Friday, February 18, 2011

How We Make The Case V: Geography / Monoculture / Education

I mentioned before that what the NEA should be doing is not simply supporting art as it exists, but reshaping the arts to make it better. In particular, it should be using its influence to help more disadvantaged community to have an equal chance to sharing and having access to culture.

It's not even worth me going into this on my own, since we all know that the resident expert is Scott Walters:
When I analyzed the NEA grant data for one round of grants in 2006, I found that almost 40% of the money went to New York City, Chicago, and the state of California. They represent less than 17% of the US population. On the other end of the spectrum, 17 entire states didn't see a single dime.
Not only could the NEA help support arts in wider communities, it could also be the focal point of a network between these different arts communities.

The market can deliver culture in many forms, but market-driven culture tends to best serve the widest consumers. In that way, it can often over-represent the most profitable aspects of culture, and under-represent the least profitable aspects of culture.

Take, for example, educational culture. I remember a time when I learned a lot from the Discovery Channel. Here's the line-up on their front page right now:
  • Gold Rush Alaska
  • Man vs. Wild
  • Out of the Wild Venezuela
  • Flying Wild Alaska
  • Tommy Guns
  • Desert Car Kings
  • Dirty Jobs
  • American Chopper
Mythbusters, one of their most educational shows, isn't listed on their front page (you can get to it from the menu).

To be fair, all of those have some educational component... although if that's the case, so does America's Next Top Model (which admittedly taught me about everything I know about modeling).

On the other hand, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting created Sesame Street, which is not only significant for the show itself but because it provides a lot of information for other children's educational Television. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting also supports Nova Science Now! hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who truly is the heir of Carl Sagan (another television personality supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting).

In other realms, progressives understand that with a little nudging, we can get things which may not be quite as popular but are still positive and contribute to society spread. Michelle Obama has just announced that she has worked with Walmart to encourage the spread of healthier food.

Does that mean the market has "failed" to provide a food solution? No, clearly not. McDonald's proved that you can do incredible things with food, and the market will support you. And the government should not be actively stopping people from eating at McDonald's. But if the government can help make it less expensive (i.e. increase access) to eat healthier food, people are in a better positon to make their own choice.

Now, unlike food, the arts are not so clear as healthy/unhealthy. But the need to preserve choice and competition in the market remains.

A whole other aspect of arts is arts role in education. That's a huge topic that I'm also not as experienced in arguing for, but it should not be forgotten. Not because it benefits the arts, but because it benefits the students. It provides more opportunity for thinking critically and voicing their own identity.