Paula Sheil, a former Stockton arts commissioner (and Record reporter) has her say in the New York Times. And her say is not to sacrifice the arts during tough times.
I’m of two minds on this issue. I strongly support the arts. But I don’t think government is the best vechile for doing it. With government money comes strings, censorship, self-censorship and frequent outbursts of demagoguery. And artists as preoccupied with grant applications as with art.
And there’s the priorities issue. It’s tragic that the Stockton Arts Commission’s $1.3 million arts endowment was taken by city officials to address city debt. But that money could also fund 12 cops. Cops save lives.
On the other hand, government seed money doesn’t just fund specific artworks, it can help grow an arts community. The then-head of the National Endowmen for the Arts once spoke at The Haggin Museum on the flowering of American symphonies and other institutions that got NEA money.
I believe that the best way government can suport the arts is through strong school curricula. But I can’t dismiss the call for arts funding. I won the 1984 Valley Short Story Writer’s Competition, and that led directly to my hire at The Record. Leaders such as former SJ Supervisor Steve Gutierrez, and Steve Ding, Former chief of staff for Congressman Richard Pombo, came up through community theater. Speaking of that, the great Stockton writer Leonard Gardner did plays at Stockton Civic Theatre. The arts builds people.