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Arts funding is financial support for artists and the work they create in the form of grants, fellowships, and public arts programs. The term generally refers to any arts financing that does not come from the commercial sale of works of art. National and local governments, private companies, and wealthy individuals offer funding to individuals or art organizations. This is the primary means of financing for many forms of art that do not lend themselves to mass-produced, commercial business models. The volatile natures of politics and art sometimes create controversies over publicly funded art.
Since ancient times, artists have been supported by powerful figures such as kings, emperors, and popes. This system was refined during the Renaissance, during which great artists such as William Shakespeare and Michelangelo enjoyed patronage from wealthy state or church systems to create their masterpieces. In modern times, arts funding has remained a way for wealthy people to increase prestige while supporting the work of their favorite artists. National arts programs, meanwhile, have fostered the development of culture in communities around the world. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, revolutionary U.S. programs like the Federal Art Project saved many artists from devastating poverty.
Today, a significant portion of arts funding is provided by foundations working in behest of large corporations. These have the double benefit of reducing the public burden of support for symphonies, ballet companies, and other arts organizations while providing tax breaks to the donating company. Wealthy individuals often set up foundations for the same reasons. Churches do not offer the arts patronage they did during the Renaissance, except for supporting occasional faith-related art or literature. Some monasteries, however, do offer writing fellowships for artists in residence.
State and national entities are another major source for arts funding. In the United States, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has provided millions in arts financing every year since 1965. Local arts councils and similar state-based agencies also offer grants and fellowships. Many private arts foundations will match state-provided funding, effectively doubling the amount of any grant. When governments face budget shortages, these arts-related programs are sometimes among the first that politicians will attempt to cut, although a strong public outcry can often preserve them.
Artists often portray the extremes of the human experience, which can be disturbing or even shocking to some people. Public arts funding is occasionally the subject of controversy when politicians or their constituents question the merit of daring artists. In the 1980s and 1990s, the NEA came under fire for supporting the works of artists like Robert Mapplethorpe, Andres Serrano, and Karen Finley. The 2000 film Dirty Pictures dramatizes one of these controversies. In the 21st century, public arts funding is again jeopardized, this time by shrinking state and national government budgets.