A government boost for art's sake

Wouldn't it be a relief if the two presumptive presidential nominees took time out from droning on about healthcare, the state of the military, Social Security, and what's wrong with each other, to discuss what the federal government could do to foster the arts? Too often, the arts are thought of in the same way as those poor musicians on the Titanic - in trouble, but clearly besides the point - rather than as a central part of the story.

Here's what an ideal candidate might say:

*The budget for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) should be increased substantially in order to fulfill its mission: to make the arts more available to millions of Americans.

In general, public funds make the benefits of life more accessible to the public. In the arts, they help dance companies, symphonies, theaters, museums, and other exhibition spaces keep ticket prices affordable - and more available to more Americans. (Anyone who doesn't recognize that should compare the cost of going to New York's Metropolitan Opera with any show now on Broadway.)

*More money should be allocated to place music and art teachers in public schools. At present, almost half the schools in the United States have no music or art curriculum because of a lack of money to pay for teachers. In many schools that do have art classes, teachers are part time, or shuttle between schools where art curricula may only take place on a once-a-week or once-a-month basis. If the federal government can pledge to hire 100,000 policemen, why not at least that many art and music teachers?

With prompting from the next administration, Congress could also pass legislation to increase and spread prosperity generated in the art market.

*Restore to artists the full, fair market deduction for works they donate to charitable institutions, such as museums, libraries, and schools. The Tax Reform Act of 1969 took away the rule allowing artists only to deduct the cost of materials used in making the pieces.

Artists lost an incentive to donate their artwork. As a result, museums lost their main source of acquiring contemporary art, and the public lost the opportunity to see such art.

Fairness is another reason this legislation should be supported. Why should private collectors benefit from the capital appreciation of an artist's work, but not the artist? Also, patent holders are entitled to deduct the full value of sketches, designs, and prototypes they donate to public institutions, so why shouldn't artists receive the same?

*The federal government could increase artists' willingness to contribute their work to charitable institutions by amending the federal tax code.

In this, the states have already taken the lead. Ten states allow artists to deduct their charitable donations of artwork on the basis of the full, fair market value for state income tax returns, and six states allow inheritance taxes to be paid with artwork. These states haven't suffered - and neither would the federal government.

Clearly, there is a lot that a new administration and Congress can do. Probably the most important step, though, is to set a new, more positive tone - searching not for enemies but for ways to help.

*Daniel Grant, a marketing consultant in the arts, is author of 'The Business of Being an Artist' (Allworth Press).

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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