By John Ruberry
Last week President Trump released his proposed fiscal 2018 budget. Not included in it was funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The left, which dominates the arts, responded predictably, acting as if art itself was being attacked.
Sit down and breathe deeply. Close your eyes. Now relax. If the NEA and the NEH disappear–there will still be art. Even after eight years of economic dormancy under Barack Obama, the United States is still a fabulously wealthy nation with plenty of disposable income, some of which will of course be spent on the arts.
Do you feel better now? Good. I knew you would.
Art is everywhere. In fact it’s right in front of you now–my post at Da Tech Guy and all of the others here are artistic endeavors, albeit not funded by the federal government.
Yes, the NEA and the NEH, as far as I know, no longer funds exhibitions of Robert Mapplethorpe photographs showing genitalia of pre-pubescent girls or a display of Piss Christ, but this Great Society mutation of royal patronage of the arts–didn’t we fight a revolution against a king?–makes little cultural or economic sense, as George Will explains.
David Marcus, artistic director of a Brooklyn-based theater project and senior contributor to The Federalist, says the NEA produces “perverse market incentives” that explain why many arts institutions “are failing badly at reaching new audiences, and losing ground.”
“Many theater companies, even the country’s most ‘successful,’ get barely 50 percent of their revenue from ticket sales. Much of the rest comes from tax-deductible donations and direct government grants. This means that the real way to succeed as an arts organization is not to create a product that attracts new audiences, but to create a product that pleases those who dole out the free cash. The industry received more free money than it did a decade ago, and has fewer attendees.”
The arts community is incestuous, especially within its foundations and boardrooms. You scratch my Cubist back and I’ll massage your western yodeling feet. You’ve heard of crony capitalism. There is also crony arts.
As usual, I don’t have to look beyond my own grossly mismanaged state of Illinois–when we had budgets they made about as much sense as a Jackson Pollock painting–to find an example of cronyism in practice. The Illinois Arts Council Agency, which as you can tell by its name, is a state agency and it is a recipient of National Endowment for the Arts cash. It was founded in 1965, which not coincidentally, was when the NEA began. The chair of the Illinois Arts Council Agency is Shirley Madigan, the wife of state House Speaker and Illinois Democratic Party Boss Michael Madigan. Their daughter is Lisa Madigan, Illinois’ attorney general.
The Illinois Arts Council Agency boasts that nearly 100 percent of the state’s legislative districts receives some IACA funding. It’s all about spreading the wealth around. As for those legislative districts, the geographic contortion created by Michael Madigan’s gerrymandering just might be worthy enough to be put on display at the Art Institute of Chicago adjacent to those Pollock-esque state budgets, but that’s another matter.
The NEA and the NEH also operates under the same spread-the-favors-around–I mean wealth, mindset–which is why defenders of these groups cite federal funding for events such as the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Nevada and the Hip Hop Initiative in North Carolina as justification for these agencies.
The NEH provided funding for Ken Burns’ acclaimed 1990 Civil War documentary that was broadcast on PBS, which is another success boasted by supporters of the NEH. Oh, Trump’s budget wants to eliminate for that network as well as NPR. Have you seen Burns’ Civil War? It’s fabulous. But what of the money for sales of Ken Burns’ Civil War book, or the Civil War DVDs and CDs? Or Civil War digital downloads? How much does the federal government get from those sales?
How much does Ken Burns collect?
Sure, NEA and NEH funding is a very small piece of federal spending–$148 million is the expenditure for this year. But proper budgeting means saying “No” a lot. America is wealthy–but not infinitely so.
John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.
If you enjoy what you read at Da Tech Guy, don’t write to your member of Congress and request federal funding for us, please click on this link and subscribe.