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Some Thoughts on the Gates (Sorry, Bill. Not You.)

Strolling through Central Park (with 700,000 other arts lovers) last weekend, I was struck by the realization that Christos’s latest project, The Gates, was utterly free of commercialism. No corporate logos. No hawkers pushing “official programs.” No vendors peddling T-shirts (although Gates T-shirts are available at various Central Park information stands, and will benefit the Park). No banners proclaiming, “The Gates — brought to you courtesy of Big Widget Corp!”

It made me realize how much of our public experience — whether it’s the name of a sports stadium, a summer concert in the park, or the running of a marathon, — now depends on corporate underwriting. I can’t really bring myself to complain about that — certainly our own government’s support of the arts has ranged from pathetic to Scrooge-like. And without corporate money, lots of projects would simply go un-funded.

But a recent study by the Rand Corporation says that our current arts funding policy could be more wisely structured by focusing on building an early appreciation for the arts, rather than just trying to buck up individual arts organization. The theory is that people who learn an appreciation for the arts while young will turn into paying consumers later in life, thereby sustaining arts organizations with their patronage. States should certainly pay attention to this when cutting budgets for arts education. But is there a role for business to play in that scenario — or is that a risky proposition?

Meanwhile, back in Central Park, the business journalist in me couldn’t help looking at all that orange fabric flapping in the breeze and thinking….what a missed opportunity for Home Depot!

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