Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

Daily Justice: William H. Gross

When millions of people are dying of AIDS and malaria in Africa, it is hard to justify the umpteenth society gala held for the benefit of a performing arts center or an art museum.  A $30 million gift to a concert hall is not philanthropy, it is a Napoleonic coronation.
- William H. Gross


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I understand the spirit behind this remark, but I'd encourage more careful thought about this issue. The Puritan mentality in America is always ready to write off beauty and art as non-essential luxuries -- compare how the government always cuts school funding in the arts first, so kids can confine their spirits to mastering the more "pragmatic," self-serving, money-earning subjects. I find this quite misguided and, ultimately, dehumanizing. The arts are a crucial part of every human culture, and the empathy and widened vision they encourage is no small part of raising awareness, enlivening imagination, and opening hearts in general.

I presume that as a bond manager, Gross probably operates from what's often called a "mentality of scarcity" -- that there's only a limited amount of money to go around, and thus we have to pit needs against one another. That we ought to stifle our impulses to be generous around beauty and arts, so that the small amount we have available goes only to pragmatic programs.

However, rather than attacking the arts, I would favor attacking the mentality of scarcity itself. There is PLENTY of money around in the West to support the valuable contributions of music and visual arts and poetry to culture, AND to do right by those in extreme poverty.

Hi Beth - Excellent comments here. I posted the quote because I thought it was provocative. I really appreciate your thought on art and how we cut funding to art programs. I agree that this is tragic and we must continue to support creative expressions. But I also feel that this quote points out a culture that easily ignore the needs of the most vulnerable. Everyone needs art and it's sad that aspects of the art world can only be enjoyed by a select few - the rich and powerful.

I'm skeptical about the idea voiced in your last sentence. Nearly every arts organization I've encountered in about 30 years of connection with the field has very consciously put deliberate mechanisms in place to cross economic and cultural boundaries and offer their artistic work to the poor and excluded. In fact, there are plenty of arts organizations that have that as their sole mission. This is even more true in Europe, where I can testify that free art and music events are seen as a vital public service and heavily attended across economic brackets.

If by "aspects of the art world" you mean glitzy events targeting major donors/influencers, that's true - but that phenomenon isn't not part of a specific "art world." The same exclusion of all but the rich and powerful happens at glitzy events targeting major donors/influencers for most issues -- including hunger issues or global poverty (check Bono's speaking schedule!).

I completely agree that any "culture that easily ignores the needs of the most vulnerable" needs strong critique, but identifying that culture specifically with people who value the arts makes no sense to me.

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