Government subsidy of the arts as “National Treasures”

October 6, 2006


Composer Jean Sibelius quit composing after he

  • had to quit smoking (ordered by his doctor)
  • had to quit drinking (ditto)
  • was supported by his country for the rest of his life

Which one was the constipator I wonder? Could he not compose without his cigars? Or did he have to be drunk or slightly so to visit his muse? Or was it that once he had creature comfort and national respect, the muse divorced him, preferring the leaner and hungrier Sibelius?

My friend John Hall talks about certain people as “National Treasures.” I agree. I dreamed up a new arts subsidy paradigm recently: identify the Leonardo da Vinci’s, the John Coltranes, the Jean Sibelius’s, Maurice Ravels, k d langs, Rufus Wainwrights, the John Adams’s, and support them for life. Give them space, protect them, support them, and sometimes save them from themselves. As people on probation have to check in in with counselors, National Treasures would have a government liaison who would keep tabs on them. National Treasures would have regular checkups, dietary advice, nanny services, long term health insurance, and a personal trainer.

When a gifted artist appears, we all benefit from having that individual have as long of a life as possible. The musician’s graveyard is filled with artists who died young.

After that dream evaporated, I flashed back to old Sibelius wondering which of the three opportunities stopped his flow.

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