The Times launched the “discussion,” which included Boaz, by answering its own question.
In fact, the arts in Brazil are awash in tax money — $600 million this year, garnered from a 1.5 percent payroll tax.
Robert Lynch, of Americans for the Arts, praised the Brazilian system.
“What we need is the collective will to move beyond debating whether the arts should be supported, and toward what they have already decided in Brazil: that the answer is yes — and here is how we here in the United States agree to do it,” he wrote.
“Mandating government and corporate subsidies for the arts raises a few concerns for me,” he wrote. “Will mandated art subsidies affect the quality of artistic production? Will this type of funding encourage a passive artistic community? And finally, will it create a curatorial practice on behalf of granting institutions?”
But the strongest case against government funding for the arts came from Boaz.
“What do art, music, and religion have in common?” he asked. “They all have the power to touch us in the depths of our souls. Which is precisely why art, music, and religion should be kept separate from the state.”
It’s a lose-lose proposition, he explained.
“Government involves the organization of coercion,” Boaz wrote. “In a free society coercion should be reserved only for such essential functions of government as protecting rights and punishing criminals. People should not be forced to contribute money to artistic endeavors that they may not approve, nor should artists be forced to trim their sails to meet government standards.”
Government funding means government involvement, he explained. “That insight, of course, is part of our folk wisdom: ‘He who pays the piper calls the tune.’ Defenders of arts funding seem blithely unaware of this danger when they praise the role of the national endowments as an imprimatur or seal of approval on artists and arts groups.”
He likened it to another pitched cultural battle.
“The American Founders knew that the solution to the Wars of Religion was the separation of church and state,” Boaz wrote. “Because art is just as spiritual, just as meaningful, just as powerful as religion, it is time to grant art the same independence and respect that religion has: the separation of art and state.”
The Times asks how the public and private sectors can best work together on this. The answer is that they shouldn’t.