Thursday, December 10, 2009

National Endowment for the Arts

The Weekly Standard has published an article on the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) that may reveal that with the new administration a shift in priorities may be upon us that will certainly impact museums.

"The nation's arts organizations were among the countless businesses being threatened; many faced critical financial strains due in large part to a sudden plunge in private donations that followed the Wall Street crash. Salary support was one of the specific projects identified in the NEA's emergency grant guidelines. Symphonies and theater groups have employees who depend on paychecks just as much as auto companies and financial institutions.
Such controversies, however, are a reminder that the National Endowment for the Arts continually faces fundamental choices about how best to preserve the quality and seriousness of the arts and make people aware of their importance. There are today developments more worrisome and threatening to the agency's well being than any headline-grabbing "underground kinky art porno horror film." The time is rapidly approaching in which the NEA must once again consider whom it is intended to serve: the American artist or the American public. This is a central question with which it has wrestled over the entire course of its 44-year existence, and the way it responds now will determine whether it will continue to enjoy its current support in Congress and, indeed, whether it deserves that support at all.
The NEA has a new chairman, Rocco Landesman, appointed in May by the new president. Given the level of support from the arts community for Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign, it was expected that his choice to head the endowment would reflect the interests of artists more than the interests of the public at large. That in and of itself did not necessarily portend trouble. Landesman, like the NEA's first chairman, Roger Stevens, is a successful Broadway producer and a man with proven business sense. This should serve him well when he goes before Congress to defend the NEA's budget and in steering it clear of public controversies. But it's also tiresomely pointed out that Landesman is a man who prides himself on pulling no punches, and his supporters are looking for him and his "sharp elbows" and "my way or the highway" attitude to shake things up at the NEA, as though stirring the pot were always a productive thing to be doing."

What is clear is that the Obama administration intends to be involved with the management of NEA and the role the agency might play in the future. This was demonstrated in the failed attempt of NEA's former director of communication, Yosi Sergant to organize young artists to support President Obama's national service program, United We Serve. Regardless of your politics Sergant was fired at NEA under pressure from the criticism that ensued in this veiled effport to politicize art. It seems logical to assume that something wasn't right here or Sergant would have weathered the storm. But more to the point is the influence of the Executive Branch is willing to exert which concerns many. The jury is still out on this one, but I can assure you that art institutions are watching.

NEA's mission statement is as follows: "The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts, both new and established, bringing the arts to all Americans, and providing leadership in arts education. Established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government, the Arts Endowment is the nation's largest annual funder of the arts, bringing great art to all 50 states, including rural areas, inner cities, and military bases. For more information, please visit"

No comments: