II. Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs

Program: Arts and cultural grants and administration


Federal Funds:







Program Description:

This appropriation funds the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA).  Former Gov. John Engler created MCACA in 1991[12] “to encourage, develop, and facilitate an enriched environment of artistic, creative cultural activity in Michigan.”[13]  The council is made up of 15 appointees, each of whom serve three-year terms, and a staff of nine individuals who oversee the awarding of grants to a variety of organizations and projects throughout the state.  The MCACA’s fiscal year 2003 appropriation is $12,481,700, $700,000 of which comes from federal sources.  In addition, MCACA received an additional $11,900,000 from the state’s general fund; an amount not reflected in the original appropriation.  The total budget (including the supplemental appropriation) is $24,381,700.[14]

In September 2002, then-Gov. Engler announced $22.6 million in MCACA grants to 368 organizations and projects in 69 counties for the current fiscal year.[15]; Some of these grants go to regional or local government arts councils, who in turn “re-grant” some of their funding to other organizations and projects of their choosing.[16]

The administration line item, worth $839,100, simply covers personnel and operational costs for the program.

Recommended Action:

The Michigan Legislature should eliminate state funding for the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, including its administration.  The reasons for this move include the following:

  • Government arts subsidies are inherently politicized and unfair.   Having an “arts council” enables politicians and their appointees — not the art-consuming public—to decide which art forms and artists are worthy of support and which are not.  The artistic judgment of the “common folk” may not always be agreeable to the connoisseur, but the judgment of the elite minority who control government “arts funding” is far from infallible.  For example, MCACA awarded $22,200 to one elementary and one middle school in the Lansing school district to bring “teaching artists” from nearby BoarsHead Theatre (which received $72,700 from MCACA) into the classroom.  One of the artists’ homework assignments consisted of directing students “to brush their teeth with the opposite hand to illustrate that it’s possible to learn new skills.”[17]; It is at least debatable whether citizens allowed to keep their own “arts dollars” would choose to spend it in such a manner.  But even if they did, at least it would be their own money.  As author John Updike, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, declared, “I would rather have as my patron a host of anonymous citizens digging into their own pockets for the price of a book or a magazine, than a small body of enlightened and responsible men administering public funds.”[18]

  • Government art subsidies often take from the poor and give to the rich.   Supporters of government arts subsidies like to argue that the subsidies are needed to bring art to lower-income people who otherwise would not have the resources to enjoy it.  However, evidence suggests that art subsidies flow from the poor and middle classes to wealthier citizens — those who tend to frequent museums, operas and symphonies in the first place.  For example, projects from wealthy Wayne County received $9,718,300 in MCACA grants for fiscal year 2003, the largest dollar amount received by any Michigan county.  Oscoda County residents saw just $5,000 in MCACA grants come their way.  According to census data, Wayne County has a population of 2,045,473 people and a per-capita income of $20,058; Oscoda County, by contrast, has 9,558 residents and a per-capita income of $15,697.  As a ratio of grant funds to population, Wayne County receives back from the state $4.75 per citizen while Oscoda receives only $0.52 per citizen. Over half of the Wayne County grant money, $5,943,900, went to just two organizations: the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Detroit Institute of Arts.  Economist Robert Samuelson seems to have had it right when he called government arts funding “high-brow pork barrel”.[19]

  • Government art subsidies corrupt artists.  Subsidies gradually but inevitably lead to the “dumbing down” of art as the hopeful beneficiaries of government grants tailor their craft in such a way as to make them most likely to receive state money.  In other words, because there never will be enough money for every aspiring artist, the state must of necessity develop a selection process; thus artists applying for grants will tend to pursue work palatable mainly to their government patrons.  Some writers have recognized the artist’s need for independence and warned against this dynamic.  Nobel Prize-winning novelist William Faulkner remarked, “I’ve never known anything good in writing to come from having accepted any free gift of money.  The good writer never applies to a foundation. He’s too busy writing something.”[20]; Faulkner’s fellow Nobel laureate, one-time Michigan resident Ernest Hemingway, said that a writer who uses politics to advance his career might “get to be an ambassador or have a million copies of his book printed by the government,” but he is betraying his craft.[21]; Savings: $24,381,700.