In Contrast, America Finally Gets Something Right

After reading about the Arts Council England’s troubles, this article in the Louisville Courier-Journal about the recent $20 million dollar increase to the National Endowment for the Arts budget comes as a welcome surprise. The current budget is $144 million, and according to the LCJ, this recent increase is the largest boost ever.

Before we get too comfortable though, it’s worth pointing out that the budget was $176 million in 1992, which in 2008 dollars way surpasses the current funding level.

Andrew Adler offers a few other words of caution:

fter the late-1980s dust-up over grants involving artists Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serano — creating a perfect storm of outrage among conservative U.S. House members and their outside-the-Beltway allies — the endowment teetered on the precipice of extinction.

Too many people seemed to believe that the agency handed out money almost arbitrarily, when in fact, its system of application and review was laudably cool and deliberate. Although the NEA chairman or chairwoman had to sign off on grants, the core evaluations are performed by peer-panels whose members are selected for their expertise and for their lack of inherent conflicts of interest. [. . .]

Meanwhile, allies of the endowment and public funding of the arts must keep a close watch on the evolving political landscape. Arts policy may not be as white-hot-relevant as combating al-Qaida and other terrorists, but it remains intrinsic to the peculiar notion that Americans ought to be free to express themselves through culture, and that a government that helps fund such expression is an enlightened government.

I can’t imagine the pressures of working at a funding agency, be it the NEA, ACE, or even someplace like NYSCA. What’s really sad though is that we have a system in which very admirable business are relying so heavily upon agencies such as these for grants—that in the greater scheme of government spending—are a pittance. (Case in point—the NEA’s budget is 0.03% of the budget for the Department of Defense. One percent of the DOD budget could fund arts in this country for decades . . .)

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