Bad decision welcomed

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I’m excited about Amherst’s new art gallery.

Darrell was at a press conference this morning about the art gallery opening at the old train station, and I spoke this afternoon with one of the three artists spearheading the gallery, Ted Evans (I have a terrific piece of his I previously misattributed to another artist).

I think the gallery may be a very positive development for the town.

I’m on shaky ground here. Even something as benign as an art gallery is not without controversy. I chatted with one person downtown who raised the point that local stores that have been providing retail space to artists will lose those artists – in essence, artists will now have retail space at a lower rate than they previously did, and at the expense (lost revenue) of other businesses. To compound the problem, the retail space they will have will be subsidized by government – by taxes.

I’m not sure what the financial arrangement is for the gallery. Evans told me the artists will pay a nominal fee. Some (most?) of the expenses are being picked up by the town.

This is classic big government, the kind of thing I rail against.

OK, so I don’t have a politically principled reason to support the opening of the gallery. If I was mayor, I’d have to say no to supporting it as a point of principle. But I am excited, and I do genuinely believe it could be good for the town (which means I would be a mayor who puts principle ahead of outcomes? That’s a tricky one…).

Here’s the thing: I think Amherst isn’t what some people think it is. I don’t even live in town, and I’m not from here, so I won’t blame you for dismissing my view. But I think the view of this town as a parochial underdog is too narrow.

Clearly there are people struggling with low incomes and poverty in our community, and I am in no way diminishing that. And there are people with local perspectives and only local perspectives. But this region contains all kinds of people: poor people interested in international events, rich people whose only interest in the rest of the world is culinary, middle class people who like opera and monster trucks, and farm folk who secretly collect modern art.

People aren’t simple. Yuppies aren’t simple and neither are rednecks. Life in this town is more than just groceries, beer and the sports scores, and it’s positive seeing businesses and institutions spring up that reflect this diversity.

What the heck am I talking about? I’m taking about art, dammit! Go to the Autumn House art auction and you’ll see a packed house of people willing to put their money where their mouths are. Deanne Fitzpatrick packs em in for the fibre arts festival. Half the Christmas parties in Cumberland County attend live theatre. The rockabilly show, in its first year, was a roaring success.

Art means something to almost everyone and it transcends economic barriers. Art is exactly where a town some view as an underdog can succeed. The tourist appeal could be considerable, as well.

I’m not impartial. Not at all. I look forward to visiting the new gallery over and over again. Increasing the profile of the arts in Cumberland County will enrich me emotionally and financially, too. So no, I’m not a neutral observer.

I don’t believe towns should use taxpayer funds to subsidize art galleries, which I’m pretty sure is happening here. Even if the decision ultimately financially enriches the area, one good decision based on a bad principle doesn’t justify the numerous bad decisions governments make as they overtax and overspend.

But it’s happening, and I’m glad it’s happening. From my entirely biased perspective, this particular unprincipled decision could pay off for the community, in dollars and sense.



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