Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Save the NEA

It's that time again, when we get to play another round of "Culture Wars: Extreme Nincompoop, Edition X." That's right, you thought that we were done with the cretins who think the arts are a bunch of fluff and that they shouldn't be supported by tax payers money, but we're not. They were just napping, folks, and the culture war still rages.

I'm not going to explain why the arts matter, how little of our money goes to support the arts, how they finally have a rocking staff in place at the NEA or any of those things. I'm assuming my readers aren't dumb (try getting that respect from the regular media) and that you're up to speed on such matters, but perhaps have been so consumed keeping track of the revolutions going on in the Middle East via Al Jazeera English that you have missed the latest developments. That's the only reason I can think of for why we're not hearing more about this from the arts community. Hmmm, what's going on here.

Okay, anyway, here's the quick and dirty: Many State arts agencies have been recently cut - yes, entirely - in a few states and a few more are rumored to be following shortly. Now, the Republicans are threatening to eliminate the NEA entirely (and CPB) from the budget. Yes, it's true. You can read about it here and get active here (just don't expect a hip website or interesting campaign, mind you). I'm also linking some text Sundance sent out about it below.

You should care, you should get active, but I think we need to do more. I'm worried, however, that we can't or won't have much real impact, even if we keep their funding. I've been arguing that arts organizations need to prepare for this for quite some time, and I even wrote a chapter about it recently. I've suggested the field needs to make radical change, because such cuts aren't going to stop. I believe this strongly, yet I consistently get responses back from otherwise rational beings that I am supporting the Republican's arguments by calling attention to these problems and arguing we should change our business models. Good grief people - pointing out reality is not supporting their arguments, it is being practical. Part of that realism involves noticing things like the fact that when Obama came to office he appointed a big, gigantic brain trust of arts people to suggest policy changes. They recommended big things. Nothing happened. It means realizing that if Americans for the Arts only has an email campaign list of 50,000 people (thanks Leonard), we're in serious trouble. It means that everything we've done in terms of advocacy for the arts has largely been a waste of time.

We need more creative responses. Perhaps we need to put the artists in charge for once. Perhaps we need to recognize that not only do we need to rally and support the NEA, but that culture might just be the only thing that can pull us out of the continuing malaise in this country (you know, the one everyone but Wall Street is still in) and will definitely be the only thing remembered about this country when we're no longer relevant (I give that about 50 years, if it didn't pass 5 years ago....).

Yes, that's why the Republicans want to kill art - because it truly matters more than any of their bloviating nonsense. So, I'd really like to hear some good ideas for how to change the conversation. How to win this war. How to get a video about the need for the arts to go as viral as some kid biting his brother's finger. How to get a Kickstarter campaign started for a new, true Endowment for the Arts untouched by the grubby hands of either party.

That would be pretty cool.

In the meantime, listen to Keri Putnam of Sundance and do the following (from her email blast):


What you and I can and must do:

  1. Call your member of Congress NOW at 202-225-3121 and tell your representative that you oppose any and all amendments to cut NEA funding.

    If you are uncertain as to who represents you in Congress, click here.

    Remember! Congress is made up of ELECTED officials. They are there to represent us.

  2. Share this email with your friends, family, neighbors, colleagues... everyone.

On behalf of the staff, alumni and Board of Trustees of Sundance Institute, and artists everywhere, thank you for taking action."

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