Saturday, February 19, 2011

The NEA pt 4 / How We Make The Case VI

Isaac's third installment about why the NEA is important is a must read.

Here's a key paragraph:
(1) NEA grants are administered through partnerships with other organizations, many of whom are state arts agencies. In his post, Matt asks why we need federal arts subsidies. One of the reasons is so that we can have local, city and state arts councils to begin with. 40% of the NEA's money goes into that pot. I'm sure there could be more efficient ways to do this, but it's worth saying that it's not that we face an either/or choice when it comes to federalism and arts funding.
Another one:
It's easy to get spooked out by the specter of the government determining what art you should like. This view is an inaccurate picture of the NEA. The NEA is our way as a society of pooling resources (in the form of taxes) in order to support the arts (for reasons I'll get into below) and entrusting that money with a group of experts with decades of experience in the field.
One last one:
Over the last few days, I've been posting a lot about the NEA and how we make the case for arts subsidy, and I think I've focused a lot on the untapped potential that the NEA is not living up to, but could if it was funded more and given more direction. I really do continue to believe that if we want to start to survive these fights, we need to address those.

But reading Isaac's post, I realize I've been a bit of tough love. It's true that the NEA doesn't necessarily directly support the things I see, but it is doing a lot more than I give it credit for sometimes. And it must be harder for them, to be working indirectly in an already indirect field. They must be jealous that at least the Corporation for Public Broadcasting can summon up Big Bird as a lobbyist.

At any rate, my next step is going to be to try to order up all the points we've hit so far in an abbreviated format. See, we've been having this conversation in many ways, in many forums, for the last few decades. But now seems like the first moment that anyone outside of our field is even briefly listening. We gotta get our note-cards in order.

And lest you think that the House's vote is the end of the road, remember that the Coburn Amendment to the Stimulus bill.

No? Don't remember it? It was the amendment offered that removed $50 million in funding to the NEA from the stimulus bill. It passed in the Senate, with the vote of many liberal Senators like Feinstein (D-CA), Feingold (former D-WI) and shockingly Schumer (D-NY).

In the end, however, the arts funding was restored to the bill thanks to people like Congressman David Obey (D-WI):
When the House voted on the final bill, Democratic Congressman David Obey, who sponsored the bill, explained why he thought it was important to retain NEA funding in the stimulus package: “There are five million people who work in the arts industry. And right now they have 12.5% unemployment—or are you suggesting that somehow if you work in that field, it isn’t real when you lose your job, your mortgage or your health insurance? We’re trying to treat people who work in the arts the same way as anybody else.”
Where's Obey now? Retired.

The point is that the NEA isn't out of the fight yet. But the prognosis isn't great. Even the Obama Administration has NEA cuts planned, also around $20 million.

So. Enough for this post. The round up is coming up.