Thursday, July 22, 2010

How many composers do you know within three zip codes of your home?

A friend in the US recently made this suggestion:

Many people appreciate the beneficial presence of art galleries in small communities, but these businesses struggle. Art dollars flow towards urban centers on grounds of prestige. How about making local art purchases, say within three zip codes of the buyer's residence, tax deductible?

Republicans and Democrats could get together on this: a tax cut through which the government funds the arts by encouraging private spending. And the government would lose little revenue -- some of the tax burden the collectors avoid would pass through the dealers and artists.

I think this is a splendid idea, especially when it is extended to artists working in non-visual arts. Yep, tax breaks for new music commissions.  It seems even a politically plausible idea, given the preference of Democrats for stimulus and arts funding and Republicans for tax cuts of almost any sort.  (The scale of this proposal would probably be dwarfed by the massively state-subsidized sports stadiums which have been widely supported by Republicans; see, for example, George W. Bush and the Texas Rangers baseball team.)  

An essential part of a more lively future for new music has got to be giving more emphasis to locally made music as a complement and contrast to music representing super-regional centers of funding or prestige and the consensus of large institutional programmers.  A local element necessarily introduces more diversity into the mix, which is healthy for the development of music itself and for performer and audience attention as well as helps to create a better bond between composer and community, which seems like a necessary element in increasing engagement in the music as well as commitment to live performance opportunities.  

In many ways, the contemporary music environment is more like the Baroque era than the late romantic with its quasi-heroic composers striving for international careers.  In the Baroque, there were clearly musicians and elements of music itself which transcended the local, and even the more obscure small-town composer was networked into this, particularly with regard to style, but the bulk of actual music making, for example all of the huge bodies of liturgical music written by a J.S. Bach or a Telemann, was intended for local consumption and was frequently made with the specific resources — be they strengths or limitations — of their communities.

Another useful aspect of a tax break for commissions is that it could help with the imbalance given to the large commissions — operas and orchestral works — over pieces for soloists and small ensembles.  All galleries love the big sales of works of substantial scale by better-known artists, often to large institutional collectors, but the bread and butter business is the sale of smaller pieces to individual collectors.  The same should be true for commissioned compositions.  


No comments: