Nolan Hamilton’s opinion piece, “Do Not Give a Dollar to the Opera,” expresses a negative reaction towards the New York City Opera’s pleas for donations. The opera company claims it needs $20 million in order to go forward with their 2013 season and 2014 season. Hamilton’s argument is that there are other more important causes in need of charity in the world, such as the Against Malaria Foundation and the Coalition for the Homeless.
Although fighting malaria and helping the homeless are certainly worthy causes, I disagree with the premise of the article. This is actually a logical fallacy, along the lines of saying that we needn’t talk about poverty in the developed world because there are children starving in (insert far-away place here). People have the ability to care about more than one thing at once.
As for his argument that a dollar spent on one charity is a dollar not spent on another, I would argue that though spending on the arts may seem frivolous, I believe human beings need art and entertainment. We have evolved to be creative and social. Anyone who has tried to live on a slim budget can understand the urge to buy that one ticket to a fun activity, or that one game you have wanted forever, or even just a chocolate bar instead of something more nutritious. We need the break from all of the seriousness and the gritty reality of life, and people are willing to pay for the experience. And sure, the art of opera would survive the collapse of the New York City Opera. But would it survive if everyone followed Hamilton’s advice into the future?
Unfortunately I hear arguments like this in other venues, often from people who work in fields far removed from the arts. They ask why anyone would want to get a degree in the arts when they are destined to be poor and forever in debt because of it. They question the need for any spending on what they see as non-essential in a time of economic crisis. I think it is critical for us to understand why people think this way, and more importantly, what we can do to change their minds.