Public Support of the Arts

  • Bruno S. FreyEmail author
Part of the SpringerBriefs in Economics book series (BRIEFSECONOMICS)


The supply of art deviates in several respects from the ideal of a well-functioning market. Deficits continually increase. On the demand side, problems are caused by merit goods, external benefits in production and consumption, and public goods. People value the options, existence, bequest, education, and prestige connected to the arts. These failures seem to speak in favour of government stepping in. However, government intervention is also liable to failure. Decisions taken in the political process may deviate systematically from the preferences of the population. Nonetheless, citizens are quite willing to support the arts with substantial funds if asked to in popular initiatives and referenda.


Well-functioning market Market failure Declining cost Productivity lag Income distribution Merit goods External benefits External cost Public goods Non-use values Existence value Bequest value Education value Prestige value Government intervention Government support Art expenditures Tax expenditures Donations Preferences Constitution Democracy Popular initiatives Popular referenda 

Related Literature

This chapter partly follows

  1. Frey BS (2003) Public support. In: Towse R (ed) A handbook of cultural economics. Edward Elgar, Cheltenham UK and Northampton, MA, pp 389–398Google Scholar

The market failure approach is developed in many textbooks and readers on cultural economics.

  1. Specific monographs dealing with the public support of the arts include, for example, Google Scholar
  2. Schuster JM (1998) Neither public nor private: the hybridization of museums. J Cult Econ 22(2–3):127–150CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Towse R (ed) (1997) Cultural economics: the arts, the heritage and the media industries. Edward Elgar, Cheltenham UK and Lyme, USGoogle Scholar
  4. West EG (1985) Subsidizing the performing arts. Ontario Economic Council, TorontoGoogle Scholar

Arguments against direct public support for the arts are advanced by

  1. Cowen T (1998) In praise of commercial culture. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  2. Grampp WD (1989) Pricing the priceless. Art, artists and economics. Basic Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar

That citizens are prepared to support the arts, even if they do not personally engage in them, is shown in

  1. Frey BS, Pommerehne WW (1995) Public expenditure on the arts and direct democracy: the use of referenda in Switzerland. Cult Policy 2(1):55–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Schulze GG, Ursprung HW (2000) La donna e mobile—or is She? Voter preferences and public support for the performing arts. Public Choice 102(1–2):129–147CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CREW - Center for Research in Economics and Well-BeingUniversity of BaselBaselSwitzerland

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