FALMOUTH — Art has always needed patronage. Without the House of Medici – a banking family – we might not have had the Italian Renaissance. Instead, we have the architecture of Florence and the Uffizi Gallery, one of the most visited galleries in the world, with its vast collections donated by the family from the 16th to 18th centuries.

But who’s going to be today’s Medici?

In my opinion, it’s corporations. Private corporations control almost twice the wealth of individuals. A 2011 Federal Reserve study shows that private sector businesses account for 59.29 percent of U.S. wealth, compared to 34 percent for individuals.

ROCKEFELLER AND THE VERSAILLES ROOF

Unfortunately, the arts are often thought of as ancillary to more practical pursuits, but they’re as important for societal development as anything else. History’s great art patrons have all understood this, using their own money for the greater good.

When John D. Rockefeller Jr. toured Europe after World War I and saw the devastation wrought by the war, he pledged to do something. One of the things he did was restore the roof at the Chateau of Versailles.

It may not be spectacular – repairing a roof – and Rockefeller didn’t receive any public recognition for the repair because the public never saw the roof. But he did what was necessary: infrastructure repairs are necessary for a palace of that size and age.

Of course, it’s not all he did. According to Versailles3D.com, “in a few years, the generosity of the great American sponsor restored in Versailles the palace, the gardens and the park, as well as the Trianon palaces and their gardens. The intervention of the Rockefellers was the first large sponsorship of Versailles and was to be followed by many others.”

Arts patronage requires money. While that may seem incongruous for a gallery owner to write, it’s reality. Other than a few individuals, corporations have the money in today’s society. But why should corporations support the arts? The unpractical reasons we know about – art for art’s sake – but there are very practical reasons as well.

ART’S CONTRIBUTION TO THE ECONOMY

According to the National Endowment for the Arts, or NEA, cultural industries “have contributed growing amounts to the U.S. economy (over time). Between 1987 and 2009, for example, the inflation-adjusted value added by the performing arts, sports and museums nearly doubled.”

Before you jump on the sports aspect of that, consider that “as the U.S. economy recovered in 2002, consumers spent $12.1 billion ($42 per person) on admissions to performing arts events. This amount was $2.5 billion more than spending on tickets to movie theaters, (and only) $1.5 billion less than outlays on admissions to sporting events,” according to the NEA.

Locally, a Maine Arts Commission study of Maine museums showed that “in 2009, approximately 442,000 visitors to the 14 participating museums spent nearly $71 million. … It is estimated that the direct spending of these museum visitors creates a sales impact totaling nearly $148 million. This spending generates tax revenues for state and local government of more than $7.5 million.” Of these museum visitors, the majority were from other states, spending their vacation money in Maine.

ART KEY TO CULTURAL SOPHISTICATION

The Maine Arts Commission also reports that arts festivals draw around 300,000 attendees during the summer months. Of those attendees, about 80,000 are from other states. In 2011, attendees spent an estimated $71 million at Maine businesses during the festivals, generating about $4 million in taxes and fees for local governments and the state.

When historians gauge a culture’s sophistication, art is right at the top of the list of criteria. And as the world gets smaller and more homogenized, regional culture becomes even more important.

Maine’s role in American fine art is deep and defining. Think of Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth and Robert Indiana, just to name a few. And Maine’s legacy of creating great American art continues today in original paintings and fine art photography.

Our art is part of the fabric of our society, reflecting local ideas and values. If there’s such a thing as social responsibility, someone needs to patron the arts. The responsibility, right or wrong, falls to the wealthy: those members of society in a position to do it. In today’s society – in Maine and abroad – that means corporations.

— Special to the Telegram