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Which Would You Choose: Neil Gaiman or a Football Stadium?

Or maybe the choice isn’t quite so simple.

Neil Gaiman recently gave a four hour talk at a Minnesota library. He was paid $45,000. Given that the current economy is a zombie — brutally slain, raised up again through questionable forces, and likely to go for someone’s throat – when the story made headlines, it ruffled a few feathers.

A story that ran in the Star Tribune mentioned the fee paid to Gaiman, which came out of the Legacy Fund, an allocation set aside specifically to support art, culture and historical preservation.

The comments on the story are about what anyone would expect. They range from, “that money could have fed thousands,” to “it’s the American way to charge what the market will bear for your services.”

The story rippled out through Minnesota and eventually reached Gaiman himself, who posted a response on his blog yesterday. He explained that his fee is high in order to keep requests for speaking engagements down, and that often he waives his fee altogether. He also wrote that he asked how a small library came by such a large sum, which shows admirable presence of mind. Most authors would have bitten the hand of the librarian trying to snatch the check with their teeth. Then again, most authors aren’t as successful as Neil Gaiman, which again explains the high fee.

He also wrote that there were politics involved. “Apparently the Star Tribune is against the Legacy Fund, and feels the money should go to fund a $790 million dollar stadium instead.” This is as disingenuous as saying that the ‘money could have fed thousands.’ Although Gaiman cited his source, a CityPages article which shows the various expensive public programs that the Star Tribune has come out in favor of, it doesn’t follow that the Star Tribune advocates a direct swap. It’s possible to be against one public program — or against one expense of a public program, since the Star Tribune’s article compares Gaiman’s payment to the much more modest fees for other authors — and to be for a different public program for different reasons.

The catch is that one of those reasons could be that the Star Tribune may benefit financially from the building of a new stadium, as it admits in its editorial endorsement. The only one who was guaranteed to benefit financially from Neil Gaiman’s speaking fee was Neil Gaiman, although he wrote that he passed that particular fee along to selected charities.

Of course the difficulty with arts, entertainment, and sports is that there is no way to quantify their value. I’d much rather have a talk with Neil Gaiman than build a new football stadium, even if a football stadium could be built for $45,000. Then again, I’d rather have a talk with a football than build a football stadium. A football fan might feel otherwise.

Perhaps there is a compromise. I wonder what Neil Gaiman charges to play football.

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