Don Hall says that killing the NEA is not the same as ending support for the arts.
In practical terms, he's absolutely rights. In writing How We Make Our Case, I realized that the NEA and CPB are probably the smallest things our government does to bolster the arts; the biggest thing (at least, that are arts-specific) is the donation tax deduction for the arts.
But the GOP attempt to destroy the NEA is not merely about that practical support. It's also incredibly symbolic. Once the NEA goes, there is no part of our government that is even nominally responsible for supporting the arts. Sure, we'll be part of the Department of Education, and part of the State Department, and part of a thousand other projects, but once the NEA is gone, it won't be anyone's job to even try to look out for us.
However much flak Rocco Landesman has gotten for his remarks, I think we can all agree that the reason they're a firestorm is because he's one of the few people who gets to take the arts to Washington. He's the person who's supposed to be championing us in Washington. I'm not convinced he's doing a great job of that aspect.
So while I agree completely with the many of the points Don Hall makes (and disagree with others, but that's a different post), at the core, I think that something called the NEA -- or some sort of successor -- needs to survive. If only to remind the American people that there's something called the arts in this country.
And, lastly, if we want something called the NEA or some successor to survive in American culture, it had better start doing its job better.