It’s funny, our dinner conversation has turned into little crafted monologues between long pauses. I find myself waiting to speak until I have thought every through as best I can. I guess that is the result of the blog format.
But regarding your question–after some thought and a few cigarettes: I think arts granting is never charity but always investment, similar to a business investment where you hope for return, in the case of arts granting not personal financial gain but cultural gain for all. Arts granting organizations believe that cultural vitality is as important as financial prosperity. And just like a business investor you want to make sure the money is well invested.
That said: All arts organizations operate between two poles of funding criteria: on the one side the intention of easing need and on the other side the intention of awarding merit entirely independent of need. In between all variations of supporting promise and potential. And all these always intermingle.
But different from the example you gave, arts granters specifically don’t give money to people they don’t trust but to people or projects where they see valid need/promise/potential/quality. So when arts granters specify what the funds they provide can be used for it is because they have been convinced by a project/work, not because they worry the artist won’t spend the money wisely. Art organizations realize that unlike in the business world (and maybe there not either as well) good work is not always automatically rewarded with financial stability, so they work to bridge that gap.
I think the discussion of funders/granting organizations being patronizing is a valid one in other areas, but I fully, yet carefully, believe this is not an issue within arts funding, let me add organizational arts funding as I have experienced it.
The question for me, and it seems one for you too, is if funders are always correct/realistic in their assessment of worthy work. Also, if funders in some cases ask a project to do too many things or solve too many problems. I think asking artists to solve (generally societal) problems per se is, well, problematic.
Artists make art, very different kinds of art, that address very different, and all valid issues. The art making itself, not which kind, is where the value in art making lies for society.
But it is the funder who determines the parameters under which the funds are distributed. And it is the funder, or the selection committees appointed by the funder, who decides whom the funds are given to.
So the impression arises that the funder is the one establishing value.
Okay, over to you. I think I might be talking in circles, or worse, preaching to the converted. Plus my glass is empty. I am going to get another bottle of wine.