Arts column: ‘Tax me’ demands Stephen King, as David Hockney is announced as Britain’s most charitable giver

AS THE world’s most famous horror writer, Stephen King has been frightening the life out of people since his first novel, Carrie, was published in 1974.

But never have his words sent shivers down the spines of Republicans as much as the piece he wrote for US news website The Daily Beast did last week.

“Tax Me, for F@%&’s Sake!” he demanded – a phrase more terrifying to their ears than Jack Nicholson’s “Heeeeeere’s Johnny!” in the 1980 film version of King’s The Shining.

The best-selling author pays around 28% tax on his estimated $28m annual income (that’s more than double the earnings of the average Fortune 500 CEO).

He wants to pay 50%.

King says his appeals for increased taxes for the super rich over the years have been consistently met with the attitude: “Just write a cheque and shut up!”

He does (write, not shut up) – cheques totalling $4m per year to libraries, local fire departments and arts organisations – but it’s not enough.

As he rightly points out, charitable donations can only support, not run, the services that governments are charged with looking after. They cannot be used to pay for public (state) schools or stricter regulations on businesses to prevent environmental disasters such as the BP oil spill.

And, more seriously, charitable donations are by their very nature voluntary. Although you can point to US entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates (who has even funded projects here in Merseyside, including the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine), many people with King’s wealth simply do not want to share it.

The horror writer’s article certainly goes against the traditional image of the impoverished artist begging for funds.

But actually it’s not all that unusual for those in the arts world who have made it to freely give something back.

Some, such as Cliff Richard, set up entire charitable foundations, while many simply donate their time or work for free.

Just this month, a whole list of famous artists, including Damien Hirst, Stella McCartney, Nowhere Boy director Sam Taylor-Wood, Marc Quinn, David Bailey, Tracey Emin and John Moores Painting Prize judge Angela De La Cruz, have given work for an auction towards the creation of a yoga therapy centre in London.

Nobody in the UK – artist or otherwise – gives more than Yorkshire-born artist David Hockney however, who incidentally also submitted a piece to the auction.

According to the Sunday Times 2012 Giving List, revealed last week, he is the most generous person in the UK, based on the percentage of his annual earnings he has given away.

Hockney’s current wealth is estimated at £34m. Recent donations include art works worth £78.1m to his charitable foundation, which aims to “further the education of the public in the appreciation of art”.

Also featuring among the top 10 is Elton John and long-standing supporters of the arts Dame Vivien Duffield, of the Clore Foundation which promotes cultural learning, and Lord Rothschild, former trustee of the National Gallery and National Heritage Memorial Fund ex-chair.

At a time when the Arts are becoming increasingly reliant on private funding, this has to be encouraging.

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