The governor's recommendation to no longer support a Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs would save approximately $5.9 million in state money. This money is currently distributed to dozens of organizations and institutions for art and culture programs.
The governor correctly recognizes that this $5.9 million constitutes spending on noncore government functions that the state cannot afford. Although five full-time employees and $1 million under this program would be retained and transferred to the Michigan Strategic Fund for a newly proposed arts and cultural planning grants program,[*] the governor's recommendation still represents significant progress in limiting state spending to items that can be considered essential functions of government.
There are good reasons to conclude that the arts should be financed exclusively by the private sector anyway. LaFaive and other Center scholars have repeatedly explored this idea, advancing it in all three of the Center's state budget studies, published in 1996, 2003 and 2004.
The 2004 study explained that state art subsidies are unfair in two ways: They diminish the opportunity for citizens "to choose for themselves what types of arts and cultural projects they will support" by instead placing those choices in the hands of state officials and their designees. Second, the subsidies have the "perverse effect of forcing the poor to subsidize the rich . . . since art museums, operas, and symphonies are frequented predominantly by people of high socio-economic status. ..."
As LaFaive has also explained, the arts are arguably too important to be subjected to the political interference that inevitably accompanies state subsidies. In a 2006 article, LaFaive cited an old maxim, "With the shekels come the shackles." He wrote, "Government may mandate restrictions that limit the artistic license afforded to politically sponsored works."
It's important to note that because the Mackinac Center policy analysts and Gov. Granholm do not support continuation of these government art subsidies does not mean that they think that the arts are not important. Mackinac Center scholars also do not support subsidies for food producers, yet they are certainly in favor of food.
The needs of art and government are at cross-purposes. Good art requires a freedom of expression that is compromised by government subsidies, while good government requires a focus on core functions that is compromised by art subsidies. For the sake of good art and good government, it is wiser for the state to avoid political entanglement with art, especially at a time of growing state budget deficits and falling state revenues.
[*] The five employees presently distribute money and perform other administrative functions at a combined cost of $1.4 million from the general fund: See Mitchell E. Bean et al, "Review and Analysis of the FY 2009-10 Executive Budget Recommendation," (House Fiscal Agency, 2009), 98, http://house.michigan.gov/hfa/PDFs/rev_analy09-10.pdf, (accessed May 28, 2009).