State Defends $450,000 for Venice Exhibitions; Hit for Spending in Tough Times

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 18, 2010 | Go to article overview

State Defends $450,000 for Venice Exhibitions; Hit for Spending in Tough Times


Byline: Jim McElhatton, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The State Department is poised to spend nearly a half-million dollars on a pair of upcoming art and architecture exhibitions in Italy, an expense that fiscal watchdogs criticize with the nation's budget picture stuck in the red.

Plans call for the State Department to spend $350,000 so that U.S. artists can showcase their works at the 54th edition of the Venice Biennale next year, an international event that's been dubbed the Olympics of modern art.

Department officials plan to spend an additional $100,000 so U.S.-based curators at nonprofit museums, galleries and arts and architecture schools can travel and display their works at the Venice Biennale of Architecture scheduled for later this year.

State Department officials call the money well-spent. They say the exhibitions provide a way to showcase American creativity and innovation to the hundreds of thousands of visitors expected to view the exhibits from all over the world.

The U.S. presence at the Venice Biennale, one of the world's premier art and architectural fairs, is a demonstration of our commitment to engage with the world in the realm of culture and ideas, State Department spokesman Michael J. Tran said.

But taxpayer watchdogs say the expenditures are emblematic of how federal agencies have strayed too far from their core missions at a time when the country is trillions of dollars in debt.

And politicians wonder why people yell at town-hall meetings, said David Williams, vice president of policy at the nonprofit Citizens Against Government Waste. There's no reason why taxpayers should be paying for art shows in Italy. It should be completely privately funded. This is not a core function of the government.

Pete Sepp, vice president for policy and communications at the National Taxpayers Union, also questioned the expenditures, even though he said in better economic times, "International art exhibitions can be a great thing.

But the fact is, this is a time of severe financial crisis for the U.S. …

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