March 17, 2011
A blog entry titled Obama’s Arts Budget Cuts Address National Endowment’s Weakness by Travis Korte at the Huffington Post recently caught my attention, for obvious reasons. While it’s a somewhat messy and confusingly-argued set of thoughts, it provokes a central question that I think anyone invested in the arts should consider, even if only in a devil’s advocate sort of way: Would the nation’s arts ecology – and the nation itself – be harmed if the NEA disappeared?
Korte’s basic point seems to be that the Endowment is little more than a symbol, “a reminder that we Americans believe in the arts,” and that we would do better by the arts by focusing on strengthening the nation as a whole, improving conditions that in turn would produce a robust environment for creativity. But I think the blogger is fixated on a false choice – it really doesn’t have to be one or the other. In fact, one might argue that a better-funded NEA could more effectively rally the nation to “[harness] the massive indirect funding,” Korte sees as our unfulfilled potential.
Full disclosure: Over the last decade, the LA Chamber Orchestra has been awarded NEA grants for various programs on a near annual basis, and just last week, we submitted an application to support the commission of two new works for the 2011-12 season. If we are fortunate enough to receive funding, it will probably cover 10% or less of the costs for that particular project. But that’s a tenth of a project that will have to be funded by some other means, if not by the NEA. (Overall, government funding from national and local sources accounts for about 2% of LACO’s budget.) So do I personally believe that the NEA plays a significant role in creating and presenting art to the American public, and that the more than 2,000 grants it makes every year raises our quality of life across the nation? Well…yeah.
But I really want to hear what you think: Is tax-payer funding an effective and appropriate way of supporting artistic endeavor? Aside from the argument that some works of art may offend some tax-payers, what other problems do you see in the public funding model, and how can they be solved?