In Fact, Supporting the Arts Is Not Tantamount to Killing Children

If you’re an opera fan, I imagine you are concerned that the New York City Opera, which has been producing large-scale opera performances for the last 70 years, has announced that it may be forced to cancel its upcoming season unless it can raise a whopping $20 million. Opera is really expensive, not just to see, but also to produce! For those of us who are not particularly invested in the opera (I’ve fallen asleep at two of them), the major takeaway is that perhaps the New York City Opera should spend less money on an art form that does not necessarily appeal to a mass audience. And it also suggests that arts funding is in trouble, which is a problem for those of us who like to support the arts! Of course, Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan (yup, this guy) suggests that those of us who do are selfish morons who don’t care about homeless people or children dying of malaria. Obviously. In an unsurprising screed which proves that having to come up with an opinion on something every day is quite taxing, Nolan argues that the New York City Opera does not deserve any more money. “This is not an argument against the aesthetic qualities of opera,” he writes. “Nor is it a snide, triumphal joke about the stereotype of opera as an outdated pastime for the upper class. It is just a simple call for reason to prevail, when it comes to where rich people choose to donate their millions.” Yes, opera is art for rich people. (Look at the ticket prices for any production and you’ll see that they surpass that of the biggest Broadway show in town, the cost for which can also be astronomical.) The reason, I suppose, is that opera is “high art” enjoyed by the upper class. But also mostly because opera is expensive to produce. Its spectacle is a long-standing tradition, and one that for centuries has been enjoyed by the relatively few who can afford it (despite efforts by the New York City Opera — those horrible monsters who suggest we donate money to them to put on boring musical plays — to bring the art form to the city’s children through their educational programs).

I can’t deny that there are other worthy causes for art lovers to donate money to, such as nonprofit theatre organizations that bring cultural awareness to those who may not encounter it on their own, but Nolan’s arguments takes the indignation to a comically moronic next level. You see, he thinks you shouldn’t give your money to the arts at all when you could be donating it to organizations like the Against Malaria Foundation and the Coalition for the Homeless, which are, to be fair, two important organizations worthy of support. But the suggestion that the choice of where to spend your charity dollars is an either/or proposition — that you can either give your money to the arts or to keep children alive — is a pretty simplistic notion. First of all, those who are supporting the New York City Opera might very well also support other humanitarian efforts; to assume that opera supporters are too selfish to give much thought to the homeless or malaria-stricken children is idiotic. Neither I nor Hamilton Nolan have the information to prove that there’s no correlation between those who give money to the arts and those who support Against Malaria Foundation or Coalition for the Homeless (or any other nonprofit that wasn’t randomly and indignantly selected as an example to support an already sophomoric argument).

The fact is this: people can do whatever they want with their money. They can give all of it to one organization or another, or divide it up among several. Or they can keep it all for themselves. And I’m not suggesting that arts funding is more important than keeping kids from getting malaria — I love a musical, but I can live without them — but Nolan’s argument is based on the sentiment he uses to close his rant: “Opera, as an art form, will survive. The child who gets malaria will not.” No telling how many children we’ll save if we can manage to stop publishing lazy think-pieces such as Nolan’s.