Robert Paterson | Composer

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What are we Spending on the Arts?


Do you ever wonder what we spend on the arts in the U.S. compared to other industrialized nations? I do, so I decided to do a little sleuthing.

Here is a breakdown (rounded to the nearest dollar) of what we spent on the arts per capita from 1993-96 (I know, old figures, but this is what I could find), based on figures mostly drawn from a 2001 essay from the Millenium Fool,and also from

Germany: $95 Finland: $90 Sweden: $56 France: $57 Netherlands: $45 Canada: $46 UK: $26  Australia: $25 United States: $6

Sure, these figures are 13 years old, but we should still be ashamed. In fact,

according to another much more recent source

, via taxes, each U.S. citizen pays roughly 50¢ each year toward the arts.

Government arts funding in the United States still lags far behind almost all other industrialized nations. Even if the Obama Administration increases the NEA budget by 10 million dollars, we will still pale in comparison to other nations. As great as we think we are over here in America, we lag behind just about everyone that matters when it comes to education, health care, technology, the environment, our traveling infrastructure (roads, bridges, more fuel efficient or environmentally-friendly cars, etc.) and finally, arts funding. For such a great country, we could do a lot better.

In the U.S., there are approximately 100,000 nonprofit arts organizations that spend $63.1 billion annually, a huge chunk of which is funneled to museums, complexes like Lincoln Center and so on, and not to individual new music groups or modern music and art.

It is wrong to assume that the private sector will pick up the slack when the government does not support the arts, especially during a recession. Sure, some say that the private sector makes up for what we lack with public funding, but in these dire times, I'm not sure this will continue to be the case, at least for a while. As the artistic director of a new music group, the American Modern Ensemble, I can assure you, it is more difficult than ever to entice people to give, and sometimes even to pay for a single ticket.

Why is arts funding in the U.S. so low? Part of the problem is that we are a very large country compared to the others, but this is a poor excuse. When you consider what we have spent in the past on just about everything else, it becomes clear that our priorities have not been geared toward the arts. This needs to change. As a composer, of course I am biased, but if you are reading my blog, you are probably sympathetic.

Let's hope the new administration continues to support providing more funding for the NEA and the arts in general.