I'm So Bored With the NEA

Artists demand "stimulus" subsidies.

In this long season of bailouts and federally administered stimuli, with seemingly every starving investment banker pleading to Congress that capitalism is just too hard, America’s artists had a golden opportunity to pull off the greatest piece of conceptual art since Marcel Duchamp realized that urinal-factory craftsmen in Trenton, New Jersey, were turning out far more graceful sculpture than he ever could. Instead, they sold themselves out at the ridiculously low price of $50 million. Andy Warhol must be spinning in his grave.

That comparatively paltry sum was all the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was able to wangle from the massive $787 billion stimulus package President Obama signed into law in February. Since there are roughly 2 million dancers, sculptors, painters, and other professional aesthetes in the U.S. (according to the 2008 NEA report Artists in the Workplace), that means they are in line for an extra $25 each. Or about enough to buy a new black beret.

Wouldn’t it have been more provocative, inspiring, and educational if they’d simply said, “No, thanks”? If, say, they’d commissioned Karen Finley to storm the Capitol, her naked body decorated with a portrait of Milton Friedman fashioned from smeared Godiva chocolate? “We don’t want your money!” she could have exclaimed. “Not the $50 million mandated by the stimulus act, nor the $145 million in annual funding the NEA was already scheduled to get this year! Keep your soft-core socialism for Citigroup and the manufacturers of wooden arrows! We’re artists! Fiercely autonomous! Proudly independent! Unlike our cowardly, un-American counterparts in the world of big business, we’re committed to free enterprise and self-determination!”

Instead, arts advocates responded like every other underachieving opportunist peddling its troubled assets to federal sugar daddies: They argued that our chamber music societies and tap dancing foundations are too economically significant to fail. The arts’ “role in generating billions of dollars in ancillary economic activity for stores, restaurants and the travel business has been proven in bucketloads of surveys and analyses,” exclaimed Chicago Tribune theater critic Chris Jones. “Even the smallest [arts] organization can record the fact that the parking lot down the street and the dry cleaner around the corner and the restaurant nearby all do better when the organization is functioning,” Kate D. Levin, New York City’s cultural affairs commissioner, told The New York Times. An NEA press release announced, “Nonprofit arts organizations and their audiences generate $166.2 billion in economic activity every year, support 5.7 million jobs, and return nearly $30 billion in government revenue every year,” with “every $1 billion in spending by nonprofit arts and culture organizations and their audiences result[ing] in almost 70,000 full time jobs.”

Do the math on that one and the results are undeniably impressive: If we applied all $787 billion of Bailout: The Sequel to the arts, we’d create approximately 55 million new jobs! But are we really willing to watch several million performances of Viva Zarzuela by the Anchorage Opera Company as the price for retaining our status as the world’s greatest economic power? If the virtue of the arts is their capacity to inspire economic activity, it’s not clear why they deserve special consideration over, say, restaurants or fashion designers. Isn’t it possible, after all, that we’re going to the symphony mostly as an excuse to wear that new Oscar de la Renta silk faille kimono gown, or as an afterword to a meal at Jardiniere? Even if we don’t axe the NEA in favor of the National Endowment for Snooty Designer Labels and Fancy San Francisco Restaurants, shouldn’t we at least be urging it to expand its support of the kinds of live theater—comedy clubs, strip clubs, WWE wrestling—that are likely to draw bigger, more economically exploitable crowds than a bilingual puppetry adaptation of Don Quixote?

In the early 1960s, when our highest elected officials began evangelizing for the creation of state-sponsored arts programs, there was little talk of ancillary economic activity or job creation. At the dedication of a new library at Amherst College in 1963, President Kennedy said he looked forward to an America “which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all our citizens.” At a groundbreaking ceremony for the Kennedy Center in 1964, President Johnson expressed his desire to “enlarge the access of all our people to artistic creation.” A year later, he approved the legislation that created the National Endowment for the Arts. Its first grant, for $100,000, went to the American Ballet Theater, a bequest which, according to the New York Herald Tribune, saved that institution from extinction.

Today, Presidents Kennedy and Johnson would no doubt be pleased to see how enlarged—swollen, in fact—our access to artistic creation has become. We produce more novels, more slasher flicks, and more neo-classical lawn sculpture than any other civilization in the history of the world. According to the League of American Orchestras, there are 1,800 symphony, chamber, collegiate, and youth orchestras in the United States. Theater Facts, an annual overview of the not-for-profit theater world, reports that the 1,910 nonprofit theaters it received data from in 2007 gave 197,000 performances of 17,000 productions that year. The American Ballet Theater is still going strong, and tickets can be had for as little as $26 a piece if you’re willing to go to Wednesday matinees, sit in the cheap seats, and commit to at least three performances. Also, there’s this thing called the Internet.

In such a competitive, oversupplied environment, is a lack of funding really the primary reason that not every Midwestern dance troupe is thriving? Will throwing money at highbrow entities suddenly make people less interested in American Idol and YouTube and more interested in Alvin Ailey? At this point, it might be more beneficial for the kinds of arts the NEA has traditionally funded to create a federal agency that spends $150 million a year snipping cable hook-ups, sabotaging iPods, and paying modestly talented environmental sculptors not to create. That way, we might actually have some spare attention to give new orchestral works and accordion festivals.

In the early 1990s, when the NEA was helping underwrite artists who baptized Jesus Christ in urine or gave live tours of their cervixes, its value to our culture was clear: For less than a dollar a year per taxpayer, the organization served as a vivid symbol of our commitment to free expression. In other countries, the government might behead you for blaspheming sacred figures; in America, it was paying you to do so! Granted, the NEA did a far better job offending conservative sensibilities than liberal ones, but anyone with a taste for unfettered discourse could appreciate it on an abstract level at least. The arts bureaucracy was itself a work of conceptual art.

Today the agency is careful to fund nothing more controversial than bilingual puppetry epics. And given the glut of cultural opportunities that now bedevil us, its status as a nurturer of the arts is less pronounced than its status as an agent of state-sponsored moral engineering. Now, it exists largely to reinforce the notion that musicals are somehow more inherently suited to nourishing the roots of our culture than sitcom pilots. That ballet is a greater part of our national heritage than burlesque. That mediocre opera singers deserve more support than our best gangsta rappers.

If you’d be disturbed by an institution called the National Endowment for Faith that not only funded explicit religious expression but also favored a few specific creeds and religions while ignoring all others, you should be equally wary of the NEA. It’s a superfluous organization with a message that belies America’s foundational themes of pluralism and democracy. The wrangling over bailout scraps offered artists an opportunity to exit a bad alliance with an elegant, ironic flourish. Instead, they acted like investment bankers—really meek investment bankers—and simply asked for more money. No wonder so few people go to performance art happenings these days.

Contributing Editor Greg Beato (gbeato@soundbitten.com) is a writer in San Francisco.

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  • ||

    Economically significant?

    Ok, that's hilarious. It was ridiculous when they used to just claim that "cultural enrichment" was worthy of support with stolen money, but this really takes the cake.

    -jcr

  • useful idiot||

    but this really takes the cake

    Bourgeois swine!

  • mark||

    Americans spend more on porn than all the highbrow arts stuff combined - where is Larry Flynt's bailout? The guy did win a precedent setting case that went before the supreme court - he is an integral part of America's cultural and political discourse.

  • ed||

    Isn't it possible, after all, that we're going to the symphony mostly as an excuse to wear that new Oscar de la Renta silk faille kimono gown, or as an afterword to a meal at Jardiniere?

    I can't speak for anyone else, but I go to enjoy the musical experience. Beato's snide contempt for the higher arts undermines his argument and makes for unpleasant reading. Not all libertarians are punks, Beato. That's no way to win an audience.

  • ||

    raivo pommer-www.google.ee
    raimo1@hot.ee

    Europe's largest bank, HSBC Holdings,


    confirmed on Monday it was considering selling three of its major office buildings and said it
    had received interest from potential buyers.

    HSBC, which recently raised nearly $19 billion in a rights issue, said it may sell and lease-back office buildings in New York, Paris and London, including its headquarters at Canary Wharf.

    London's Sunday Telegraph reported that HSBC was considering selling three of its biggest office buildings to raise 2.7 billion pounds ($3.98 billion).

    "We are taking a look at the market, yes," spokesman David Hall said in Hong Kong.

    "There are people interested in buying at an appropriate price," Hall said.

    He declined to give further details.

    HSBC bought back its building at Canary Wharf for 838 million pounds from ailing Spanish property firm Metrovacesa at the end of last year after the Spanish firm failed to refinance a loan secured on the building.

    Globally, banks battered by the financial crisis have been looking to shed non-core assets in order to raise capital and improve their balance sheets.

    "HSBC has just raised funds from a rights issue and the possible sale of offices could further boost its cash level and thus benefit the bank in its future acquisitions," said Alex Tang, head of research at Core Pacific-Yamaichi International.

    The bank, which planned to shut most of its U.S. consumer lending business, said last month that it was ready for acquisitions in its traditional stronghold of Asia where many banks are pulling out to focus on core markets.

  • jtuf||

    Great article Beato.

  • ||

    ed-

    Bravo! Let he/she/it among us without sarcasm scribble snide snark!

  • ed||

    Furthermore, Beato all but destroys his case with this Freudian slip in paragraph five:

    [S]houldn't we at least be urging it [NEA] to expand its support of the kinds of live theater-comedy clubs, strip clubs, WWE wrestling-that are likely to draw bigger, more economically exploitable crowds

    Beato appears to be less concerned with the concept of publicly financed art than with the selection process.

  • Fluffy||

    Ed,

    I think Beato includes that bit about expanding the set of subsidized activities in order to throw the absurdity of subsidies into starker relief.

    And, frankly, one of the arguments against the NEA is the fact that a selection process is unavoidable, and this places the state in the position of endorsing and supporting some people's expression and not others. Libertarians can argue against the NEA using the old #Taxation is Theft!# standby, or they can argue against it using #The state must be neutral in the marketplace of ideas!#, or both, and be right all three times.

  • mark||

    I'm with Beato on the arbitrariness of the selection process. I do my bit to support the arts via magazine subscriptions and purchases of original artwork that appeared in mass market/niche market publications. I already to choose to help pad the incomes of artists who are gainfully employed making stuff I want to buy - why should I be forced to help subsidize art made by people whose only job skill is filling out NEA proposals?

  • ||

    for some reason, this seems appropriate:

    Ah, Freddie Mercury, still bringing ballet to the massses are you? ' hissed Vicious. 'Oh yes, Mr Ferocious, dear,' Mercury bit back. 'We are doing our best.'

  • Marcello||

    Can I be the first to note the Clash reference in the title?

  • ||

    Spending time, effort and ink (this was a print edition story) on bashing NEA when they have a sliver, a tiny sliver, of the bailout money is really putting your eggs in the wrong basket.

    Trying to find a unique spin on the story? Might be a reasonable excuse, but the story on its own seems to not see the forest for the trees.

    Bad editorial decision by Reason.

  • ||

    Todd-

    Yes. Although I agree that Reason should draw attention to any state application of coercion and any inefficiency of the state, it should relentleesly focus on the big ticket items, starting with defense spending, empire, war on terror and the WoD.

  • Anonymous||

    Todd, those trees make a forest. It's a representative illustration of the type of rent-seeking behavior with which organizations engage government in its quest to devour the private sector. If they can't stop it or control it, even if they wanted to, and they don't, then they can certainly make the ride as pleasant for themselves as possible.

    It's a lot like the situation with Cthulu, come to think of it. Maybe that was the point. I need to do some reading.

  • ||

    And social security, medicare and veterans' benefits.

  • ||

    The arts bureaucracy was itself a work of conceptual art.

    Very nice.

    -----

    Spending time, effort and ink (this was a print edition story) on bashing NEA when they have a sliver, a tiny sliver, of the bailout money is really putting your eggs in the wrong basket.

    Or, perhaps, it is an illustration of how pervasive the corruption really is. And the NEA, like NPR, deserves to be bashed relentlessly. Government subsidized art is not art; it's propaganda.

  • ||

    Todd, didn't you vote for Obama?

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    So, Todd, how would you feel about a National Endowent for Religion.

    All the arguments about moral and spiritual uplift apply.

  • mallet diction||

    [Government subsidized art is not art; it's propaganda.]


    The tradition of the state subsidizing art is as old as the state.

    The source of an artist's patronage says nothing of the quality of the art.

    Many great works of art have been sponsored by the state (Egypt, Rome, etc...) in order to demonstrate their power/class. Sometimes that results in great works.

    In other words, the state may point to its patronage in propaganda, but that doesn't make the art propaganda.

    In the context of this publication, the propaganda accusation is a bit ironic.

  • ||

    I have to disagree mallet diction. When the govenment sponsers art it is propaganda. However, great art and propaganda are not mutually exclusive. Many times, the art outlasts the propaganda and the original message is lost (to many). As is the case with the Renaissance masters and their pimping for the fabric makers guild among others.

    When the art is great, it serves as a very effective display of the state's power and beneficence. It is so effective as propaganda precisely because it is not seen as such.

  • ||

    Beato's snide contempt for the higher arts undermines his argument and makes for unpleasant reading.

    I think his contempt is less for the arts than for the relatively wealthy who attend fine arts events, but don't want to pay the freight.

    And let's not kid ourselves - for many/most of those who fall out for the opera or symphony in their thousand dollar outfits and jewels, the event is just an arena for showcasing their status.

    The tradition of the state subsidizing art is as old as the state.

    Many traditional activities of states have no place in a Constitutional republic.

  • economist||

    I'm actually with ed there. Unless ed is being sarcastic. I can't always tell.

  • economist||

    "The tradition of the state subsidizing art is as old as the state."

    The United States used to be attached to a nation with a long history of monarchy.

    Then again, maybe I shouldn't be giving the lefties any new ideas for the chosen one.

  • ||

    As if artists weren't taking enough drugs already, now they've got them on political smack.

  • ||

    "Isn't it possible, after all, that we're going to the symphony mostly as an excuse to wear that new Oscar de la Renta silk faille kimono gown, or as an afterword to a meal at Jardiniere?"

    The only acceptable reason for an average straight guy to go to the ballet, opera or symphony, is for the blowjob payback from the bitch afterward.

  • economist||

    Tom,
    Yeah. You get better sound quality with CDs anyway.

  • DADIODADDY||

    I'm not familiar with the unit of measure "bucketful". Could this be in reference to the "bucketful" of swill usually passed off as art the 21st century?

  • Paul||

    Vomit on the bed,
    vomit on the bed,
    plastic politician,
    vomit on the bed

  • Paul||

    Spending time, effort and ink (this was a print edition story) on bashing NEA when they have a sliver, a tiny sliver, of the bailout money is really putting your eggs in the wrong basket.

    Tiny slivers...

    A sliver here, a sliver there, eventually it adds to all the slivers.

  • ||

    The government will still support the arts even after we take the NEA behind the barn and end it's miserable existence.

    Ever hear of hign school and college theater?
    Artwork (prints, originals painings, mosaics and scupture) in government buildings?
    The Marine Corps Band?

    Put the NEA out of it's misery.

  • A||

    It is terribly sad to see a complete lack of understanding, and contempt for the arts. This stimulus rose the NEA to it's highest dollar amount since it's inception. How many government created agencies can tout a thing such as that? The NEA has always had to defend it's self in times of prosperity and plight. If the right would learn how to embrace the arts, their use of it could be to the benefit of all.

    Also, the selection process has become ridiculous because of conservative meddling in project funding. All those requesting funds must now be non-profit agencies, removing the individual artist from the pool.

    The arts enlighten, educate, and provide catharsis for the public. Their purpose is worthy and needed. They are especially needed in times such as these where we have forgotten how to talk to each other and we spend more time in seclusion than in conversation.

    Now please feel free to make fun of everything I have written as you would rather stamp out a funny joke then have an honest discourse on the subject.

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    To repeat myself.

    So, A (if that is really your name), how would you feel about a National Endowent for Religion?

    All the same arguments about moral and spiritual uplift apply.

    Yes, many people who are opposed to funding for religion have contempt for it. But many do not. They just think it's a really bad idea. For everyone.

    The same goes for those who oppose public funding for the arts.

    May I suggest this totally novel approach. If you want art pay for it yourself. That's what I would do.

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    Of course if I wanted to be really snarky I'd have said how wonderful it was that A stopped by to enlighten the philistines.

  • OO===D||

    @raivo pommer-www.google.ee

    As soon as I am finished with your mother's ass, please put me back in your mouth. Thank you in advance

  • Napoleon||

    "The tradition of the state subsidizing art is as old as the state."

    Oui.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    A,

    It is terribly pissing me off to see that you don't understand the argument being presented here. The NEA and government subsidy programs like it have no reason to exist because the private sector can do a better job allocating resources for the arts. And if abolishing the NEA means some dance theater goes out of business, it is because no one cares about that shit.

  • ||

    Also, the selection process has become ridiculous because of conservative meddling in project funding.

    If only the *right people* were in charge....

    They are especially needed in times such as these where we have forgotten how to talk to each other and we spend more time in seclusion than in conversation.

    He posts on a blog where people, literally, from all over the world communicate with one another.

    Now please feel free to make fun of everything I have written as you would rather stamp out a funny joke then have an honest discourse on the subject.

    No need to, as it's obvious your post is self-parody.

  • ||

    What? Without government funding, art would CEASE to EXIST.

    After all, nobody in their right mind would freely pay money for community theater. It has to be supported by the government. The public can't be deprived of this valuable resource that they won't pay for.

    Of course, as a connoisseur of the fine arts, I'm perfectly happy to pay for it, but it's nice that the government makes it cheaper for me. I want my Opera tickets subsidized, darn it. So I can spend the money on the diamond bracelet I'm going to wear to it.

  • A||

    Perhaps I should be more clear. We can cherry pick the specific things you personally may dislike (opera, dance theatre, etc.) however it does not remove the idea that funding all the arts leads to the betterment of the people.

    Private industry does augment the funding of the arts, and thankfully so given the fed's spending record on the line item. A typical non-profit receives a majority of it's funds from outside donors not profitable ventures in art. This is typical because of the cost of producing way out weighs the cost benefit of the events produced. The one exception being a majority of Broadway shows, but what I am speaking to are the organizations through out the country that are bringing local artist to the forefront of their communities to share in the dialogue of who they are as a public, where their future lies, and retrospective looks on their past.

    A National Endowment for Religion would have enumerable problems beyond the funding of the arts. It's comparing apples to aardvarks. The goals my be similar but the paths are not even in the same neighborhood.

    Also, one more point. I grew up in the south going deer hunting, fishing, and drinking beer on the back porch. I still enjoy these past times. The fact that I am more well read than you Kreelo should not be interpreted that I feel I am better than you. That is your personal demon to be exercised.

  • A||

    Real dialogue is perhaps in the eye of the beholder.

  • ||

    We can cherry pick the specific things you personally may dislike (opera, dance theatre, etc.) however it does not remove the idea that funding all the arts leads to the betterment of the people.

    We don't have to cherry pick anything. Pick your interest, any interest, and you will find a passionate practitioner who will tell you just how vital it is to society that his/her industry/activity is and how it should be gummint funded. Everyone has a pet project or hobby they want someone else to pay for.

    None of that, however, passes the smell test as to why you should take money from Paul to give to Peter so he can put on his latest agit-prop comedy/drama that skewers Paul oh-so-drolly.

    If you're so damned hot to fund the arts, how about you fund the performing arts .org where I work, instead of demanding that everyone else do it for you? God knows we could stand the cash. We're only a few million in the hole.

  • JB||

    Everything is too big to fail.

    In fact, I just started a company 20 seconds ago and it is too big to fail. I need $10 trillion. The US government has a week to give it to me or all hell breaks loose.

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    My goodness, A, what an awful load of unsubstantiated twaddle.

    Right up to and including "I am more well read than you". So far I have been polite. After arrogant rudeness like that I feel no obligation to continue to be so.

    A statement like'

    A National Endowment for Religion would have enumerable problems beyond the funding of the arts. It's comparing apples to aardvarks. The goals my be similar but the paths are not even in the same neighborhood.



    speaks for itself.

    You have not even come close to giving anything but a broad statement of your preferences. Nothing gives any reason why anyone should pay taxes to reduce my cost of seeing Shakespeare in the Park or the local Philharmonic or whatever. I have patronized or supported both at various times.

    Sorry, but the arguments for supporting the arts fall on the same ears as the ones for building a new arena for the local bunch of loser cagers or a new baseball to attract a major league franchise.

    They're all full of promises of benefits, none of which can be demonstrated to ever have been delivered.

    As Jesse Ventura said when he vetoed spending for the Twins and the Guthrie "What, should we subsidize stock car racing too?"

    Of course he should have checked with Florida, S Carolina or Alabama before he asked that. Seems like everyone has something that he needs at my expense.

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    Oh and as for,

    "A National Endowment for Religion would have enumerable problems.."

    Yes, it would. Pretty much all the same problems you get with funding the arts, which are no more universal than religious faith is.

  • ||

    I appreciate art in many shapes and forms. I'm an amateur artist, an amateur musician, and an amateur writer. I'm not making a living at any of my hobbies but that's ok with me - perhaps someday.

    To get to the point. I appreciate art all the more when it reflects the most upstanding concepts of our lives: balance, sacrifice, honesty, love, humility, and perhaps most of all, responsibility. And I think regardless of one's religious/spiritual ideas, these are highly regarded concepts/principles for almost all people.

    To the best of my knowledge, libertarianism provides the framework by which people are most encouraged to live their lives according to these principles. Why? Because the system encourages people to be responsible for themselves. And that very responsibility encourages people to care for one another.

    Handouts (and it's spawn - the sense of entitlement) reduce the value of whatever it is being handed out. Thus, a society that is ridden with handouts is bound to be a society that is less connected with the aforementioned principles, and thus less likely (per capita) to create art of substance.

    That's just a theory - it may be completely wrong, but dammit, it makes sense to me.

  • ||

    the cost of producing way out weighs the cost benefit of the events produced.

    'nuff said.

    Pull the plug.

  • ||

    what I am speaking to are the organizations through out the country that are bringing local artist to the forefront of their communities to share in the dialogue of who they are as a public, where their future lies, and retrospective looks on their past.

    Gibberish.

    Real dialogue is perhaps in the eye of the beholder, indeed.

  • ||

    'nuff said.

    Pull the plug.


    Not so fast there P.

    Virtually all art organizations operate in the red, as few arts patrons are willing to foot the entire bill for their part of entry themselves. That said, there is nothing wrong with private funding of the arts, which goes on at levels that far outstrips the NEA.

    All I can say is thank god for the rich and powerful capitalist class in the US. They make it possible for everyone to enjoy the arts (tho' some do inherit the money they give...).

  • ||

    thank god for the rich and powerful capitalist class in the US. They make it possible for everyone to enjoy the arts

    Not all costs and benefits are necessarily denominated in cash. I just couldn't help responding to the explicit admission that many of these "arts" programs are money sinks, designed to stroke the egos of their participants.

    I am operating under the standard libertarian "Private citizens can (and should be able to) fund anything which pleases them, without lobbying the government to spend my taxes on their hobbies" philosophical umbrella.

    There is a small group of people locally who want stimulus money to fund some dopey railroad boondoggle. They get quite huffy when I suggest they just use their own money, if it's such a splendid idea.

  • ||

    I am operating under the standard libertarian "Private citizens can (and should be able to) fund anything which pleases them, without lobbying the government to spend my taxes on their hobbies" philosophical umbrella.

    I'm down wit dat, standard libertarian disclaimer and all...

    All I can say is that I hope that I am dead by the time the it comes time to collect on this clusterfuck gravy train of "stimulus." It's gonna be ugly for my grandkids when the piper comes calling. We've gone from "too big to fail" elite to the "not too small to be stimulated" dogpile.

    We are SO fucked.

  • JCoke||

    good clip on Yes, Minister. The end of civilization as we know it.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvNw0P5ZMbA

    sorry if someone else posted it

  • ||

    To all those who handed A his ass on a platter -

    Well done. You didn't even have to bring up this.

  • ||

    it does not remove the idea that funding all the arts leads to the betterment of the people.

    Private industry does augment the funding of the arts


    Augment?
    When you are starting form the position that the natural mechanism for funding something is from the state, and that any external funding is merely an "augmentation" to that, then you're coming from a grotesquely statist perspective.

    Why is it that government funding should be considered the first and primary source of financing? It's true that the state has funded specific works of art - but the artistic class throughout history has always been primarily a privately financed activity.

    Moreover there's all sorts of 'art' that the NEA wouldn't even thing of funding. It's largely only very conservative art that gets considered. Nobody would fund comic books or graphic novels.
    Literature doesn't get any special funding. The film industry manages to produce plenty of arthouse films without government (at least in the US). So does the music industry. They just wouldn't fund rap or hip-hop or rock bands, cause that isn't 'cultural' enough.

    Really, a lot of the NEA comes down to a desire by cultural elites to have their own preferred art forms subsidized. Oil paintings, opera, symphonies, jazz, and live theater. But is there any objective reasons why these arts should be considered superior? Aside from traditional conservative tastes?
    I'm willing to bet in 100 years there will be people making art video games and archiving rap music from the 1980s. None of which will have been government funded.

    Cutting edge art is always something that isn't even recognized as art until a new generation of critics comes along.

    What about art lamps, or designer fabric patterns, or jewelry, or hair and makeup artistry, or body art?

    All stuff people are willing to pay for.

  • To Many Jews||

    "funding all the arts leads to the betterment of the people."

    Shove it up your Piss Christ, bitch.

  • To Many Jews||

    Nazi propaganda art:

    http://fcit.usf.edu/HOLOCAUST/ARTS/artReich.htm

  • ||

    "Although I agree that Reason should draw attention to any state application of coercion and any inefficiency of the state, it should relentleesly focus on the big ticket items, starting with defense spending...."

    Of course the problem with that argument is that defense spending (the biggest ticket item on your list) can be directly justifed by the purpose of government in a constitutional republic. We might overspend on it. But, it's something that can be justified by the very reason for having a government. I'm not inclined to think that the founding fathers laid down their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor in support of community theater and public funding of performance art....okay well maybe Paine....

  • Colonel_Angus||

    JsubD

    "Well done. You didn't even have to bring up this."

    What is Jesus doing with Anton Chigurh?

  • MattXIV||

    If you want to find a genre that is stagnant and insular, the quickest way is to look for grant money.

    First, Strugeon's law applies just as readily to the fine arts as it does to popular culture. Competition tends to ensure that most of the crap fails to make money and goes away after a while the successes persist. Commerical success isn't a direct proxy for artistic merit, but all other things being equal, greater artistic merit does correlate with greater commerical success.

    Second, the judges and recipients of grants tend to be from the same artistic subculture, which leads to ever increasing insularity and a duplication of the phenomenon in "pulp" genres where the most reliable way to secure funding is closely follow the conventions of the style. The subculture is small and the conventions esoteric, but the forces and results are the same.

    Third, the grant system has prevented the emergence of content distribution models based on improved communications technology that have breathed life into other small cultural niches. Grant recipents don't have to actively seek out the attention of an audience other than the grant giving agency, so even when a work could have broader appeal, there's no incentive to make sure it gets disseminated.

    Grants don't bring art to the public, they take it away by making it so the artists no longer need the public to be their audience.

  • Mallet Diction||

    [ I have to disagree mallet diction. When the govenment sponsers art it is propaganda. However, great art and propaganda are not mutually exclusive. ]

    To be propaganda, the government must be involved with/design the message. Simple financing of the art does not do that. I agree that it is possible to make great art in the context of making propaganda (think leni riefenstahl).

    [economist | April 14, 2009, 11:25am | #
    "The tradition of the state subsidizing art is as old as the state."

    The United States used to be attached to a nation with a long history of monarchy.]


    I am not sure how apt your counter argument is given that I made mention of a function of government and you countered with a form of government. Sloppy.

  • Mallet Diction||

    MattXIV,

    [Commerical success isn't a direct proxy for artistic merit, but all other things being equal, greater artistic merit does correlate with greater commerical success.]

    I don't buy your argument here at all. In fact, commercial success has more to do with access to patronage (private or public) than it does to artistic merit.

  • ||

    Guys, let's get real. The only people who benefit from "the arts" are rich white people. I mean, I should know. I'm a white person, and if I were a tad richer I would definitely go see more Broadway shows and classical concerts. But no, since I'm only a middle-class white guy, the closest thing I get to the concert hall experience is Mahler full volume over my shoddy computer speakers.

    Anyway, by subsidizing "the arts," you're effective subsidizing the hobbies of rich white people. Congratulations, liberals, that goes against just about everything you support.

    When a guy like Jackson Pollock can splatter paint on a canvas and have people bidding over $50 million for his work, do the arts really need subsidization? (Mind you, I think Pollock is pretty neat.)

    Just another way the government pushes the costs of things supposed supporters aren't willing to pay for on other people who aren't willing to pay for those very things.
    Fuck everyone who wants taxpayers to support the expensive hobbies of rich white people.

  • ||

    what I am speaking to are the organizations through out the country that are bringing local artist to the forefront of their communities to share in the dialogue of who they are as a public, where their future lies, and retrospective looks on their past.


    If that's so great for them, why don't they pay for it?

    There are no externalities or economies of scale or anything like that in this whatsoever. There's no reason to believe that the market can't determine the efficient amount of spending on this stuff.

    The fact that I am more well read than you Kreelo should not be interpreted that I feel I am better than you. That is your personal demon to be exercised.


    Errr, the fact that you think you're more well read than him is definitely a sign that you're a giant elitist dickhead, consistent with the damning stereotype of snobby rich symphony-goers.

  • ||

    I enjoyed the article Ed. We as people, vote with our dollars every day. Things like the arts that need public financing in order to survive are simply unwanted and unnecessary. Why should our tax dollars go to support a dying segment of the old America. Let's face it people get their entertainment from better resources these days. I say better because the people have voted with their dollars that movies, sporting events, and crap on TV are more worthy than ballets, operas, and plays.

  • ||

    So I have critical comments about Reason's editorial choice and I get accussed of voting for Obama, I get asked if I think a National Endowment for Religion funding would be better.

    Sounds like I got accused of be a liberal and a neo-con at the same time. Does that make me a Facist or a Socialist?

    No I voted for Ron Paul during my primary and then Chuck Baldwin during the general because Bob Barr had a record that did not support his rhetoric during the campaign.

    I'll take a little religion in my government (even though I'm agnostic) if I can find a true fiscal conservative anywhere.

    I feel like this article is a classic example of why the libertarian movement fails. It focuses on, what in the grand scheme of things, are small issues. Pot legalization and prostitution legalization. Why I agree with both of them 100%, they are not the way the libertarian movement will win friends and influence people. And while those issues through the last 20 years have gotten the libertarian movement the most press, its also what drives people away from libertarians the most in the mainstream. The SADDEST part of it is, to most libertarians if they listed their top 10 issues these would likely fall at the bottom of the list if they even make it at all. I argue that NEA is likely in the same caterory -- if we divide programs that are government funded down to art, welfare, education, etc.

    It's the same fallicy repeated by libertarians over and over and over again, focus on the big issues. The big fiscal issue at this time are the bailouts, the fed and the infrastrucutre spending. Not a paultry sum going to NEA.

  • Saint Vee||

    "It's the same fallicy repeated by libertarians over and over and over again, focus on the big issues. The big fiscal issue at this time are the bailouts, the fed and the infrastrucutre spending. Not a paultry sum going to NEA."

    The real fallacy here is, given that an article has been devoted to this subject, you and others are claiming that this is what Reason and libertarians primarily focus on. Given a simple scroll through other article posted and what libertarian groups and think tanks have been espousing, your characterization that libertarians only focus/focus primarily on the small stuff is wrong.

    How dare an individual not write about the bail outs, our foreign policy or the education system! How dare anyone ever give time to a subject that isn't considered "big."

    We'll ignore the various other articles on the "big stuff" all through out Reason, and we'll ignore libertarian think tanks like the Cato orginization and the various items of public policy, both "big" and "small" that they devote time to.

    Yes, we'll ignore all of this so we can criticize this author for focusing on a "small" issue. DAMN YOU BEATO! Grow up and come to the big kids' table and talk ad naseum about stimulus deux - again - like everyone else.

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