Monday, August 10, 2009
“It’s Time to End Federal Funding for the NEA”
by John Alexander Madison
August 11, 2009
About a half century ago, John, a recent high school graduate arrived in the port of Rotterdam for his first visit to Western Europe. Within thirty minutes of being greeted by his welcoming and enthusiastic father, who indicated he had a very busy summer planned, John stated emphatically “Dad, I don’t want you to dragging me through every museum in Europe.”
Five years later, The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was established by Congress (1965). It is a public agency dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts, both new and established; bringing the arts to all Americans; and providing leadership in arts education. As an independent agency of the federal government, the Endowment is the nation's largest annual funder of the arts, bringing great art to all 50 states, including rural areas, inner cities, and military bases.
The NEA official website also states that the NEA is the largest annual national funder of the arts in the United States. While the NEA's budget ($155 million for FY 2009) represents less than one percent of total arts philanthropy in the U.S., NEA grants have a powerful multiplying effect, with each grant dollar typically generating up to seven times more money in matching grants. Since 1965, the NEA has awarded more than 130,000 grants totaling more than $4 billion. With the mission to bring the arts to all Americans, the NEA has supported arts activities in every Congressional district in the United States, including rural areas, inner cities, and military bases.
The NEA has sponsored many “worthwhile” programs throughout its forty-four year history. Projects include artist residencies in schools, museum exhibitions, Internet initiatives, literary fellowships, national tours, international exchanges, theater festivals, design competitions, folk arts, historic preservation, and much more. The NEA has also provided critical seed funds to arts organizations across the country. Organizations that received early support include Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company and Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina.
Other NEA programs include: The NEA Jazz Masters Initiative, NEA Arts Education Leadership Initiatives, the NEA Arts Journalism Institutes, the Poetry Out Loud: National Poetry Recitation Contest, the NEA Education Leaders Institute, the Arts and Artifacts Indemnity Program, the NEA National Heritage Fellowships, the National Medal of Arts, and NEA direct Grants. Additional studies on creativity, aging, civic engagement, and arts education highlight the social impact of the arts in America. The NEA list goes on and on. Shakespeare for a New Generation is the largest tour of Shakespeare in American history, having brought new Shakespeare productions and special in-school programs to more than 2,000 communities, in all 50 states. Then there’s Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience, which preserves the stories and reflections of U.S. military personnel and their families.
Since its inception, the NEA has provided leadership to create and sustain an agenda for arts education. Additionally, the NEA’s nationwide focus on reading may, very likely and thankfully, begin to reverse the enduring legacy of the 42nd President of the United States, a comprehensive program enabled by the U.S. Department of Education called the “Dumbing Down of America.” With a greater interest in building student self-esteem rather than the reading, writing and math skills it becomes an easy argument to justify the elimination of the Department of Education. But we’ll leave that discussion for another day.
The history of the National Endowment for the Arts has not been without controversy. It has been mired in controversy since its inception due to its support of all too many “questionable” programs.
One example: the exhibition of Andres Serrano's work, which included a photograph, Piss Christ, of a crucifix submerged in the artist's urine. NEA controversy grew to include the work of other artists, including Robert Mapplethorpe, Annie Sprinkle, and others. Wikipedia describes the “artistry” of Maplethorpe and Sprinkle.
Robert Mapplethorpe (November 4, 1946 – March 9, 1989) was an American photographer known for his large-scale, highly stylized black and white portraits, photos of flowers and naked men. The frank, homosexual eroticism of some of the work of his middle period triggered a more general controversy about NEA funding of artworks.
Dr. Annie Sprinkle (born Ellen F. Steinberg on July 23, 1954 in Philadelphia) is a former prostitute, stripper, pornographic “actress,” cable television host, porn magazine editor, writer, and sex film producer. Sprinkle, who is bisexual, married her long-time partner, Beth Stephens, in 2007. Sprinkle is known as the "prostitute and porn star turned sex educator and artist" Her best known theater and performance art piece is her Public Cervix Announcement, in which she invites the audience to "celebrate the female body" by viewing her cervix with a speculum and flashlight. She also performed The Legend of the Ancient Sacred Prostitute, in which she did a "sex magic" masturbation ritual on stage. She has toured one-woman shows internationally for 17 years, some of which were are titled Post Porn Modernist, Annie Sprinkle's Her story of Porn, Hardcore from the Heart, and, currently, Exposed; Experiments in Love, Sex, Death and Art.
Nice work NEA. When is enough, enough? When should federal funding for the NEA stop? HOW ABOUT RIGHT NOW! But why?
The issue is NOT that the NEA spends your tax dollars promoting the “art’ of the likes of Serrano, Maplethorpe, Sprinkle and others more than offsetting whatever “good” the NEA does.
By its own assessment, the NEA is the largest annual national funder of the arts in America. Yet the NEA's budget ($155 million for FY 2009) represents less than one percent of total arts philanthropy in the U.S. Therefore, if the remaining support for the arts (99%) comes from sources other than the federal government why do we need the federal government at all. But this too is not the issue.
The issue is whether the federal government should be funding any “arts programs” and why.
For the answer, we need to examine the federalist vision of our Founding Fathers. Quite clearly, the founding fathers were not receptive of a strong central government. Yet a loose confederation of states lacked a method of taxation, effective interstate commerce, or a standing army to provide for our common defense.
Among the principles of our founding fathers at the time of our nation’s founding were a belief in natural law; electing virtuous leaders; without religion a government cannot sustain; the belief free people cannot survive unless they remain virtuous and morally strong; the belief that the highest level of prosperity occurs when there is a free-market economy and a minimum of government regulation; the belief that a strong local self-government is the keystone to preserving human freedom; the belief that the core unit which determines the strength of any society is the family and therefore the government should foster and protect its integrity. Wow, what a concept.
It seems supporters of the NEA have chosen to depart from these solid, time-tested principles OR they played hooky from every American History calls offered during their early school years and that is shameful.
Perhaps Doug Wallace best summed it up in July 2009 when he wrote in Letters to the Editor with The Patriot-News:
”Remember the principles of our Founding Fathers”
The main problem with our country today is we've gotten away from our founding documents.
Our Founding Fathers were men with a strong belief in God, small government and individual rights (capitalism). If you don't believe me take a look at the Declaration of Independence "all men are created equal," or our money "in God we trust" or the Supreme Court building where the 10 Commandments are displayed.
It's pretty simple, people. Get back to the beliefs and ideals of our Founding Fathers; they are the ones who laid the groundwork that make America the greatest country in the world. Getting back to that groundwork will make America great again.
Well said Mr. Wallace. Goodbye National Endowment for the Arts! The federal government needs to get out of this business.
At the end of the summer of 1960 John Alexander Madison returned to the docks in Rotterdam for his voyage back to America. Before boarding the flagship of the Holland-America Line he turned to his dad and said “Dad, thank you for dragging me through (nearly) every museum in Europe…or at least nearly every museum in England, Holland, France and Italy.”
From that memorable summer forward I have had an enduring, lifelong appreciation for fine art, music and the diverse cultures of many of the great nations which preceded ours for centuries. All this, with no assistance from the NEA.
Footnote: That tour included nearly more two dozen museums in Amsterdam and The Hague alone…with my personal favorite being the Mauritshuis in Den Haag (or for purists- 's-Gravenhage, the administrative capital of the Netherlands.)