Home / It’s Time For Government To Give The Artistic World Its Due

It’s Time For Government To Give The Artistic World Its Due

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Government and the arts. Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? But the two are inextricably intertwined, both for ill and for good.

The list of ill is too long to go into, even on the limitless pages of the Internet. But it usually boils down to aesthetic disagreements over particular works. The most recent ill-tempered and ill-advised clash of government and the creative world came with Senate’s refusal in November to honor rock icon Bruce Springsteen with a ceremonial resolution in the Boss’s honor. I won’t go into that here, as Tim Gebhart has already covered this lunacy so well. But do let me reiterate: Partisan politics and overheated (and improper) war rhetoric spiked that innocuous effort to recognize one of America’s leading musicians.

Then you’ve got the continuing battle over federal funding of the Corporation for Public Television, an outlet that, while less artistically vigorous than in previous years, is still one of the best spots in the broadcast landscape to find worthwhile, well-made programming. If not for PBS affiliate WGBH-Boston’s support of Masterpiece Theater, Americans wouldn’t have been able to see the award-winning The Lost Prince.

And the often ill-advised coupling of art and government trickles down to even the local level. Witness the various “art in public places” directives, efforts by cities or counties to add (or foist, depending on your point of view) a little culture to their citizens’ daily lives. Unfortunately, it’s usually the local officials who choose the art and most citizens frequently view the works, justifiably or not, as at best useless and at worst offensive.

However, there might be a bit of good in the government/art connection on the horizon. Tax legislation currently under consideration on Capitol Hill has tax breaks for songwriters, writers, artists, musicians and other creative individuals.

One measure, already approved in separate House and Senate tax bills, would allow songwriters to count their royalty payments as capital gains instead of ordinary income as they now are categorized. That could mean up to 20 percent less in taxes for these musicians.

The Senate measure also proposes a change that would let artists (and writers and scholars) who donate work to a museum or other charitable organization a full fair-market-value tax deduction. Currently, only estates of artists get that more generous tax break, while the munificent living creator can only deduct the cost of material used to produce the work. That means a painting worth $5,000 might translate into only a $100 tax deduction to account for the painter’s canvas, paint and brushes.

The tax breaks aren’t a done deal. Both must make it into the final bill that Congress approves and sends to the White House for signature into law. But at least the progress through the legislative maze so far is encouraging.

Who knows why Congress has become such a collective supporter of artistic endeavors. But it’s a welcome trend from a group that too often seems to view all cultural efforts, from music to theater to art to film, as elitist and therefore automatically suspect in the ostensible grassroots political world.

That’s a short-sighted view. A nation’s creative community is a reflection of and necessary voice and window into its collective consciousness. And these legislative efforts, which will help individuals continue to make livings in their selected fields, is an acknowledgement that artists shouldn’t get special tax treatment, but that they should get fair tax consideration that takes into account the realities of their creative circumstances.

This commentary appeared in a slightly different form as “Money for nothing and more tax breaks for me” on Don’t Mess With Taxes.

Ed: RJ

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  • “A government sponsored artist is an incompetent whore.” Robert Heinlein

    Why in hell is it ANY business of the government of free people to be involved in the arts?

    We’re up to our asses in art- good, bad and indifferent. That’s one area that absolutely does not require government subsidy.

  • Howard

    “Tax legislation currently under consideration on Capitol Hill has tax breaks for songwriters, writers, artists, musicians and other creative individuals.”

    Another hundred pages of hocus pocus to add to the volumes now containing the Internal Revemue Code. Why can’t we trash all this nonsense with a National Sales Tax?


  • Howard, a counter-proposal: How about we abolish the income tax, and replace it with NOTHING?

  • “A government sponsored artist is an incompetent whore.”

    The same could be said for the majority of members in Congress, members of the current Administration and any and all employees of companies based on K Street. Just take out the word incompetent and change it to ruthless. The Arts deserve government support in some way. We don’t value their import as we should in our public schools. Music, literature, and drama are all pivotal parts of a well rounded education.

  • No national sales tax, please! I live in one of the few states with no state sales tax. I’d much rather keep paying exactly what the price tags say every time I go to the grocery store, even if it means having to scratch my head once a year when filling out my income tax forms. Judging by the overwhelming defeat of every sales tax measure to hit our ballots in recent memory, the vast majority of my fellow Oregonians agree on this.

    As for the arts, rather than having any government subsidy, let’s just have our government do for all artists what the Irish do for authors, which is to refrain from taxing any of the income from their art. Don’t just give them the capital-gains tax break. Make art untaxable.

    Libertarians ought to love this idea, because if it leads to a greater flowering of the creative arts, that would be a terrific argument for their claim that cutting its taxes boosts the growth of any economic sector.

  • Now THAT is something I could live with.

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