The Arts: For Art’s Sake Or For Business?


To fund or not to fund, that is the question

In a world that’s constantly being rocked by political uncertainty and gloomy economic forecasts, funding for the arts, whether public or private, inevitably crops up.

During times of economic growth, full employment and corporate profits, arts funding and business support for the arts is a certainty. But when boom turns to bust, the withdrawal of funding for the arts is just as certain.

Many would argue that it’s one thing to have a thriving arts scene that signifies society’s economic upwards progression. During times of recession, they would argue that arts funding is simply a waste of much needed funds into an unimportant area of the economy. After all, so the argument goes, the arts sector’s contribution to the national economy either in terms of revenue-generation or employment is miniscule.

So, the bigger question is then: what is the purpose of the arts in society? Do the arts serve any role in community, economic or nation-building? Is, for example, public or corporate funding for modern dance justified when budgets for much needed community services are being slashed and companies are retrenching wage earners by the thousands?

The countervailing argument is that the arts are never just for art’s sake. The arts (and artists) can serve as scribe, historian, oracle, judge, guardian and the voice of society. Not only does it serve our need to create, it serves as a rich and diverse source of inspiration for all of us.

More importantly, as a society, our ability for creation and creativity is not limited to the arts but extends to all aspects of economic life. Failure to a forge a progressive, creative and dynamic arts scene will surely be reflected in other aspects of our lives and activities. In short, the arts on its own may never be lucrative, but that same will and power to create and innovate must surely contribute to the bottom line.

Let’s forget the usual trite arguments for the arts and what it represent such as “Art brings beauty into our world” or “Art allows for the expression of truth and beliefs”. One definitive argument for the arts is to be found from an unusual source: the late Steve Jobs. He had this to say:

“It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”

Photo credit: Flickr user noahwesley


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