The American System of Support for the Arts: Artists and Art Museums

Part of the St Antony’s Series book series


The relationship between visual arts and the state apparatus of the United States is a difficult one. In recent decades, controversies over ‘obscene’, ‘indecent’, or ‘blasphemous’ art has led to a substantial reduction in federal aid to arts organizations and to the elimination of direct federal grants to artists in most disciplines. Even before these cuts, the government of the United States supported the arts at a much lower per capita level than other developed nations. The reasons for this situation are complex, but are related to Americans’ historical suspicion of large, powerful governments. Nevertheless, the United States boasts cutting-edge artists, lively markets for art sales, both in dealerships and auction houses, and vibrant art museums.1 This is due in no small part to a healthy involvement of private funds in art matters, but as we shall see, the American state has encouraged this private involvement through a variety of means, especially tax laws. Indeed, though US direct support of the arts is one of the lowest, its level of indirect support of the arts is higher than in much of the developed world. The American state also affects the arts through its legislation on non-art matters and through its Constitution, especially the First Amendment which guarantees the freedom of speech.


Indirect Support Fiscal Year American System National Endowment National Gallery 
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© Victoria D. Alexander and Marilyn Rueschemeyer 2005

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