

Over all, taxpayer money provides more than a billion dollars annually in tax exemptions and stadium subsidies for N.F.L. teams. Other sports also receive generous support. Even major universities subsidize professional sports through their (mostly money-losing) athletic programs, which provide a continuing influx of professional players. Universities could reduce their efforts to field teams playing at near-professional levels and direct the money saved to artistic activities much closer to their core mission.

Provocative question.

You could easily argue that sports mean more to the typical city than a symphony does. Go to a town like Boston — the music is fantastic, but the sports teams (especially the Red Sox) are a massive presence.

At a college? Hard to say. Even within the arts, you find intriguing budget decisions. I always wondered why my school had a bunch of antique instruments but could barely manage a working set of tympani. But then you move over to the athletics department and find the best possible facilities for nearly every sport. Some college soccer players go “pro” and are stunned to find some travel arrangements and other aspects of pro life don’t measure up to what they had in college.

But as a former college musician, I’m not sure I can complain about that. I have to admit most sports teams at Duke had larger crowds than I saw for our Wind Symphony concerts. Also, it was just a bit easier to make the Marching Band than it was to make the soccer team.

Are the arts really closer to a “core mission” of a college than the sports teams? I don’t know about that. I’m not really sure why I got course credit for Wind Symphony, Percussion Ensemble AND my P.E. courses, but my friends on the volleyball team got no such credit for their sport.

So, again — provocative question.

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3 Responses to Divert sports funding to arts?

  1. joeyt360 says:

    What’s weird, I find, is the class elitism-posing-as-equality inherent in that sort of argument. What is ‘wrong’ with sports in that context is mostly precisely that they are middlebrow. The symphony might not be done BY the 1%, but it is still usually done FOR the 1%. And even if it weren’t, you’re just arguing for the replacement of a strictly economic class elitism with a mixed economic-cultural elitism, a sort breeding and refinement that many will fall short of by birth and upbringing.

    I can understand the ‘cut funding for sports’ bit, but it’s a lot harder to understand the ‘and divert the money to the arts’ bit based on any internally consistent logic.

  2. Vabeacher says:

    You mean there is not a tent city set up, waiting to buy symphony tickets?

  3. Joshua says:

    How about the marching bands that play at half-time of every NCAA Division I college football game?

    Every self respecting NCAA Division I College has a marching band.

    Substitute John Philip Suosa for Ludwig Von Beethoven. Don’t students get credit for being in the school band?

    I’m old enough to remember the USC Marching Band playing at the Academy Awards Show in 1976.

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