Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Recurring Death of Arts Funding

Once again, the Republicans are suggesting that the NEA should go, entirely:

An advisory panel composed of over 100 Republican members of the House of Representatives has recommended ending all funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). The NEA is the federal government's chief source of funding for nonprofit theatre groups, dance companies, and arts presenters. The CPB is a major funder of noncommercial broadcast programming of the performing arts.

The Republican Study Committee recommended that the two agencies be eliminated as part of its "RSC Budget Options 2005" report. The 23-page analysis offers cuts in nearly every area of the federal budget, leading to savings of $102.1 billion in fiscal year 2006, five-year savings of $369.9 billion, and a decade's savings of $949.7 billion.

Presented by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), the RSC's chairman, and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), the committee's budget and spending task force chairman, the study indicates that the lost federal funds could be made up through private sources.

"In 2001, America spent $27 billion on nonprofit arts funding: $11.5 billion from the private sector; $14 billion in earned income (tickets sales, etc.); and $1.3 billion in combined federal, state, and local public support (of which $105 million was from the NEA -- 0.39% of total nonprofit arts funding)," the report states. "The funding could easily be funded by private donations. Savings: $1.8 billion over ten years ($678 million over five years)."
I go back and forth on this issue. On one hand I think that eliminating taxpayers' support frees institutions to curate as they see fit, totally. I also believe that nations that create art welfare programs generally encourage mediocrity, because the artists/institutions can live comfortably without having to compete in a jungle of a market. Taking that argument to its logical conclusion, then, nations that don't support the arts at all produce highly competitive artists and institutions, who must excel to survive.

On the other hand, I believe that if my money's going to be spent on roads to nowhere in Alaska or (yes, here it comes) to line the pockets of Halliburton cronies, then it makes sense to fight to ensure at least some of that money is also targeted to support education and institutions in places where there's simply not enough local money to pay the bills to keep an art space open, let alone offer programming that might encourage some budding artist to follow her dreams. I mean, if I thought that by eliminating the NEA, our Congresscritters would also then eliminate the pork to their pet projects that benefit only their contributors, then I might actually consider it.

Further, you do begin to suspect that it's not the money, but the resentment, that drives efforts like this. The arts often champion liberal ideals, and Republicans can't stand having their share of such funding spent on efforts that offend them. Again, I must reference Halliburton (such a useful shorthand) in repsonse.

But the NEA's not the only arts program slated for cuts. From the
Americans for the Arts website:
House Education Chairman Suggests Terminating Arts Education Program
House Education & the Workforce Committee Chairman John Boehner has suggested eliminating the Department of Education's Arts in Education program to pay for hurricane recovery efforts. Boehner's Setting Priorities in Spending Act (H.R. 4018) would eliminate a total of 14 Federal programs, including the Arts in Education program which Boehner claims "has a limited impact in integrating arts into the school curriculum." This couldn't be further from the truth. Arts in Education programs offer grants for the development, implementation, and expansion of arts education programs and the integration of arts instruction into the core curriculum.
Paying for the hurricane by ending arts funding. A hurricane that destroyed New Orleans, none the less. Sigh...back to the NEA article:
[Americans for the Arts] said in an emailed "arts action alert" that the RSC was using the devastation of Hurricane Katrina as a rationale for the recommended cuts: "Needless to say, cutting this funding would not even make a dent in the need for hurricane relief, and at the same time it would deprive the affected areas of much-needed help in rebuilding their vital cultural sectors."
The argument I hear from conservatives on this is often: If the arts were relevant to the average American, then funding would be seen in a more positive light. The blame for this animosity or at least ambivalence falls at the feet of the art world, which produces work that doesn't speak to the people.

The more cynical side of me can't help but interpret that to mean that paintings of NASCARs or three-legged kittens or wrestlers would increase arts funding, but there must be something to that argument, no?

What I generally try to argue in response to that though is that art, like science, is a discipline with two audiences: the general public and the peers. It can take the peers decades (or longer) to find the metaphors/vocabulary that will provide access to the general public for a development, but eventually the public will get it (think of how Stephen Hawking's book, A Brief History of Time, made blackholes and such more widely understood or how abstract art is now more widely appreciated than it was a few generations ago). We wouldn't expect scientists to stop pushing as hard as they can into new frontiers or argue that there was no role for the state in funding their work (much of which never results in advancements the general public will understand or ever use), but somehow we expect all art, even the most bleeding edge work, to satisfy Joe Public, whether he's willing to make any effort to understand it or not.


Anonymous Kriston said...


What isn't well understood about arts funding in America is that an enormous percentage of it is spent in areas that the market would otherwise ignore. If every project that carried NEA or NEH funding were to carry an enormous NEA/H stamp, Joe Public might realize that he gets a lot of benefit from federal arts funding.

As it stands—because of a conservative campaign begun a decade ago—Joe P. thinks NEA means giving money to perverts to commit perversities. I also think that the public needs to work a little harder to understand art; if you read about the Mapplethorpe obscenity trials, for example, a jury of total nonexperts vindicated Mapplethorpe after expert testimony, even as the prosecution rested weakly ("the images speak for themselves"). It's not outside most people's means. However, it doesn't actually matter: Look through the actual grants, and you find lots of funding for local folk and music festivals—events that don't require any mediation at all.

The way to ensure that there will always be a Breadbasket Bloc hostile to art is to locate all the art along the coasts. Eliminating public funding does not in any way eliminate the avenues by which an angry public can attack artists—cf. Mapplethorpe, Rushdie, etc.

10/13/2005 11:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Kriston said...

Sidebar: I don't think that the RSC's suggestions will go anywhere. It's a typical conservative laundry list, including half a trillion in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, but the consensus doesn't exist in the House to cut spending. They might arbitrarily kill NEA/H, but I doubt a massive offset-spending bill could pass.

10/13/2005 11:59:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

If every project that carried NEA or NEH funding were to carry an enormous NEA/H stamp, Joe Public might realize that he gets a lot of benefit from federal arts funding.

Or he'd resent that what he thought he was getting for free was actually paid for out of his taxes.

The way to ensure that there will always be a Breadbasket Bloc hostile to art is to locate all the art along the coasts.

Totally agree. Personally, I'd focus all NEA arts money on the heartland and let the coasts fend for themselves. It would pay off in increased interest in their institutions for tourism, I believe.

10/13/2005 12:07:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

A big wish on my list is funding for arts programs in schools, especially high school level. At the present time music and art are practically non existent or cursory. I think math and science are wonderful pursuits, however waaayyy over emphasized. The moment I found art, everything else fell into place, well not the math part. I've heard this many times from other artists.

10/13/2005 01:04:00 PM  
Anonymous ML said...

It seems to me that the Republicans are still fostering the issues of the late '60s not realizing (or needing to realize) that reality has shifted. The whole bogus perception that the Democrats are the tax and spend party (true for LBJ, but since Reagan the Dems have been far more fiscally responsible than the Republican presidents. W is spending a bit more than 33% more than taxes bring in. Clinton spent about 8% LESS than taxes taken in). And the whole indecent art thing - it's a straw horse since the NEA does not fund individual artists any more. And cable tv produces vastly more Xrated work than museums. Except for the Daily Show and sometimes 60 Minutes, there aren't any liberal news media out there. These days Nixon would be called a liberal.

So what are the Republicans angry about? I suspect that they thought that when they gained control of the Presidency, both Houses and the Supreme Court, suddenly every one would see the light and become born again. And that ain't gonna happen.

10/13/2005 02:31:00 PM  
Anonymous kriston said...

They're angry, of course, because outrage is the source of their power. A party of Incredible Hulks!

10/13/2005 02:46:00 PM  
Anonymous crionna said...

I'm pretty confused here. Alice Walton opening a museum in the heartland is probably a bad thing, but giving public money to heartland festivals is a good thing? Why? Is it because of who makes the decisions about where the money is directed?

And how is Alice's museum a threat? Is it because the curator might buy certain pieces that in some people's opinion do not properly represent contemporary American art thereby giving breadbasket museum goers an incorrect impression of what contemporary art should be, or that the curator's purchasing habits might drive artists to follow a particular style that is being purchased?

Are you truly concerned that artists in New York will change their styles to win sales to the newly awakened collectors in Bentonville? And if so, isn't that their choice to make?

This goes back to the discussion about appreciating art. IMHO, the art world would be a lot better off helping to fund more art history/art classes in grades 6-12. That way you build up an appreciation for art. Those people interested will both seek out art and also have a better appreciation for the theme and the craft.

Perhaps your local high school history teacher would like you to help discuss history through art E. For example, during a discussion of fascism (which would hopefully include the horror at Guernica) you could discuss Picaso's take on it. Maybe, as Mark noted, that interests a couple of the artists in the History class. Better yet, the class sees how art can have an effect on politics, opening their eyes to why some of the art they see is created the way it is.

10/13/2005 02:52:00 PM  
Anonymous ML said...

I do think it is interesting that the Walton empire collecting contemporary art is questionable but the Lauders collecting is fine. East coast conservative money vs mid West conservative money?

Personally I don't object to the Walton fortune being spent on an art museum. Museums exist to conserve. Conserving art is generally a good thing. Taste changes. I grew up in Mississippi and the only museums I went into before high school were about the War Between the States. To see art, even conservative art, would have been a welcome relief.

Even scientists, Edward, are having trouble with funding. Think stem cell research.

10/13/2005 03:07:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Alice Walton opening a museum in the heartland is probably a bad thing, but giving public money to heartland festivals is a good thing? Why? Is it because of who makes the decisions about where the money is directed?

Let's back up. I feel the need here to restate (in bold this time): "I'll wait to see what [Alice does] to pass judgement [about the quality of the museum]."

My question was never whether Crystal Bridges, despite its name (really, I mean just call it the Magical Mystery Good Vibrations Institute and be done with it), will be a good museum or good for Arkansas. I'm sure even if it's a mediocre museum it will be good for the local arts scene.

My question was whether obscene amounts of art-buying money in the hands of ideologues (or their supporters) could bring to the art world what Murdoch has brought to the MSM (and if anyone says "what, you mean fairness and balance?" I'll let loose the hounds of mockery hell)?

Are you truly concerned that artists in New York will change their styles to win sales to the newly awakened collectors in Bentonville? And if so, isn't that their choice to make?

I'm concerned, quite honestly, that the galleries willing to exhibit whatever sells will succeed in putting those willing to take more chances out of business should the art-as-investment crowd conclude, from worst-case-scenarios as the one I'm imagining here, that conceptually challenging art can be ignored in lieu of what they know they'll be able to off-load on Alice (should her interests turn to contemporary) or other such museums down the road. They're figuring out how to manipulate the market, and so long as the only venues they can try to turn a buck with remain ideologically liberal, with curators who are likewise liberal, they'll be limited in controlling the influence back into MFA programs.

It may never come to that, I realize. The odds are any such collector (as I'm imagining Alice could be) will be influenced and not the other way around (the art world A list is kind of like SCOTUS...stealth newbies are quickly dazzled and won over). radar says the combination of rising extremism and barbarians at the art market gates warrants keeping a watchful eye on such efforts.

Then again, I live and breath conspiracy theories, so YMMV.

10/13/2005 03:55:00 PM  
Anonymous ML said...

Maybe Alice Walton will show tractors. That would be a good balance to the boats in Boston and motorcycles in NY.

10/13/2005 04:09:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

To see art, even conservative art, would have been a welcome relief.

I understand that. And despite my personal politics, I wholly support efforts to build conservative museums (better use of the money than other things I can think of).

This whole Alice rant began when I realized this model could be used to infiltrate the art world, that's all. I have no idea if Alice would do that. But because I loathe her family's business practices, I do expect the worst from her. Fair or not, I'm just being honest.

Maybe Alice Walton will show tractors. That would be a good balance to the boats in Boston and motorcycles in NY.


10/13/2005 04:14:00 PM  
Anonymous ML said...

Given your politics (which are similar to mine), you might enjoy this:

Directions: When George gets stuck, hold down the shift key and drag him around with the arrow.

10/13/2005 05:01:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...


Thanks...had fun with that.

Although, for the record, I don't wish any ill toward W as a person. He's probably as much fun to party with as the next Yale graduate, off camera.

10/13/2005 05:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Kriston said...

What concerns me about the Fortress of Solitude (Crystal Bridges) is that 1) it puts such important work so far off the map, and 2) may bend that work to the service of a neverending American triumphalism march. The works need to be seen, and they need to be seen in different contexts.

10/13/2005 05:25:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

hmmm...context...that's an interesting side to this

Playing devil's advocate, so as not to lose all sense of balance in the eyes of our more conservative readers (I know..."too late," OK, so I do tend to get over-protective when politics and arts butt heads), I'm not sure I think Bentonville, Arkansas, is any different from Marfa, Texas, as a destination. Or are you suggesting something about the context within the space itself, Kriston?

10/13/2005 05:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is off topic, but I am dying to know what Edward thought of the Leo Koenig article.

10/13/2005 05:40:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

not sure I caught that anon...which Koenig article? Has Leo slugged someone again?

10/13/2005 05:50:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

nevermind...found it

New Yorker...hang on, let me read it

10/13/2005 05:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Kriston said...

Just that Bentonville, Arkansas, considered in its broadest geographical terms, is a town of 20,000 people. The purpose of putting a major museum there, as opposed to, say, Little Rock—itself not exactly a huge travel destination, sure, but worthy as any midwestern city of an important museum—is to honor Wal-Mart.

That's a strike against Crystal Bridges before it even opens. What worries me is that Walton will make other, similar decisions that do not do the art justice and instead serve to honor Wal-Mart. No one can say for sure, but there's reason to worry. How will the works travel? Will a Hopper be available to be used in a show that contradicts the Wal-Mart view of America?

Your concern about Marfa is well place—but the difference between Marfa and Bentonville is that Judd put those works in Marfa. Getting to Marfa is a huge pain in the ass, and that's on Judd. I'm not sure it's best for a Durand masterpiece to be squirrelled away in rural Arkansas.

10/13/2005 06:06:00 PM  
Anonymous crionna said...

Sorry E., didn't mean for that to come off as pissy. I guess if the art world has the potential to be so easily manipulated, I'd almost have to say, well, geez, I don't know what, except if artists aren't being true to themselves who really gets hurt? And to go even further, is "art" that is not created from one's heart really "art" at all?

it puts such important work so far off the map
Off the map for who? Bentonville is pretty close to Branson, MO which is quite the gathering place in the Midwest. I expect that the museum will be a nice day trip (the roads in that part of the country are really beautiful too).

I wonder whether the NEA or Steve Wynn has done more for midwestern art appreciation in the past 10 or so years?

Ya know, an interesting corollary to this might be hunting. I just read in today's Chron that "The excise tax on hunters is the oldest and most important conservation program in the country," resulting in the increase from near extinction to 100's of thousands and millions of a number of species in CA*. That money comes from fees as well as taxes on licenses, ammunition, firearms etc. Contrast that with how the arts are funded. Straight from the general fund right? Perhaps a tax on supplies and a special fee to gallerists and collectors would make the money spent more palatable to Joe Public and open his mind a bit.

*Make sure to "view chart" for these numbers.

10/13/2005 06:13:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

I was taught by someone who served on several NEA boards, selecting recipients of awards. He claimed that the process was entirely corrupt. Has anyone else heard this?

10/13/2005 07:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Cap'n Skeptizmo said...

Well some things gotta be cut, and someone's ox is going to gored. From my evil perspective, what the NEA or CPB provide can and will survive without government largess. It's something the private sector can rally around and do better anyway.

10/13/2005 08:01:00 PM  
Blogger la.dauphine said...

I thought Laura Bush has supposedly incrased NEA funding since being in the White House. She may be the way in, if there is a way...

10/13/2005 08:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Macallan said...

incrased? Doesn't that have more than one "s"?

[I kill me]

10/13/2005 11:02:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

incrassing the NEA...heh!

I had heard Laura was pro-arts as well, la.dauphine, but although it seems she got to choose one of George's SCOTUS nominees, I doubt she could stop a full charge of RINOs in the House hellbent on saving New Orleans's poor and needy from those selfish elitists on the East Coast.

I can't quite get a good picture of the "real" Laura. Reporter friends of mine say she's cold and not there. Artists have reported she's intelligent and engaged. It might be that she's simply bored with those photo-ops (best story of her coldness comes from a producer doing a "live at the White House during Christmas" bit, which after a few years would have to make anyone dread the holidays), or it might be that she's fake when among artists.


10/14/2005 08:59:00 AM  
Blogger Hungry Hyaena said...

Wow, Edward, you have a great blog here. I'm getting into this post thread a little late, I suppose. I'm on the fence about public art funding, too, so I won't add any particulars to the dialogue.

Suffice to say, you have a fine blog and I not only plan to read it regularly now, I will also add a link to it from Hungry Hyaena, my own slice of blogdom. I'm surprised I hadn't heard of your blog before; Alois just told me about it on Friday night.

10/17/2005 10:26:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Thanks HH. Appreciate the kind words. I like the mix of art and politics on your blog as well!

10/17/2005 09:36:00 PM  
Blogger Buckeye Beauford said...

The federal government has a role in promoting "useful arts" -- but only by letting authors, inventors, and artists exclusive right to their productions. Beyond that, every dollar spent on the NEA is a dollar better spent on something the federal government is supposed to do.

As for the argument, "If it's going to bridges, it should go to art" -- agreed. But the earmarks for those "bridges to nowhere" are bullshit and should be rescinded. And only a handful of Republicans have their hands clean here -- the rest, Rs and Ds alike, participate in the pork fest and waste billions on things most taxpayers would be outraged to know their money's being spent on.

Art's great. I see no reason to force taxpayers to support it though, whether it's a jar of feces or a folk festival in Debuke.

10/22/2005 05:11:00 PM  

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