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State of the Art, or Art of the State?

September is traditionally the time when opera companies and orchestras return to their home cities from Aix, Salzburg, Tanglewood, and countless other summer festivals. This rentrée is also marked (on both sides of the Atlantic) by the return of worries about how classical music is financed.

American symphonic life is Euro-centric in almost every respect except for its funding. Whereas Americans depend upon tax-deductible private donations and box office receipts to finance live classical music, Europeans prefer direct government support for the arts.

Ironically, while arts advocates in the United States have long argued for adoption of the “European model” – which has produced a rich and varied artistic life for Europeans –Europe is being forced to change its system of support to one that depends more on private money and the box office.

Unfortunately, Europe’s system of direct government financial support is falling victim to Europe’s slow economic growth and budget deficits. Particularly for those countries that have adopted the euro, government spending on the arts will be constrained for some time by the requirement that fiscal deficits be kept to 3% of GDP.