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Saturday, November 20, 2010

An Immodest Proposal

When the city of Albany announced it would eliminate its annual budget of $350,000 for local arts funding, I sighed - and then got busy soliciting donations for my favorite ex-beneficiaries of the city's largesse. And when the New York State Museum announced it would be closed on Sundays beginning at the first of the year, I thought, "That sucks, but it was great while it lasted."

These cuts are the inevitable result of an economy in a tailspin and a culture that has always undervalued the arts and education. Yet I see hope, and it is exemplified by an existing community-based organization that is thriving right in front of our eyes: The Albany Public Library.

Funded as an independent tax district that the voters approved in a special referendum, the library system has blossomed all over the city with new and renovated branches that look beautiful and are always buzzing with activity. They are inviting, well stocked, high-tech, low-carbon edifices to the fact that Albanians DO care about culture and education, and are willing to pay to make it available to all citizens.

Why can't we do the same for Albany arts funding? The city has about 90,000 residents, which translates to about 35,000 households - so, for just $10 per household, that $350,000 can be replaced. I'm not sure how it's done (Dennis, Elissa, Holly - any advice?), but I think it's worth a try.

The big question remains: Would the city's voters approve a new tax for the arts, just as they did for the library? If so, we would suddenly look like the most enlightened community in the U.S. And we could look forward to seeing some pretty spiffy new arts centers, too.

Let's do it.


Roger Owen Green said...

Interesting idea. Is there a legal precedent for that, as there is for the library? I have no idea. And, more importantly, would people support it? I know the library is cautious about raising its budget request, aware of the broader economic picture.

B said...

It's a neat concept. But libraries offer, on their face, more than just culture. Residents recognize the value of libraries as not only places to find books and movies (though free movie rentals probably go a long way toward convincing people to shell out for library funding) but also community centers, valuable resources for kids, hosts for events, etc. A new, clean, modern library adds value to a community, figuratively and literally.

Of course an arts center could offer much of that too, the center in Troy being a good example. But it's going to take a little more to convince people, I think. The moment you say "art" you will lose folks who believe that art is something they'll never understand.