Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Scott Walters: Here's Your Challenge

“If it created jobs, you’d have 435 members of Congress saying, ‘Let’s put in more money to the N.E.A.’...The only shovel-ready aspect of it is that they need a shovel to clean up some of the bull they believe in over there.”

-Jack Kingston, Republican Congressman from Georgia and Tea Party-panderer.
Rep Kingston (R-GA) appears to be in the knee-jerk art-is-worthless crowd (remember Cash for Clowns?). Maybe he's the enemy, and we arts advocates need to make sure we pressure him to change his mind, or ignore him and fight to support people who don't think like him.

Or you, Scott, can take this as an opportunity.

See, from Kingston's perspective, the NEA doesn't create jobs. On a national level, that argument isn't worth all that much. And to the extent that it is true, the reason it doesn't create many jobs is because we don't fund it much.

But you see, Kingston is from Georgia 1st District. I wish I could find the NEA breakdown on money by district, but I haves me a feeling that it doesn't have much for Georgia's 1st District. And Rocco doesn't seem inclined to take rural theater very seriously, after the whole Peoria shennanigans. Georgia's 1st is home to Okefenokee Swamp. (Oh, and his website also says "The First District is a literary haven." Is he anti National Endowment of the Humanities?)

Kingston's stance right now is, the NEA is useless to my district, so it is way easy for me to rag on it. After all, how many people in my district have any connection to or value of the NEA? Why not kick it around? What would I lose?

And if you look at the political math, if the NEA's money is going mostly to large metropolises, then it will be undersupported in the House. And probably the Senate too.

So my challenge to you, Scott, is can you use CRADLEArts model to the political advantages of the arts? Can you go to Kingston and say, "If the NEA uses the current model, most of its money is going to go to big historic theaters in big cities. If you help reform the NEA's approach, you can bring some of that support to locals in your district. Don't scrap us, fix us."

And maybe Republicans aren't ready for this message. Maybe it's the 54 Congressmen of the Blue Dog Democrats. After all, maybe this is a winning moderate issue for them -- they get to go toe-to-toe with the "urban liberals" of the party (Take that, Bernie Sanders and Dennis Kucinich) and brandish some populist, pro-local tendencies while still investing in a Democratic principle of supporting the arts.

Basically, can we end this manichean game of either pro-the-current-model or anti-the-arts?


Scott Walters said...

Guy -- I just discovered this post from long ago -- I MISSED it! I wish I had taken that challenge. It would have been interesting.

Guy Yedwab said...

It's never too late... although I never thought I'd say this, but the 2010 Congress was far less dysfunctional.

Kevin said...

Guy, I'm a recipient of an NEA funded grant here in Phoenix, so the NEA worked for me. But it seems to me that the NEA model is hopelessly flawed. The kind of art we want to fund is inherently local. If we want to fund PBS and NPR, that's fine because we all benefit from those national programs equally. But when it comes to funding theaters and artists, etc, the information on supply and demand exist at the periphery. Why then does it make sense to send the money to DC where the NEA has to lobby for it and then, at enormous administrative cost, redistribute it back out to a network of agencies and organizations at the periphery where the information is. There's so much deadweight loss there, and so much room for political intrigue, wheeling and dealing, and misallocation. So why collect the funds at the national level? The only kind of forced transfer that makes sense is from the rich to the poor, but the current system provides no assurance that the transfer actually goes in that direction. If NY, TX, and CA want to send money to the poorer states to subsidize their art, that's great! But under the current arrangement, there are likely to be some weak states that are net losers. In fact, given the dissipation associated first with the taxation, then the appropriation to the NEA, then further administration and distribution, I'd be surprised if every state's return on investment in the NEA isn't strongly negative.

Anyway, like I said, I'm an artist and a beneficiary of the NEA, but it still seems like a losing proposition to me. I think the idea of a national arts program is probably a mistake, except where it funds truly national initiatives like PBS.