Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Yesterday we linked to a Pave France post on a new book by Frederic Martel called On Culture in America. La Vanguardia made the book its main story in the Culture section last Saturday, and in a tone of some surprise, reported that the American "cultural model" has its virtues.

According to La Vangua: "The United States is not only a dominant cultural power because of its imperialism, but 'because, with its immense minorities, it has become the world in miniature'." Well, I question whether American cultural imperialism even exists, but that's fair enough.

The article adds that among Martel's points are a) US government spending at all levels on culture oscillates between $25 and 50 billion dollars a year, more per capita than France b) private donations to culture add up to $13.5 billion a year, four times the French culture ministry's budget c) The US has 4000 universities, 700 museums, 2300 performing arts centers, 110 publishing companies, and 3500 libraries d) some universities, like Harvard, have tons of money--Harvard's endowment is $26 billion e) the US has seven times as many libraries per capita as France.

Quotes from Martel: "A continuity exists between the cultural activities of the universities, the non-profit institutions, and the commercial sector," the result of "fierce competition in the non-profit sector." He adds, "The powerful European culture ministries, which so often distribute subsidies arbitrarily, opposes the American policy of massive tax exemptions, which empowers those actually in the field."

Martel criticizes high prices (true for top-line performances, but every city with a university has theater and music with some standards at accessible prices), puritanical donors (that's not much of a problem; if donor X won't give you money for peeing on a statue of the Virgin Mary, donor Y probably will just to look avant-garde), and the growing "mercantilization" of charitable foundations and nonprofits, which he is spot on about. From what I have seen, there are a lot of mediocre careerists in the nonprofit foundation bureaucracy.

My only question for the writer of the article, Oscar Caballero, who is generally more than fair to US society, is why he's so surprised at the flourishing of the cultural industry in the United States.

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