In Renaissance Florence, the court of the Medicis was renowned for its arts and music, its commissions and lavish performances. St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice produced a flowering, a veritable golden age of polyphonic music. At the court of France's Louis XIV, the Sun King, elaborate court masques entertained the courtiers. Count Esterhazy maintained a country estate with his own famed orchestra and opera, led by Haydn, far from the bustle of Vienna. King Ludwig II of Bavaria built a theater for Wagner, where his Ring plays to this day.
It's a story repeated thousands of times over, of royal or ecclesiastical patronage for artists and composers - the accepted support of the arts of Medieval, Renaissance and even classical times; and musicians as recent as Mozart, Schubert and Wagner looked to such sources for their survival. Without such commissions by church and court, we would not have half of the musical masterpieces that have come down to us.Those days of noblesse oblige are gone forever. But in place of them, one finds in most European countries responsible arts establishments with governmental support that ranges from as much as one-half to total absorption of arts expenses. Even beleaguered Great Britain is still subsidizing about one-third of arts costs. Modern Europeans believe in arts for all, as a necessity of life.
In America, the popular perception is that such largesse is a frill, an extravagance. Most Utah organizations receive only 5 to 10 percent of their budgets from governmental sources. And the arts would surely be a prime target for cuts should Utah's tax initiatives pass, reflecting a cavalier attitude towards fragile cultural organizations that have been put in place at such cost of human effort. Can you eat it? Can you wear it? Does everybody use it? If not, let it go.
But just a moment. Can you eat or wear the arts? Maybe not directly, but they are proven to be great generators of income for almost any community that presents them to any considerable extent.
It's becoming a well-established fact that more people attend the arts in America annually than attend sporting events. A New York Times article recently stated that New York City would lose up to $6 billion a year without its arts establishment, which generates more than 117,000 jobs and attracts more than 13 million tourists to the city each year.
Yet New York takes just as offhand an attitude as anyone, closing down and wrecking buildings where practice space and theaters once existed, cutting subsidies, and generally throwing roadblocks in the path of the arts.
Without a doubt, Salt Lake City has one of the most amazing arts enclaves in the country - truly an Esterhazy estate of the present in the West. Where else will you find a major symphony orchestra, regional opera company and first-rate ballet company flourishing in a city of 165,000, with a total population base of a scant million people? Productions here are often big-time beautiful, of quality that amazes and bemuses first-time viewers.
This has been made possible, until recently, by the civic-mindedness and superhuman efforts of a handful of patrons and arts directors. Out front have been Maurice Abravanel for the symphony, Willam Christensen and Glenn Walker Wallace for Ballet West, Glade Peterson for Utah Opera. And in each case, if one were to name names, you would find a few patrons, corporations and foundations giving the lion's share of money for these organizations' support.
Such patrons cannot go on in this way, nor should they be expected to. More private individuals, corporations and governmental entities that reap the benefits and cash in on their presence should be doing their share to keep our arts alive, so we won't have the far harder task of reviving them after they are dead.
Many may say, I don't enjoy the arts, so why should I support them? As well ask, I am not mentally ill, I don't have children in school, and I never drive to southern Utah, so why should I support mental health, education or highway construction? What benefits society as a whole should be supported by society as a whole.
Were Utah to be stripped of its arts, it would immediately lose a potent drawing card for new population and industry. People who contemplate coming to this "faraway" place can fortify themselves in the knowledge that there are arts amenities here, even above and beyond what they are accustomed to. And when they arrive and see the extent of the culture, most are amazed.
Utah arts are also a bargain. Ticket prices are far below norms on either coast, about half as much as in New York. And through ingenuity and necessity, productions here are often brought in at far less cost than in other places. For example, Ballet West's "Sleeping Beauty" cost a total of $400,000, compared with American Ballet Theatre's $1 million.
There is a wholesomeness, a freshness to our arts that does not exist in most places, qualities that make administrators from far bigger places quite willing to cast their lot here.
People from afar can believe in Utah arts; we should do our arts the same favor. Lately we have been reading and hearing about Utah's nagging inferiority complex - a feeling that too often extends to the arts. We should tune in to critical and personal assurances from afar, and believe that our arts are first-rate.
If we believe in the value of a thing and credit its merit, then we should be willing to support it, and to see tax dollars go to its support. If the tax initiatives should pass, Utah's resourceful arts will survive. But the loss of state money would also mean loss of an imprimatur, an assurance that the arts' presence is desirable and even necessary to this community. And the community would soon discover that again they had chipped away at the foundations of something very precious.
Magical kingdoms, Shangri-Las, come with a price tag, and they are worth protecting. Where are the Esterhazys, the bishops of St. Mark's, the mad Ludwigs of today? They can only be replaced by their more prosaic counterparts - national and state governments, corporations, foundations and individuals.