Last week, the NEA announced that a $50 million dollar bailout fund had been preserved in the final version of President Obama’s stimulus bill. This salvaging was viewed as an encouraging development in the understanding of the importance of art in the United States. Recent arts funding in England, however, shows how governmental support for the arts in the U.S. have to go.
The expected conclusion to the future of a British national treasure came to an end earlier this month, when the National Gallery announced that it had secured Titian’s “Diana and Acteon from the Duke of Sutherland for the reduced price of £50m (approx. $71.3m USD) , one month after the “deadline” to come up with the funds had past. Obviously, the British government has a more vested interest in these type of issues, where remnants of its old-world prestige contribute to the tourism industry that is a major source of income for the country.
Nevertheless, the raising of such funds in the midst of an international financial collapse is extraordinary-in both its brevity (a little over four months) and its breadth. While funding from numerous branches of the U.K. galleries was expected, there was also a remarkable push by the public, which accumulated over £10m GBP alone. This campaign was replete with a petition from the British art elite-(David Hockney, Lucien Freud, Damien Hirst, Bridget Riley, among others) and banners, and donation stations outside of Trafalgar Square.
Dr. Nicholas Penny, director of the National Gallery in London, was quite impressed with the effort:
“The notes pressed into collecting boxes and the cheques sent to us by the general public, the generosity of individual friends and the support given by the trustees of charitable bodies combine to make this a great success story..It testifies to the power of Titian’s painting and the conviction that public access to the greatest works of art is of the utmost importance.”
Perhaps a comparison of the artistic pride between the U.S. and Britain is a bit of apple versus oranges. The States are bigger, younger, and with a more diverse array of localized cultures. Nevertheless, is it feasible to fathom an artwork that the citizens of this country would rally around with their hard earned dollars, particularly in the midst of a recession? A Warhol, in a few hundred years?