Should the state financially support artists?

By Camila Durán

The question is not new. And in recent times, in Mexico, the debate has been revived due to the government’s interest in eliminating some financial support for artists and filmmakers. The arguments of both sides are very clear.

On the one hand, artists, filmmakers, writers, etc., mention that the support that comes from the State is fundamental for their artistic work. If they do not get that income, their task would be impaired. The state’s perspective is as follows: government support encourages corruption. A part of the money that the State grants is not used for artistic work. These same funds, moreover, can be used to improve the economic conditions of the less favored people who, at least in Mexico, number in the millions.

From my perspective, they are both somewhat right. We live in a context where artistic work does not work economically as it should. We are used to both education and art in Mexico being understood as free benefits that the population should have. When a person pays to enter a museum, many of the times they are forced to complete a school assignment. If you buy a book, you still do it out of obligation. (Many newspapers have been in charge of projecting the reading rates that exist in countries like Mexico: barely an average of two books per person per year.) We are little used to spending part of our budget on what we call culture. Paradoxically, our country is one of the places where a certain type of entertainment is consumed the most, such as the cinema. (According to recent data, Mexico occupies one of the first 5 places of cinema consumption, only below countries with more populations such as the United States, China or India.) But if we take a look at the numbers in this area, we quickly discover that Mexican audiences consume a type of Hollywood cinema with many special effects: we are not used to interacting with the artistic gestures of our own culture. Due to this, Mexican cinema is one of the least seen in our own country.

The dilemma is alarming: if the State does not support art, it could cease to be produced with the force it now has. If it continues to support it, the future of art in Mexico will continue its course: a lot of cultural production, little interest in people to approach it.

Against this background, it is true that artists need government support for their survival: if the State does not support them, the social, political, educational, cultural, etc. conditions do not exist for the public itself to consume the art that guarantees the work of artists. However, and due to the urgency we live in (around 60 million poor people who do not have access to basic services), it seems more important to allocate a part of the public treasury not to artistic work, but to the well-being of the least protected. If the government has failed in this policy of removing economic stimuli from the cultural sector, it is by not carrying out a plan that aims to improve the conditions of the environment to make people aware of the context in which they live. We need public plans and policies so that people do not go to the cinema or the museum out of obligation, but are fully aware that a State without art and without culture has at least one weakness: the lack of an identity that makes it recognized as part of the world you are in.