Saturday, September 15, 2007

on the lotto and the arts

so, yesterday, my partner and i watched an indy film with alan rickman in it called "snow cake." As the opening credits rolled, both my partner and i saw a tiny credit line like the image above. i exclaimed, "funds from the national lotto!? where is this?" beautiful partner told me it's a canadian film, so i said, wow, the canadians sure do know how to use their lotto! our neighbors to the north are mighty enlightened! then she said, "you should blog about it!"

so after some poking around, i found out that this film was not a canadian production (even though it was set and filmed in ontario) but a uk production. turns out, it received 1 million pounds (sterling, that is) from the national lottery of the uk. upon even further investigation, there is an entire public body, the uk film council, that awards money to film projects from the national lottery fund.

according to the uk national lottery site, 28% of the lotto money goes to "the good causes"--health, education, environment, community, "charity," art, sports, and "heritage." 16.7% of that goes to the arts. a sizable amount. in addition, the film council has a page dedicated to diversity in film. looking at the budget, the film council has granted money to huge films like "gosford park" as well as to lesser-known shorts, amounting to nearly 10 million pounds (roughly $18m dollars). this is huge, and is only the film arm of the "arts" portion of "the good causes."

in comparison, mega millions and texas lotto are a bit more vague, 35% of megamillions goes to "whatever the state chooses." and the texas lotto site breaks down the funds as shown in the left graph. note that absolutely none of it is designated to the arts, or even health care. recently, i found out that the 8 billion that was supposed to be going to texas education from the lotto (according to billboards i see) is actually not accurate at all. it turns out that a lot of that money gets redirected to other things. what? i don't know. texas public schools rank between 25th and 39th in the country, depending on your source, making me really question the efficacy of "lotto education."

now, i could go on and on about the hypocracy of the texas and megamillions lotto. but instead, i'm more interested in how other nations view "the arts." i remember when i was taking classes in conservatory, one factoid we learned in our intro music history class was that austria spends 20% of their national budget on the arts while the u.s. spends 0.02%. that was the late 90s, but i doubt much has changed. here in the states, the arts are often relegated to the category of "product." therefore, non-commercial arts and artists must struggle to: a. make our art "commercially viable," b. find private wealthy benefactors who support our work or c. learn to starve. whereas some places see the arts as part of the public sphere--where art is part of the political and structural fabric of a culture. the arts in the u.s. are in the private sphere, indicators of taste and consumption, commodities that gain or lose value over time.

this yields varying results. the recent boom of local opera houses would not have happened if the u.s. had as many large-scale state-funded opera houses like germany or italy. these larger opera houses have been bogged down by the responsibility to stage well-known, canonical operas. conversely, local opera houses have taken the route of putting on original operas or smaller programs, creating vibrant programs supported by younger crowds.

even though i know there are exceptions like this, i get very angry about the state of the arts in the u.s. but it's not just "arts funding." artists and the arts suffer from other institutional failings. if we had some type of social/public safety nets like healthcare or welfare, i believe our experiences would be radically different.

my favorite example is j.k. rowling. her whole thing is that she was on welfare when she wrote the first harry potter book. in britain, it's relatively easy for someone to get on welfare. not so here. who knows if potter would have ever taken flight on his nimbus 2000 if britain's welfare system were similar to ours? but we know what happened. thanks to that year on the dole, rowling has become the richest woman in britain. her personal taxes alone have paid for that year on welfare hundreds of times over, not to mention the business she has brought to britain through a film franchise, merch, and potter-themed tourism. if you ask me, britain made a very good investment in that particular artist.

i know britain has its problems (racism and xenophobia come to mind). but from this side of the pond, i can't help but envy those artists on the other side.

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