Not only does March 1, 2013, mark the beginning of the federal budget sequester, but as well the deadline for the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs’ Retention and Engagement Grant Program.

The REGP is but one of five MCACA grants categories for Michigan this year. MCACA’s 2013 budget includes $5 million in state tax dollars and $1.15 million from the National Endowment for the Arts. The $6.15 million represents a $3.5 million bump above 2012’s MCACA budget.

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As noted by MLive last summer, the $6.15 million is significantly lower than the $25 million the state appropriated to the arts just before the proverbial wheels fell off the state’s economic wagon.

Residents forced to flee the state in those years more than likely wish a portion of that $25 million remained in their pockets rather than spent on the relative luxury of state-funded arts programs. And now, once again, monies budgeted for the arts in Michigan at first creep and then vault to larger sums irrespective of economic realities. One is somewhat reminded of a famous quote from that Santayana guy about those who fail to remember past mistakes wind up repeating them.

All this on top of the millage passed in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties last August that collects taxes for a tri-county arts council and a projected $230 million Detroit Institute of Arts endowment fund as well as the $25 million Michigan Film Tax Credit and another $25 million for the Pure Michigan campaign. This while both our state and nation struggle to find solid economic footing while simultaneously spending money more prolifically than Imelda Marcos on a Stuart Weitzman shoe-purchasing bender.

Mr. Santayana, meet the Fiddler Nero. We shall have bread and circuses.

The REGP is described thus on the MCACA website:

Through the New Leaders Arts Council of Michigan advisory group, grants are offered to support projects or collaborations focusing on the retention and community engagement of young people, approximately 14 – 30 years old, in Michigan through arts and culture. Funding is available for projects that involve the creative mentorship of young people, creative ideas or projects young people are already working on, ideas young people have about how to make their community a better place, and projects that use arts and culture to empower young people in Michigan; support an atmosphere of entrepreneurship and creativity; and encourage the retention of young people in their communities.

In other words, how you gonna keep ’em down in Flint and Day-twah after they’ve seen Indy —or any number of states with more stable economies? Why Art with a capital “A,” of course. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Your humble writer doesn’t disagree that arts and culture enrich the lives of those so inclined to appreciate both. But when the state attempts to transform a wholly organic process into a commodity boasting all sorts of unsubstantiated economic multipliers he must protest. After all, it’s not the state that creates “cool cities” by declaring any particular municipality a cultural haven. That’s for the residents of that particular geographical area to determine.

It also seems unlikely that attempting to jumpstart a cultural renaissance with taxpayer dollars will do much if anything to retain Michigan residents who perhaps would like to keep a bit more of their hard-earned money a bit more than ensuring they receive a face-to-face with “The Potato Eaters.” Additionally, letting residents retain more of their own money would allow them to spend larger sums on the art they choose rather than that chosen by government-appointed bureaucrats.

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