Debate: is it a poor decision to fund art projects?
Two of Connection Lab’s current projects have received some comments in the press lately. First, the peace quilt project that we’re doing with Teen Empowerment and the Somerville Council on Aging was briefly covered in The Somerville Times. Following the few-sentence description of the project, someone posted a comment complaining that government funding shouldn’t be used for peace art when it’s also supporting wars and other violence. In fact, the peace quilt is a volunteer project, with no government funding at all. The same week, a British article complained about the Making All Voices Count project in Kenya, arguing that funds shouldn’t be used to pay graffiti artists whose work will be painted over as soon as it’s made. In both of these cases, the argument seems to be that the projects aren’t worthwhile ways to make change. Whether there’s an underlying concern about funding political art in particular isn’t clear, but there’s a long history of art being used to make political statements, and an equally long history of funding for the arts being questioned. I’ve written here before about the reasons why I believe art is a powerful tool for public messaging, and these reasons hold whether or not the art is “official” or clandestine, funded or unfunded. But by funding public art two things can happen. First, the quality and quantity of the art can improve. Second, the art and its messages can be more powerful, since their creation is condoned. To the person who commented that government funding shouldn’t be used for a peace project when it’s also used to promote war, I would argue that the peace quilt is a response to the violence and discord that happen at every level of our society. For the author who argues that graffiti artists shouldn’t be paid to paint art that will be removed, perhaps it’s worth considering that the art is removed precisely because its messages are powerful, important and timely in a way that more institutional art is not.