I rarely criticize other people's writing in this blog but I read a column that so infuriated me that I had to respond. In Bloomberg View, Virginia Postrel wrote an odious column, "Detroit's Van Gogh Would Be Better Off in Los Angeles." The column was motivated by the recent comments of Detroit's Emergency Manager that the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts might be sold to help pay off the $15 billion of debt accumulated by the city.
The premise of the piece is that, while it would be sad for the DIA to lose its collection, the public would be well served if its collection found its way into more popular institutions. Since attendance at the DIA has been falling, its masterworks would be better off in the collection of a major Los Angeles museum (the author suggests the Getty) since the arts there are flourishing.
I have written a previous column on this issue, arguing that the way to health for Detroit is to feature its remarkable arts ecology rather than to destroy it.
But Ms. Postrel's writing is far more about equity of arts access than it is about economics.
One of the most remarkable phenomenons of the second half of the twentieth century was the explosion in regional arts institutions. No longer did one have to travel to New York or Chicago (sorry Ms. Postrel but Los Angeles was a Johnny-come-lately) to enjoy great art. People of every geography and background could see great painting, sculpture, ballet, symphonic music, theater and modern dance in one's own community. The arts no longer belong only to the wealthy who can afford to travel.
This growth provided inspiration and education for countless numbers of children and adults, provided opportunities for young artists to create work and resulted in some of the great arts institutions of America.
We now have important opera companies in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Cooperstown, New York. We have wonderful orchestras in too many cities to name. We have a great modern dance company in Boise, Idaho. And let's not forget that many of the best plays on Broadway now originate in regional theaters across the nation. I was fortunate enough to observe this dispersed wealth of arts organizations on my fifty state "Arts in Crisis" tour in 2009/2010. The passion for the arts was as intense in Meridian, Mississippi and Bismarck, North Dakota as it is in Boston or San Francisco.
To suggest that the best arts belong in only the largest, wealthiest cities is elitist and condescending and ignores the potency and value of these regional arts institutions.
Every child should have the opportunity to make a habit of arts participation.
Every city and state should be able to boast about its cultural patrimony and use it to attract businesses and tourists.
Who knows where the next Alvin Ailey, Yo-Yo Ma or Suzanne Farrell will come from or what will inspire them to pursue their art?
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