Really interesting story out of Australia via Non Profit Quarterly. The Arts Minister has asked the Australia Council to develop a policy penalizing arts organizations who refuse private funding based on idealistic or political motivations.
Refusing funding from tobacco companies is mentioned in a couple instances, but this was brought on by artists in the Sydney Biennale objecting to its association with a company involved in a controversial detention center used to house asylum seekers.
Senator Brandis responded to that by saying, “What I have in fact asked the Australia Council to do is to develop a policy so that it would be a condition of the receipt of Australia Council funding that the arts organisation concerned not unreasonably refuse or unreasonably terminate private sponsorship.” When pressed on who would be responsible for deciding what is to be considered “unreasonable,” Brandis replied, “I don’t frankly have a fixed or dogmatic view about whether it should be the Australia Council or whether it should be the Minister or whether it should be some third party arbiter.”
We can only hope that the option adopted is not the current Minister. Brandis has since said that while it was reasonable for arts companies or festivals to reject corporate funding if they had concerns about a sponsor’s financial credentials, it was unreasonable for them to refuse sponsorship on political grounds.
While the funding model in the United States is different than that of Australia and the amount of support U.S. arts orgs receive from government sources is comparatively small compared to private and corporate support, I can easily see a similar rhetoric being used politically in the U.S.
“X Theater has been on the public dole (equal to 2% of its budget) for years and they are perennially saying they are in financial straits. But just last year they refused a donation from Y Company (seeking to charity wash its reputation after that last scandal), even after they offered to double their usual donation. Where do they get the nerve to ask the people of this great state for more of their hard earned money after refusing Y Company’s generosity?”
To a certain extent, refusing money from tobacco companies might be easy because there has been a decades long nation wide campaign about the problems brought on by smoking. With other companies, issues like environmental damage and sweatshop like conditions with low pay may be mitigated by widespread employment and improvement in the general standard of living, causing more ambiguous views about refusing support on ethical grounds.
I think it would be difficult to pass a law or rule to this effect in the U.S. because it is easy to see how that there will be no end of trouble. (How can such a poor school afford to refuse Playstation’s sponsorship in return for painting their gym and cafeteria with the logo?!)
Just merely employing the rhetoric to equate arts organizations refusing private funding with the unemployed refusing a crappy job can be damaging enough.