FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Art of Inequality

by SAM PIZZIGATI

Thomas Campbell directs the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. He’s smiling a great deal these days. Why? Campbell has just received something museum directors only dream about: a donation of paintings, drawings, and sculptures worth over $1 billion.

The donor: cosmetics magnate Leonard Lauder. His gift? Seventy-eight masterpieces, including 33 Picassos and dozens of works by other prominent members of the Cubist movement.

Forbes estimates Lauder’s overall net worth at more than $8 billion. He’s been donating hefty chunks of these billions to the art world for some time now. In 2008 alone, Lauder gave $131 million to New York’s Whitney Museum.

Philanthropy this bold thrills apologists for inequality. Immense concentrations of private wealth, these cheerleaders for grand fortune claim, enrich our civilization’s culture.

“The rich make life more interesting,” the prominent business editor William Davis gushed in the early 1980s.

“Being rich doesn’t make you evil,” a New York Post editorial proclaimed after the new Lauder gift. “And the accumulation of wealth can enrich others — in countless ways.”

Subjecting the rich to “millionaire taxes” meant to “share the wealth,” the editorial board fumed, only discourages gifts as generous as Lauder’s.

In reality, we’re seeing precious little wealth-sharing. The Lauder family and their fellow billionaires have watched tax rates on their incomes plummet. And the resulting squeeze on the public purse is having a substantial — and troubling — artistic impact, especially in America’s schools.

In New York City, as one local arts group relates, budget cuts have painted a “grim picture for arts education.” Nearly a quarter of the city’s schools have no certified arts instructor.

New York hardly stands alone. In Los Angeles, an arts activist noted last fall, more than half the city’s elementary-age kids are getting no exposure to arts instruction. In Detroit, 60 percent of schools “lack art education as part of the curriculum.”

Nationwide, the same pattern. The U.S. Department of Education reported last spring that 4 million elementary school students are going without visual arts instruction. Adds Dan Domenech, the executive director of the American Association of School Administrators: “We haven’t hit bottom yet.”

The “top” for arts education came back in America’s share-the-wealth golden age in the mid-20th century, the years when America’s wealthiest faced federal income tax rates as high as 91 percent, over double the top current rate.

In 1960, lawmakers in Albany okayed the creation of the New York State Council on the Arts. Five years later, Congress established the National Endowment of the Arts. The federal government became, for the first time ever, a major player in arts funding. In community after community, federal dollars began leveraging a vital partnership of nonprofits and public agencies. The arts flourished.

We can’t, of course, totally blame the demise of this golden age on shrinking billionaire top-bracket tax rates. Other factors have been at play, most particularly the rising pressure on school systems to narrow the curriculum to subjects that lend themselves to endless rounds of standardized testing.

But who’s bankrolling this intensely market-driven approach to education that has no patience for “frills” like art? America’s billionaires, through the vast network of think tanks and foundations they’ve so lavishly underwritten.

So let’s keep in mind what really happens to the arts when we let wealth concentrate. Museums get paintings from the awesomely affluent. These donors get plaques in the museums attesting to their generosity — and lucrative deductions on their tax returns.

And the rest of us? We pay our $25 admission to enter museums like New York’s Met as art education fades away from our schools.

Sam Pizzigati is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC, editor of the journal Too Much and author of The Rich Don’t Always Win, Seven Stories Press, New York.

This column is distributed by OtherWords.

Sam Pizzigati writes on inequality for the Institute for Policy Studies. His latest book is The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970 (Seven Stories Press). 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Obama Said Hillary will Continue His Legacy and Indeed She Will!
Jeffrey St. Clair
She Stoops to Conquer: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Rob Urie
Long Live the Queen of Chaos
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Evolution of Capitalism, Escalation of Imperialism
Margot Kidder
My Fellow Americans: We Are Fools
Vijay Prashad
The Iraq War: a Story of Deceit
Chris Odinet
It Wasn’t Just the Baton Rouge Police Who Killed Alton Sterling
Brian Cloughley
Could Trump be Good for Peace?
Patrick Timmons
Racism, Freedom of Expression and the Prohibition of Guns at Universities in Texas
Gary Leupp
The Coming Crisis in U.S.-Turkey Relations
Pepe Escobar
Is War Inevitable in the South China Sea?
Norman Pollack
Clinton Incorruptible: An Ideological Contrivance
Robert Fantina
The Time for Third Parties is Now!
Andre Vltchek
Like Trump, Hitler Also Liked His “Small People”
Serge Halimi
Provoking Russia
Andrew Stewart
Countering The Nader Baiter Mythology
Rev. William Alberts
“Law and Order:” Code words for White Lives Matter Most
Ron Jacobs
Something Besides Politics for Summer’s End
David Swanson
It’s Not the Economy, Stupid
Erwan Castel
A Faith that Lifts Barricades: The Ukraine Government Bows and the Ultra-Nationalists are Furious
Steve Horn
Did Industry Ties Lead Democratic Party Platform Committee to Nix Fracking Ban?
Robert Fisk
How to Understand the Beheading of a French Priest
Colin Todhunter
Sugar-Coated Lies: How The Food Lobby Destroys Health In The EU
Franklin Lamb
“Don’t Cry For Us Syria … The Truth is We Shall Never Leave You!”
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
The Artistic Representation of War and Peace, Politics and the Global Crisis
Frederick B. Hudson
Well Fed, Bill?
Harvey Wasserman
NY Times Pushes Nukes While Claiming Renewables Fail to Fight Climate Change
Elliot Sperber
Pseudo-Democracy, Reparations, and Actual Democracy
Uri Avnery
The Orange Man: Trump and the Middle East
Marjorie Cohn
The Content of Trump’s Character
Missy Comley Beattie
Pick Your Poison
Kathleen Wallace
Feel the About Turn
Joseph Grosso
Serving The Grid: Urban Planning in New York
John Repp
Real Cooperation with Nations Is the Best Survival Tactic
Binoy Kampmark
The Scourge of Youth Detention: The Northern Territory, Torture, and Australia’s Detention Disease
Kim Nicolini
Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red In It
Cesar Chelala
Gang Violence Rages Across Central America
Tom H. Hastings
Africa/America
Robert Koehler
Slavery, War and Presidential Politics
Charles R. Larson
Review: B. George’s “The Death of Rex Ndongo”
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
Jeffrey St. Clair
Night of the Hollow Men: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Renee Parsons
Blame It on the Russians
Herbert Dyer, Jr.
Is it the Cops or the Cameras? Putting Police Brutality in Historical Context
Russell Mokhiber
Dems Dropping the N Word: When in Trouble, Blame Ralph
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail