Who Should Pay for Culture?

That's the question that underlies an article in this morning's Times that uses as its starting point a promise from Britain's Conservative Party shadow Culture Minister to introduce a "US-style culture of philanthropy" if the Tories come to power. They are trembling in Paris: Sarkozy might be listening. This question of who pays for the arts avoids a question that perhaps it would be healthy to return to with some regularity: why should the arts be subsidized at all? Yes, the arts should be subsidized. And generously. Societies that devote significant energy to the creative arts are healthier, happier societies. Can you be a good citizen without some artistic sensibility? (No!) On the other hand, bureaucratic control of the arts can do great harm. Cultural institutions should be privately controlled and, in select cases, publicly subsidized. (Oh boy, doesn't this sound just a little too earnest?! Quick, someone tell a joke! Here's one: Glenn Beck.) Well, I'll take the middle road on this one: tax benefits for private funding of the arts (and education) should be a no brainer; direct public financing has a place too, and, in the case of the US, should be substantially increased.