| Edward B. Murray at the adda at CIMA Gallery: Artists and innovative fund-raisers. Picture by Pabitra Das
The adda at CIMA Gallery on Monday evening, when Edward B. Murray, elected member of the Washington state House of Representatives, spoke on funding for public arts and heritage in the US, should have been an eye-opener for those under the impression that culture thrives on government patronage in that country.
On the contrary, said the Democrat, it was only in the 60s that the government began to take any interest at all in promoting the arts through funding. And that was largely due to the fact that First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy had a passion for the arts. Murray should know, for he has done extensive work in the US for funding public arts and heritage.
Infrastructure financing and public-private partnership figured on the agenda throughout Murray’s meetings on Monday — the US consulate-ICICI conference at Taj Bengal, the deliberations with housing minister Gautam Deb at the New Secretariat and the exchange of ideas with chief secretary S.N. Roy at Writers’ Buildings.
Back at CIMA in the evening, Murray disclosed that now the US government’s attitude towards the arts is more liberal, though it is becoming increasingly difficult to lay one’s hands on dollars. Murray added on a lighter note that artists have been very innovative in getting around such situations.
The government joins with the private sector where funding is concerned. Murray spoke specifically about his state, where the government provides funding for infrastructure. For example, whenever the government is constructing a new building, one per cent of the cost is dedicated to buying or funding art.
Instead of direct funding, the government provides incentives, such as a tax waiver. A piece of legislation is enacted to provide a tax break.
Arts organisations could generate funds by building an apartment block with space from which the body could function. The government could make provisions for housing and studios for artists in abandoned factories. Ironically, once artists begin to live there, they turn upscale and ultimately, artists themselves could be displaced from there.
Arts organisations themselves could apply for funding on a competitive basis, but the ultimate decision, in such cases, lies not with bureaucrats but with a panel of artists or their organisations. Murray said the beauty of the American system lay in the fact that certain states such as New York could act as a buttress for supporting the arts. But his state, where many creative people had set up home, tried to ensure they never left it for their presence generated income.
However, there is a conscious effort to preserve architecture. There was a time in the 60s, said Murray, when developers could tear down old buildings. But people had become more conscious of history since.
Murray’s Monday stopover was the first in a series of metro meetings all over India, to share expertise and exchange ideas.