I think after last week’s election results, we can easily say that America has become deeply partisan. Sad, but true. There are few issues that actually bring us together as a nation anymore, save for natural disasters- though some tried to politicize that as well.
Since I’m not an expert in matters of politics, I ask for your indulgence as I ponder some truths about our political system.
There are many things that motivate voters to be either a Republican or a Democrat, but one issue overall seems to define the distinction for me; smaller government versus larger government. These basic ideas have spawned policies that were argued about, twisted, manipulated and misrepresented over the last year ( Thank GOD it’s finally over !). In essence, the idea is that a smaller government can be more efficient and would allow the free market to rule America – “Get government out-of-the-way…. people can do it themselves !”. Larger government, in contrast, believes that the government can have a pivotal role in helping its citizens, therefore proposing social programs that improve the lives of all Americans – “We are here to help and support you… as you do it yourself”.
The idea of small government manifests itself in policies such as 1) Cutting government programs 2) lifting tax burdens/simplifying and decreasing tax code 3) reducing aid to citizens under all circumstances. The idea of large government manifests itself in policies and programs like 1) Social Security 2) Medicare and Medicaid 3) FEMA.
Being that this is not a debate about large vs. small government, I’m not going to go into more specifics about the long-term effects of these policies (which, I must admit, are mixed). But now that we’ve made a distinction…. where does music fall into all of this?
There are many countries, particularly in Europe, that believe in the necessity of supporting music. In fact, their stance demonstrates their opinion of music as part of a cultural value system, one that the government has a duty to uphold and preserve. You might say they are of the “large government” ilk. As a result, they have continued to provide fertile ground for musicians to thrive over the course of time, and they continue to remain innovators and trend setters in the field of music.
In America, our approach is “small government”. We have almost entirely de-funded the National Endowment for the arts, and state grants hang in a precarious balance after the past few years of massive cutbacks. What this leaves is a vacuum for the “free market” to ride in on a white stallion and save the day…….
Well, we all know how THAT story is ending.
They aren’t. In fact, private companies have given less and less to music organizations now than they ever have. Donations from individuals have also fallen drastically despite the fact that the markets have risen substantially from their 2007 levels and the economy is beginning to stabilize on an upward trajectory (albeit a painstakingly slow one). This downturn, by the way, has barely affected so-called “high net worth individuals”- those whose fortunes remain impervious to the rise and fall of markets. Those individuals are primarily responsible for the philanthropy that keeps music organizations alive and moving forward, but they have taken the opportunity to give less, despite not having lost much over the last few years.
And… it makes perfect sense. Because we, as a country, do not see music as part of a larger cultural value system. I sometimes wonder IF we even have a larger cultural value system, but I’d say that is a question for another post. Neither individuals nor government are supporting music in a meaningful way and even though there are enormous benefits to having a strong music presence in a society, we seem to be uninterested.
Germany has supported its music field since it became a unified country, and as a result has allowed music to flourish as an industry where many individuals find good paying jobs, excellent healthcare and benefits, and a consistent pulse on the cultural, national, societal trends of our time. It is a field where incomes are not over inflated, many jobs are considered comfortable middle class incomes, and many people partake in the act of making, producing, or actively listening to music. It is a source of national pride; its presence helps to define who they are as people, and to bring them together in support of it. It instills a sense of greater humanity, greater human accountability and responsibility.
I think, as we look ahead to four more years of President Obama’s leadership, we can find a way to re-balance the way we support music in America. Hopefully individual donations and the “free market” will increase their support for music organizations, now that we are stabilizing the economic waters. And- it looks as if the National Endowment for the Arts won’t be entirely dissolved. Perhaps there will be an opportunity to prove to lawmakers and Americans alike that musicians and music organizations are vital to national morale, help improve our abilities to be creative and to work together, and generate consistent revenue that stays IN AMERICA. My hope for the next few years is that we will come together to re-expose the benefits of music to our larger society and to take a stand and support music in the public eye.