Saturday, May 30, 2009


Via >100k, NRO's Michael Knox Beran has an interesting op-ed about the NEA. Read the article. It's not very long, and it's written in the simplistic tone of voice that the NRO brings to most of the subjects.

Aside from a slight overdose of contempt, there's actually an important kernel of truth in the article. The following is the reaction as I posted in the comments section:

I wonder if the new White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Engagement is going to steal Rocco’s thunder of any reform for the NEA. I mean, if you’d have asked me a month ago what the NEA shoould be doing, I’d have said finding innovative new approaches to bringing creativity to communities and funding them in their early years, but if WHO-SICE (I pronounce it “Whose Is?”) takes on that role, then the NEA will become more of a caretaker of big, established venues.

The core point that I agree with is that the NEA has become a very unimaginative body, which is why Obama has to create a whole separate office to deal with “innovation.” The bold and imaginative direction that he[Beran] sees it going is in restoring the civic focal point–which in the report by the Minnesota Regional Arts Council is an important arts developmental point.

I guess where I would differ with Beran is on the capacity of the NEA to change. I think rather than a structural problem, what Beran is pointing to is a problem of administrative culture. What remains to be seen is whether a new Administration and a new appointed head can shift the culture far enough to change its behavior.

UPDATED: Looking back on this post now I realize I conflated the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation with the rebranding of the White House Office of Public Engagement. I leave the error simply because I wish it had been called WHO-ISCE, so I could imagine a grumpy longshoreman musing as to the identity of a person he's never met before and only just noticed.


Kira Campo said...

Glad that you have relaunched your blog to discuss such topics. I went back to read the report on the arts in Tracy, Minnesota and was heartened to see citations of Mark Stern and Susan Siefert (as well as others whose research echos similar findings). I think understanding the data regarding entry-point and impact is critical to sustaining a healthy cultural sector.

After reading the op-ed NEA piece you linked to within your blog post, I would be very curious to know if you have any impression's of Eric Booth's "An Artistic Theory of Everything" ? I found some similar thinking expressed in both, specifically the theme of art and life in tandem.
Here's a link to the Booth piece, in the event that you have not seen it

Kira Campo

Scott Walters said...

Kira -- I recently stumbled on the Eric Booth piece as well, and linked to it on my <100K blog. Booth's essay, and his book "The Everyday Work of Art" both express an orientation that I can get behind. In essence, we made a wrong turn when we made art a commodity that only Special People create, and that is a pricy event in a special building, as Booth says. "Bringing the Arts Back Home" is the slogan of <100K Project.