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Arts funding in Wichita produces controversy

As local government tries to decide which arts and cultural institutions are to receive government funds, controversy arises. A June 8, 2006 Wichita Eagle article titled “Arts panel biases alleged” tells how some funding applicants are upset that some of the members of the funding committee have ties to organizations that also applied for funds. In an editorial titled “Let Arts Funding Work” published in the June 10, 2006 Wichita Eagle, Rhonda Holman writes “The process may not be perfect, but it’s a precious opportunity for public dollars to be invested in the arts and attractions in a merit-based way that’s fair, open and accountable.”

Later Ms. Holman makes the case that it is desirable to have experts decide how to allocate taxpayer funds amongst the various organizations that have applied. The old method, she writes, had no “scrutiny or oversight.” She pleads for the public not to lose faith in this new system of deciding who gets what.

As I wrote in the past (Let Markets Fund Arts and Culture, How to Decide Arts Funding) there is a very simple way to decide which arts and cultural organizations are worthy of receiving funds: simply stop government funding. Let the people freely decide, though the mechanism of markets rather than government decree, which organizations they prefer.

When people spend their own money on arts and culture there is no controversy. There can be no allegations of bias. But government spending always creates controversy. Someone is upset that they didn’t get as much as someone else. People who don’t or can’t use what the government-supported organizations provide are upset they have to pay for it. Much misguided effort goes into making the funding decisions. Instead of working to create and refine their product, arts organizations have to lobby politicians and commissions for funds.

In the end, the public gets what the commission decrees, instead of what they really want.

If arts and cultural organizations forgo government funding, they will learn very quickly if they are producing a product the public really wants. If they aren’t, they will have a powerful motivating factor to change.

It may turn out that what people really want for arts and culture, as expressed by their selections made in a free market, might be different from what a commission decides we should have. That freedom to choose, it seems to me, is something that our Wichita City Council, Arts Council, and Wichita Eagle editorial writers believe the public isn’t informed or responsible enough to enjoy.

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