Legislators in both houses are currently considering a bill that would abolish the Mississippi Arts Commission and transfer its responsibilities to the Mississippi Development Authority. Sponsors of the bill see it as a way to streamline the relationship between Mississippi’s arts scene and its tourism industry. It’s true that small-town museums and festivals across the state compete for visitors and resources, and that there are probably ways for them to work together more efficiently. It’s also true that the MDA could promote relationships between arts and businesses that are mutually beneficial.
However, there’s a cynical way to view this bill. First, the budget for the Arts Commission is only $1.7 million, which suggests that the urge to save money by consolidating agencies is, in this case, an over-reach. It also seems apparent that success in the arts and success in developing businesses involve fairly different standards. Good art does not necessarily have anything to do with efficiency or business elan. Finally, a goodly number of artists lean to the left politically; in Mississippi, many of those artists are women and people of color. Could legislation like this be a way for our conservative leaders to exercise greater control over the political content or art, or an effort to tamp down “liberal” influences in favor of those that involve business?
Update: This bill died.