Let’s be clear, here: ”Public Art” is to art what “public restroom” is to rest. I’m at a loss to think of any publicly-supported “art” that advances “art” in any way. It could exist – my art trivia-fu isn’t the same as my music-fu – but it’s not leaping to mind.
I think public subsidy of art is a bad thing, both as government fiscal management and as art.
So when the idea of the “Legacy” amendment - diverting part of a one percent sales tax to the arts as well as natural resources – came up, I was skeptical.
But I thought “as long as the money goes to art education, it’d be the lesser of the possible evils”. Art education is sorely neglected in our society; having some appreciation for art in its many forms is one of the things that adds depth and color to life, and it doesn’t matter if that art is a trip through the Minnesota Museum of Art or a little music or the occasional play (from the Ordway to some waaaaay-off-Nicollet startup house) to a good book. Music – along with foreign languages – was one of the few things that kept me engaged with the idea of “education” at all during those miserable years from seventh through tenth grades; I’m hardly alone.
So if you have to spend money on “arts”, for the love of pete, spend it on bringing art in its various forms to schools and community centers and kids who, in our society, just don’t get exposed to much of it at all.
So how much could we have done for $45,000?
A Stillwater library paid that much in Legacy funds to bring in Sci-Fi author Neil Gaiman. And Rep. Matt Dean was unhappy about it, and called Gaiman a “pencil-necked weasel”, which got Sci-fi nerds and GOP-haters all up with the victorian vapours:
(“Um, hullo? It’s “SF”, not “Sci Fy”. Doy. And don’t call me a “Trekkie”. It’s Trekker, thank you very much” There. I wrote it so you don’t have to).
The feud between celebrity author Neil Gaiman and House Majority Leader Matt Dean took several bizarre twists Thursday, when lawmakers threatened retaliation against local libraries, Gaiman threatened retaliation against Dean, and the cast of characters expanded to include Snooki from MTV’s “Jersey Shore.”
Neil Gaiman, starving artist.
The action started when a House Republican committee chair said he is recommending a $45,000 cut in the Twin Cites’ regional library system budget to make up for the state Legacy money it paid last year to Gaiman for a speaking appearance.
Gaiman quickly defended his speaking fees, saying they are comparable to those charged by Snooki, the reality TV star.
And to be fair to Gaiman, if taxpayer money had gone to “Snooki”, I’d be even more irate.
“I won the Newbery Medal. I won the Carnegie Medal,” said Gaiman, who said he has 1.5 million Twitter followers. “I’ve written movies that were the Number 1 movie in the entire world.”
Well, that’s great. Kudos.
You, Mr. Gaiman, are someone who has been rewarded bountifully for your talents. I don’t begrudge a nickel of what you’ve earned…
…from the private sector.
But can anyone say, honestly, that $45,000 expropriated from all of us working schlubs for “arts and culture” is better spent on allowing locals to bask in the presence of a millionaire sci-fi writer than on, say, buying rental band instruments for a high school music program? For keeping an after-school art program open? For anything else?
Dean, R-Dellwood, got things rolling Tuesday by calling Gaiman a “pencil-necked little weasel who stole $45,000 from the state of Minnesota,” has since apologized. He said Thursday he did not direct Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, who chairs the House Legacy Funding Division committee, to trim $45,000 from the regional library system’s proposed budget.
Dean’ comments, however, underscored the ongoing concerns of the Republican majority about Legacy money being spent on arts and cultural projects as the Legislature struggles to solve a $5.1 billion budget deficit.
Try outrage. As someone who supports the arts, I’m stupefied at the tone-deafness of the library’s action.
Although my inner cynic isn’t surprised (I’ll be adding some emphasis):
The Legacy amendment, passed in 2008 with considerable financial support from arts groups in Minnesota, raised the state sales tax for 25 years to fund outdoors, clean water, parks and trails and arts and cultural heritage projects.
And when Republicans point to things like…:
- …the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities and their racket of funding arrogant avant-garde art while school arts programs go begging
- …the millions in annual funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which enforces a rigid political agenda on its own governance…
…as evidence that the public art funding bureaucracy is out of control, and the arts and culture advocacy communities are fighting against a legislative majority committed to cutting government waste, really, it seems it’s more than just arts education that’s lacking.
Gaiman is a successful “artist”, and a pretty wealthy guy:
Gaiman, reached Thursday afternoon, said he found the entire episode “very weird” and said he could win court damages from Dean, the leading Republican in the Minnesota House, should he choose to do so.
“If I actually wanted to come after you, dude, I could,” Gaiman said of
[For what? Defamation? Buncombe. Dean made no factual assertions; he stated an opinion. The opinion isn't going to harm Gaiman's standing in his community or his livelihood; it'll likely do quite the opposite. And malice? Gaiman must be a sci-fi writer - Ed]
Gaiman said he would not file a lawsuit, but was considering other options that would be “so much more fun than going legal.”
There’ll be a Klingon character named “Deangrfx” in his next book, I’ll bet. Socially-maladjusted twentysomething computer geeks will titter with glee. Life will go on.
Gaiman also maintained that he received $33,600 for the four-hour appearance — a booking agency received the remainder — and said other appearances, outside Minnesota, have paid him more than $60,000.
And if they were paid for with tax money, then we really need to talk.
Anyway, fine – Gaiman’s not a pencil-necked weasel.
He’s just an unconscionable waste of tax money.
How many writing programs, or art teachers, or after-school music programs, could we have supported for what we wasted on this narcissistic frippery?