Many people think that theatre, the visual arts and music are more than mere entertainment which people should pay for as they wish. Art and music are enveloped in a sense of the good, based on the view that they can stretch, uplift, challenge the mind and enrich the human condition. Such cultural activities are supported in whole or part by public money for the greater good.
Some think this limits the styles of art worthy of support to those deemed generally to be great art. Thus there could be public money to support Shakespeare’s plays or Mozart’s music, but no public money for modern dance music. The establishment’s view of great art has in the past rested heavily on the view of established critics, but today is also to some extent influenced by popular opinion when it comes to assessing modern works of the visual arts for display in public galleries.
The presence of public subsidy raises management and moral issues. Is it right, for example, that public subsidy supports the ballet and opera in London which tends to be the preserve of the better off, at least when it comes to most of the dearer seats? Does too much subsidy around the world artificially inflate the returns to a few successful painters, dancers and playwrites?
Is great art bound to be disliked in it own time and in need of state support? Or is great art popular enough to support itself? Can’t patrons, including the state, provide the money for works of art that are needed and appreciated by those who commission them?
In the UK the premise of public subsidy for the arts is less questioned than the targets for state support. Some think more of the money should be spread widely around the country, helping more facilities outside the big centres and assisting the up and coming. Others think public subsidy does need to reinforce excellence in the big cities, as part of the tourist attraction and part of the national heritage. Over to you!