Did We Have Music, Art, and Books before the UN?

And would we have music, art, and books without the UN? The great jazz pianist Herbie Hancock suggests in a Washington Post op-ed that our cultural life would be barren without UNESCO:

I cannot imagine a world without music, art, film, dance, theater and books. It would be a dreary and colorless existence, with little cooperation and communication among citizens. The arts are the glue that holds us together, the cultural fabric of our lives, and they sow the seeds for inventive, universally shared experiences….

UNESCO helps ensure that our world remains soulful, spirited and full of life.

Case in point: UNESCO recently endorsed April 30 as International Jazz Day. This is an opportunity to spread the gospel of jazz, its message of peace and cooperation, and its unique American traits. …

Music is an essential ingredient of my life, and I am in awe of its power….

That is why U.S. engagement in UNESCO and the United Nations must continue….

During these crucial times, the work of UNESCO is needed more than ever.

Herbie Hancock is a great pianist and composer. But here he seems to have let UNESCO bureaucrats lead him into a ridiculous argument. Ridiculous enough to remind one of Hillary Clinton, who said when Republicans threatened to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, ”This is an ominous time for those of us who care for the arts in America. A misguided, misinformed effort to eliminate public support for the arts not only threatens irrevocable damage to our cultural institutions but also to our sense of ourselves and what we stand for as a people.” Oh, come on. The arts are a lot more important in our lives than anything that the NEA and UNESCO do. And they get far more “public support” than these modest government expenditures.

Supporters of government arts spending produce economic studies finding that nonprofit arts and culture institutions spend $63 billion a year. Americans donate $13 billion a year to arts and culture organizations. And of course those numbers are dwarfed by American spending on for-profit cultural activities: $443 billion in 2010 on entertainment and media, $28 billion on books.

Compared to such numbers, the National Endowment for the Arts’ annual budget of about $150 million and whatever portion of UNESCO’s $325 million annual budget is spent on arts are pocket change. If both of them disappeared, music, art, film, dance, theater and books would continue to thrive.