Culture

Culturally Impoverished: US NEA Spends 1/40th of What Germany Doles Out for Arts Per Capita

10 countries that leave the US in the dust on funding the arts.

In the United States, government expenditure for the arts remains minuscule when compared to the amount of money the government spends in other areas of the public sector. Federal funding to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), created by Congress to offer support and funding for art projects, remains static at $146.2 million a year, with a measly annual budget of $158 million. 

To put that into context, the government has disbursed over $245 billion bailing out banks and financial institutions. The National Science Foundation’s annual budget sits around the $7 billion mark, despite the fact that research shows art studies close the gap between high- and low-income students and not only improve numerical skills but promote creativity and social development.

In 2011, art funding in the United States reached a record low following the financial crisis. The 2013 National Arts Index revealed art spending made up just 0.28 percent of the government’s non-military budget in 2011, with local government spending also dropping by 21 percent over that time. The percentage of American households donating private funds to the arts also declined by almost 9 percent. 

Such figures are symptomatic of our free-market, capitalistic society. Contrast that with the European model, where art is not viewed as a commodity but as a universal birthright to be protected and celebrated. In the spirit of reviving art funding and our perception of culture on our home soil, here is a list of 10 countries that fund citizens to pursue artistic endeavors.

1. Germany: Germany’s cultural budget was approximately $1.63 billion USD in 2013. According to Ian Moss, research director of Fractured Atlas, Germany’s art funding in 2007 equated to roughly $20 per German citizen, which “dwarfs the 41 cents per red-blooded American provided by the NEA. What artist wouldn't want to live there?” Moss told Huffington Post. Since the 1970s, Germany has implemented a federal program for art purchases and the collection of contemporary art in a bid to support artist organizations and bodies. In fact, publicly funded cultural institutions are used to educate people to promote interest in art. In 2013, the German culture budget rose by 8 percent even despite an overall federal budget decrease by 3.1 percent.

2. Northern Ireland: The Arts Council of Northern Ireland announced it will award over £13 million ($21 million USD) to arts projects through northern Ireland, including theater and literature for its tiny 1.8 million population. The Arts Council is the development and funding agency for the arts in Northern Ireland. It distributes public money and National Lottery funds to develop art projects and events throughout the country for both individual international artists to perform in Ireland as well as organizations.

3. France: France has always had a vast appreciation for art and culture, which it considers almost holy. Home to some of the most prominent art displays in the world, French museums generate over 20 million viewers a year. The budget of the French Ministry of Culture for 2013 was close to €7.4 billion ($10 billion USD) with €3.5 billion ($4.73 billion USD) dedicated to the cultural field alone.  Despite such a large distribution, these figures actually represent a 2.3 percent drop in art, which has prompted protests and strikes across the country in recent times.

4. Sweden: The Swedish Arts Council is a government authority that implements national cultural policy by allocating generous funding to performing arts, music and literature. Every year, huge sums of public money are dished out to punk rock and indie music bands, which American Republicans have criticized. In 2011, the Swedish government spent 2.60% of its central government spending on culture alone. The Swedish Arts Grant Committee allocates approximately 100 million SEK to the arts ($15 million USD) for its modest 9 million people. Moreover, the Nordic Culture Fund supports artistic and cultural cooperation between all the Nordic countries. The fund goes a step further, even supporting architecture, design, visual arts, performing arts, film, literature, music and multicultural projects.

5. Australia: In Australia, government expenditure for the arts and cultural activities in 2011-2012 period was estimated to be approximately $7 billion for a population of only 22 million. In 2013, the Australia government confirmed an additional $75.3 million in funding over four years to support Australian artists and art organizations. The government supports the arts in Australia through a number of programs including arts training bodies, music, film festivals and also includes radio and television. Each state in Australia has an Arts Council that provides the majority of funding. In 2008–'09, cultural funding by all three tiers of government averaged $311.77 per person in Australia.

6. Finland: In Finland, the Ministry of Education oversees arts and cultural funding and directly supports individual artists through extensive cultural and professional training schemes supported by the central government. In 2011, government expenditure on culture was €33 million ($44.61 million USD) for its 5.3 million citizens with €14 million ($18.93 million USD) spend on individual artists alone. Remarkably, Finnish visual artists are entitled to receive a five-year salary paid by the Finnish Art Council.

7. England: TheDepartment for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is responsible for the arts in the United Kingdom, funding art through Arts Council England, which merged with other arts boards to distribute grants and National Lottery funds to support “good causes” in the arts. At present, the National Lottery has provided a benefit of £165 per person ($269 USD) in London compared to £47 per person ($76.64 USD) for the rest of England, which has angered British residents about unfair regional distributions. In 2012-2013 alone, DCMS funded 16 major national museums and galleries totaling £447 million ($728 million USD) according to The Conversation

8. Uzbekistan: In 2004, the Forum of Culture and Arts of Uzbekistan Foundation was established and is the largest public organization in Uzbekistan dedicated to reviving and funding the arts. The Forum provides financial support for young talent and craft dynasties and has generated increased international support with offices all over the world including Moscow, Beijing and Paris. The group organizes annual festivals like the Youth of Uzbekistan Festival of Fine Arts and joint opera concerts, which generate major public participation. Even during the Soviet period, the government gave extensive support to the arts, built cultural centers and paid the salaries of professional artists. Unfortunately, government censorship issues have impacted various art projects, which have restricted most art festivals to the capital of Tashkent. Nonetheless, the fund continues to organize state-endorsed exhibitions and support its artists.

9. Mexico: Mexican artists can pay their taxes with artwork in an “art-for-amnesty” type exchange, according to USA Today. Since 1957, the Mexican government has offered artists a deal where if they are able to sell five artworks in a year, they can offer the government artwork in lieu of tax payments. Under the scheme, the government displays the art in museums and government offices and loans them out for special exhibitions. Participants must register with the Tax Administration Service and submit their work to a jury to prove they have actually shown or sold artwork. To date, there are around 700 artists registered and the Mexican government has amassed 8,000 works of art.

10. The Balkans: The Balkans Arts and Culture Fund (BAC) provides funding for the arts with a view to strengthening and promoting artistic cultural development in the Western Balkans specifically to bridge broken relationships in the former Yugoslavia. BAC is financially supported by the European Cultural Foundation and the Open Society Foundations as well a number of other European cities like Amsterdam and Budapest which largely back the arts in their own countries.

Jodie Gummow is a senior fellow and staff writer at AlterNet.