A strong public debate unfolded in the late 1990s when the Royal Opera House in London was under redevelopment supported largly by the lottery fund whether it can be justified to spend public money (money from the man in the street) to be channeled into such a specialist area, into an exquisite form of art which will reach only a very small fraction of the society. Do the masses have to support the entertainment of the few?
Arguments were many on both sides. That the purpose of the art is enobling and elevating and that public funding should go to institutions which maintain European cultural art forms and thus opera; while public efforts should be given to maintain the established artistic canons. In this viewpoint opera was one of the cornerstones of culture to elevate the spirit of the citizens and if people are not receptive enough and not attending opera than education shoud step in to fill the gap. On the other hand other people saw it as an interference with market operations. This more populist theory of artistic value argued that the purpose of art is to entertain the masses and the realm of art should be the marketplace and should be organised as any other business area. They wrote about elitist control and the lack of opportunity for ordinary people to go to these performances. The debate was really fierce since the genre of opera divides even the upper middle class, which otherwise has a high cultural consumption level.
Debates also fuelled traditional art institutions to make real attempts to open up their doors to more people with varied programmes and lower ticket prices. The tide also made national museums to provide free entry, while traveling pedagogical and art educational programmes were to pull down accessibility issues both in terms of geography and art consumption.
It is not only institutions but whole sectors which cry for re-evaluation of public funding. The Arts Council England has been heavily criticised over the imbalances between the different art forms, jazz and pop music receiving disproportionately less support than more classical music forms while equally contributing to the national economy. As a response to growing criticism over the distribution of funds between art forms arts councils accross Europe started to include the social objectives and wider access to arts as a requisite for funding. Democratisation of art forms is discernible in this statement of Arts Council England from 2019 “we do not consider that certain types or scales of artistic activity are inherently of higher quality or value than others”. This process also led to a higher level of uncertainty on what is worth for public funding.