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
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
Norman Pollack
Fissures in World Capitalism: the British Vote
Paul Bentley
Mercenary Logic: 12 Dead in Kabul
Binoy Kampmark
Parting Is Such Sweet Joy: Brexit Prevails!
Elliot Sperber
Show Me Your Papers: Supreme Court Legalizes Arbitrary Searches
Jan Oberg
The Brexit Shock: Now It’s All Up in the Air
Nauman Sadiq
Brexit: a Victory for Britain’s Working Class
Brian Cloughley
Murder by Drone: Killing Taxi Drivers in the Name of Freedom
Ramzy Baroud
How Israel Uses Water as a Weapon of War
Brad Evans – Henry Giroux
The Violence of Forgetting
Ben Debney
Homophobia and the Conservative Victim Complex
Margaret Kimberley
The Orlando Massacre and US Foreign Policy
David Rosen
Americans Work Too Long for Too Little
Murray Dobbin
Do We Really Want a War With Russia?
Kathy Kelly
What’s at Stake
Louis Yako
I Have Nothing “Newsworthy” to Report this Week
Pete Dolack
Killing Ourselves With Technology
David Krieger
The 10 Worst Acts of the Nuclear Age
Lamont Lilly
Movement for Black Lives Yields New Targets of the State
Martha Rosenberg
A Hated Industry Fights Back
Robert Fantina
Hillary, Gloria and Jill: a Brief Look at Alternatives
Chris Doyle
No Fireworks: Bicentennial Summer and the Decline of American Ideals
Michael Doliner
Beyond Dangerous: the Politics of Climate
Colin Todhunter
Modi, Monsanto, Bayer and Cargill: Doing Business or Corporate Imperialism?
Steve Church
Brexit: a Rush for the Exits!
Matthew Koehler
Mega Corporation Gobbles Up Slightly Less-Mega Corporation; Chops Jobs to Increase Profits; Blames Enviros. Film at 11.
David Green
Rape Culture, The Hunting Ground, and Amy Goodman: a Critical Perspective
Ed Kemmick
Truckin’: Pro Driver Dispenses Wisdom, Rules of the Road
Alessandro Bianchi
“China Will React if Provoked Again: You Risk the War”: Interview with Andre Vltchek
Christy Rodgers
Biophilia as Extreme Sport
Missy Comley Beattie
At Liberty
Ron Jacobs
Is Everything Permitted?
Cesar Chelala
The Sad Truth About Messi
Charles R. Larson
A Review of Mary Roach’s “Grunt”
David Yearsley
Stuck in Houston on the Cusp of the Apocalypse
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail