Artful misuse of government

Our elected officials, their bureaucrats and other statists have developed a nasty habit of distributing the public’s money to numerous select self-serving interests. It’s baffling. American government was established to protect the lives, liberty and property of our citizens, formerly known as “We, the People.” Nowhere in our constitutional republic (or as far as I know in this state) was it written (much less seriously discussed) that the fruits of our labor be taken to support businesses, charities and arts—the constitutional statement, “promote the general Welfare” didn’t mean contribute to select interest welfare.

Yet agents at all government levels persist in this vile, unauthorized practice—subsidizing people that the political class seems to assume can’t market their offerings based on merit and value. In our capitalistic society consumers choose to pay for products and services they desire for personal reasons. Why must we all be forced to support private optional activities limited to a small segment of society that fail that test?

Consider the example of the North Carolina Arts Council, a state agency. Primarily it distributes our money allocated by the state legislature. In addition to the fundamental question: Is arts funding a legitimate function of government? We also need ask: Where does the money go, and who actually benefits? My short answers: No; Not to public-need charity; and Very few. Self-serving nonprofit and state agency (e.g. UNCW) people promote these activities, (link) as well as pushers in the press corp. (link)

Last month Wilmington StarNews entertainment editor Ben Steelman reported on a “notable year” for the newly created Arts Council of Wilmington, North Carolina—a small band of local arts activists lobbied to siphon state funds into the county used to prop up little known creators and various arts events. Achievements noted by Executive Director Rhonda Bellamy were less than stellar.(link)

The Wilmington Arts Council opened downtown exhibition space (ACES) to serve local artists, including an “artists’ colony” on exclusive Bald Head Island. It has “revised a once-dead public sculpture program,” coordinated a monthly “art walk” (Pedestrian Art) and distributed state funds to a few local groups. Later this year Bellamy will hand out grants to individual artists in a Regional Artist Project. (Ms. Bellamy says a lot of her job is “consulting”—on how to spend public money; and she’s “hyped” to spend more).

This past year the state gave $179,000 to New Hanover County art groups and agencies. Thirteen locals got $22,000 in “Grassroots Arts” grants. This year they’ll get $50,000 in “trickle down” state government subsidies.

A select few local artists get the benefit of promotional tours, display space, a directory, an events calendar and a map showing where they hang out. Taxpayers, I’m sure, have much better use for their money. It’s not just the money wasted, but the immorality of it. Still, art lovers continue the quest for public funds from a skeptical state legislature.

Mr. Steelman’s front page promo warns of the “uncertain future” of the local arts council. Our newly elected state legislators may tighten the public purse a bit, or not. House members plan to cut only a tiny amount from the $5.6 million state arts grant programs. Wiser Senate members propose a $780,000 reduction—less than 15 percent—still not nearly enough. This waste should be reduced to zero. Those who value artistic activities should pay for the pleasure with their own money.

We’ll see if our legislators hold on fiscal responsibility talk after the annual Art Day rally in Raleigh where statewide arts council lobbyists and sundry pleaders expect them to support another favorite cause with taxpayer’s hard-earned cash.

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About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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