Investing in Mixed Goods: How perceptions of art and artists impact support for funding of the arts in the United States
Sociology Emory University Atlanta, GA, USA
In his discussion of arts policy in the United States, Bill Ivey, former head of the National Endowment for the Arts, points out that America's arts industries have been given over rather freely to an economic marketplace, an "open playing field" characterized by the lack of public policy and federal support. But as Paul DiMaggio notes, American culture also seems to find the "inadequacy of proprietary markets to sustain the arts so lamentable" that government subsidies for arts organizations and the rise of nonprofit organizations that support artists persist. American society seems torn between a desire to support the arts and an unwillingness to institute policy for this kind of support, a sentiment couched in the pursuit of free market ideals.
Caught in this contradiction, art in America can be understood as a "mixed good," that which is supported by both public and private market exchanges. This conceptualization of art not only asks us to consider the public's expected contributions of art and artists, but also the subsequent impact on psychic support for a range of funding sources from individual patrons, businesses, charitable organizations to state and federal governments. Bourdieu's framework on the symbolic nature of exchange allows us to explain DiMaggio's observation by considering how individual differences in economic, cultural, and social capital complicate the binary opposition of producers versus consumers. And in the context of relationships of exchange in the arts, Bill Ivey argues that key to the improvement of support structures for artists in America is a shift in the public perception of art. In this vein, I examine The Urban Institute's "Public Perceptions about Artists (2002)" national survey data about the American public?s opinions on the lifestyles, work, and contributions of artists in the United States. The survey data includes information on individual?s perceptions of artists, participation in arts activities, personal contact with artists and attitudes on funding support for artists. Research is on-going, but preliminary findings suggest that support for public and private funding sources are affected, in quite different ways, by perceptions of artists' contributions to society and emotional responses to art.