On Losing the NEA and the Death of Art
As we join with our fellow Americans and look down the barrel of the travesty that is the stolen Presidency on this Inauguration Day of 2017 - and if you're a Democrat who has been voting since before 2000 and you are reckoning that there have literally been two "stolen" elections in your lifetime - as an artist the big news for us is the end of the NEA.
It seems Mr. Trump and his Republican cohorts are eager to take whatever revenge they can extract from an artistic community that regularly satirizes the extremity of their views.
So on this inauguration, with the NEA already on comparative life support when compared to other industrialized countries in the world, we as artists are in true mourning, finally coming to the realization that the patient will not be revived this time. With health care, women's rights, racism, and national security on the forefront of everyone's minds, throw in some immigration for distraction, the likelihood that dismantling the NEA will merit more than one-time front page article is high. Their is a growing concensus that Americans don't care about art and humanities.
We are relatively easily moved to the back of the priority bus when it comes to discussing the upcoming progressive battle with the incoming administration.
How should we feel and react? Outrage? Absolutely. Should we pool all of our resources
to protest this horrendous dent to our national soul and character? Clearly!
It should be acknowledged that within the not-for-profit arts community there is a division of the "haves" and "have-nots", not unlike our own country's socio-economic divide. The National Endowment for the Arts gave the lion's share of it's wealth to organizations and institutions across the country that are also served by relatively wealthy boards. The NEA served as an imprimatur of excellence that foundations and large private philanthropists used to guide their generosity.
Although during the Obama administration there was a mandate to reach out to smaller organizations, the NEA had few programs that could make art grow for arts sake in small organizations.
Ever since Robert Mapplethorpe's photography the right-wing have pretended they were lone arbiters of morals and family values. Clearly a backlash against homosexuality and its acceptance. But if we are living in the age of information, the Republican Party and their new
partners, the Trumplicans, are in a war against our access to it. So kill the artists. We'll need the lawyers for those lawsuits.
If it cannot be measured and put on a scale, giving money to it's creation is a subjective.
That's a bad idea says the right wing and over time the Democrats think so too, just so they can get it through Congress. So as a reaction to this, art and artists have been bending over backwards to make measurement rubrics and assessments to try and fit in to the Republican idea of what art should be. Over the last 30 years the NEA
No matter how many great works of art have been aided by the NEA monies, there is no doubt that the artistic soul of the nation is harmed by this thinking. It is not the thinking of artists. Far worse, it has literally eaten the lives and intellects of some of our greatest artists and creators as they seek to create work that dances around some idea of what is "safe". If an idea seems commercial, the not -for-profit machine begins to favor it more than
the dogged pursuit of excellent art for its own sake.
Republicans, as a party, do not care about artists. However, Republicans as individuals are the greatest donors to the arts as everyone in the not for profit world knows. How could this be so? Simple: tenacity and entrepreneurship is admired but helping other s is not . It is seen as weak within the Republican Party. Yet they regularly flog the arts like a battered spouse whenever budgets are discussed. The arts have been gaslit for ages. It's where the right wing perfected their techniques.
It is time to break the cycle and pull the plug.
Clearly what Republicans do not care about as a party is quality and under Donal Trump, possibly the American President with the least class since Andrew Jackson (unkind to Jackson's memory) - it is clear that there is no barometer for quality arts in the White House. Do we really want someone making choices that effect art in America who thinks Meryl Streep is overrated?
If you have no sense of taste, you shouldn't pick the wine.
We should pack our bags with dignity and not prostrate ourselves on the ground begging to be noticed by Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump. Both seem hopelessly callous, craven individuals who are almost impregnable to reason and decency. We should begin creating as much art as possible in any place we can create art to reflect the nature of this administration. Eventually the patient will be revived and when it is it will be leaner and healthier and it will protect the true space artists need to create with more ferocity. It will demand respect for artists and not beg for approval from politicians who dangle meager funding in front of national treasures as if they were giving children a lollipop.
We have a tremendously dysfunctional system of funding arts in our country. As a society we need art. We as artists, and our country as a society will not be served by cutting arts funding, but neither will we be served by groveling for pennies for the crown jewel institutions of our country. Most institutions will survive. Some will not. However some were doomed to failure after years of doing puppy tricks for Republicans. They had lost touch with their own artistic core.
In five years we will begin one of the most prolific artistic eras of this or any other generation of Americans. Now, there are many artists who will be looking for ward to NOT working with Republicans and the Trump administration. When the nightmare is over, if we remain true to craft in the dark times, the output will shimmer with the brilliance of commitment and audacity.