Different Numbers: Railways, Parks, Museums and Toilets
(Summary of an presentation held at the conference “Before numbers – Perspectives in Funding Contemporary Art Research” in Venice on May 8, 2015 as part of the Seventh CEI Venice Forum for Contemporary Art Curators. Conceived and organised by the Trieste Contemporanea Committee, in cooperation with the CEI-Central European Initiative and in collaboration with the Institute for Contemporary Art in Zagreb.
by Martin Fritz
Generally speaking there’s quite some reluctance in the arts when it comes to numbers. And of course—simply measuring easily to grasp figures, like attendance, sales, admission-income, cost-versus-income-ratios etc. etc. does not even come close to evaluating the full scope of artistic production´s contribution to society at large. It is therefore more than understandable that a lot of arts-managers shy away from directly comparing »their« numbers with other quantitative data easily available in times of Open Data. But we should! We should know a lot of numbers and we should be able to position ourselves within these data. Why? Because it could add credibility to our various claims of having an impact in society. But we should not only use the numbers that other people—mainly from business backgrounds—consider relevant, but we should develop our own set of data, in order to be better equipped for the fight for resources that lays ahead of us, once the latest sweet boom, the 1980s and 1990s for the West, finally fades into distant memory. At least in the West most of the arguments providing legitimization for public art funding were developed in times of continuous growth and have not yet been updated.
In this presentation I want to present several numbers, mainly as a starting point for a discussion about which (other) numbers we need in the first place. Two years ago the Austrian Ministry of Finance provided each taxpayer with a report specifying which areas in the federal budget the taxpayers money was spent on. I used this breakdown as the basis for a calculation of my own personal tax contribution to federally funded arts institutions. I had to find out that only tiny fractions of my total tax payment (€4608 in 2011) were used even for the bigger institutions. To give you just one example: My »personal« contribution to MUMOK, Vienna´s Museum of Modern Art amounted to not more than 41 Cent in 2011. Compared to that I »gave« quite generously to the Vienna State Opera which »received« 2,78 Euro of my tax payment not withstanding the fact that I never go there. My contribution to the total budget for art and culture (€430,400,000 in 2011) amounted to 21, 21 Euro. Clearly these numbers show that there is some benefit for me personally in public art funding as my tax payments alone could never even come close to paying for the services these institutions provide.
On another occasion I sorted the federal budget´s line items by the date of foundation of it´s various institutional recipients. This breakdown clearly pointed to a well-known fact, which nevertheless rarely became that apparent: 65 percent of the federal budget for arts and culture goes to institutions, which were founded before 1918. So the arts-development of nearly a hundred republican years does not match the institutional heritage of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Of course these numbers do not lead to sensational new insights, but we can create a more stable ground for our philosophical claims and political arguments, if we are able to provide quantitative data in addition.
We should be aware that the political struggle in old-school parliamentary democracy is a struggle for the distribution of resources in the first place. This struggle is repeated year after year as part of the allocation of federal or municipal budgets. So you can draw conclusions from comparisons and they sometimes do help the arts. Another example: The total budget for public parks in Vienna amounts to roughly 103 Million Euro a year. This is exactly the same number as the total budget for federal museums, which—due to historical reasons—are also located exclusively in the city. Now it is up to you to continue the discourse on whether this is too little for the museums or too much for the parks or the other way round, but it is necessary to know the fact in order to maneuver in the arena of politics and public opinion. I like to compare museums with parks because most of the people seem to like parks even though not all people use them. This could also be true for museums but unlike parks most museums charge admission. I personally suggest to choose comparable public infrastructures in order to look for alliances, which will be vital to the struggles of tomorrow: Let’s defend parks, museums and a lot of other public services together.
We should familiarize ourselves also with the budgetary position of arts and culture as a sector compared to other sectors needed to maintain a functioning society. If we do that we will see for example that the Austrian Federal Railways need about 10 times the money that goes to the arts and culture budget, while Defense is surprisingly cheap with just about 2 billion. Interest payments for federal debt amounts to 7.97 billion, thereby coming very close to the grand total of expenses for education (including arts and culture), which amounted to 8.5 billion in the year 2011. If we look at these numbers we clearly see that we cannot continue our ignorance towards numbers. There are many other important things in a society! People who are active in the arts are well advised to actively look for solidarity and support among the many other individuals and institutions involved in education, science, social services, environmental protection or health, to name just but a few. Art is not the sole agent of societal progress, even though it cultivates this beloved image of its very unique contribution to society. It seems to me that it is the better argument to emphasize that art does not seek privilege, but a fair share together with other needed elements in a society. Talking about needs, I can add one more find from my budget analysis and I look forward to discussing its significance: The total budget for Vienna´s Kunsthalle – a fully financed municipal organization- is app. 4,300 Million Euro a year, which exactly equivalents the City´s budget for … public toilets!
One of the best arguments for funding arts and culture is still that there is a need for it. It is because people need to, that they go to concerts, to exhibitions, to film-workshops or to a dance festival for that matter. Bertolt Brecht wrote in his poem dedicated to the great exiled actor Peter Lorre, after urging him to come back to join his peers in reestablishing theater in Germany after 1945: »And nothing more/ have we to offer you, other than that you are needed.» It seems like this is the biggest compliment you can hand out to anybody in the arts. Thank you!