Politics: Romney goes after NEA, NEH and PBS while the Democrats Celebrate the Arts

Mitt Romney and the Republicans have endorsed a party platform that would dismantle the NEA, NEH and PBS.

By contrast, the Democratic Party Platform, just released, gets an A. Here’s the relevant passage from the latter (pp. 50-51):

“Arts and Culture: Democrats are proud of our support for arts funding and education. We are committed to continuing the policies and programs that have already done so much for our creative arts industry and economy. Investment in the arts strengthens our communities and contributes to our nation’s rich cultural heritage.

“We will continue to support public funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, for the National Endowment for the Humanities, and for programs providing art and music education in primary and secondary schools [emphasis added].The entire nation prospers when we protect and promote the unique and original artistic and cultural contributions of the women and men who create and preserve our nation’s heritage.”

Arts Journal columnist Clayton Lord observes in New Beans that “there’s a renewed skirmish in the war on the arts. This one has the potential to be a bad one, a Shiloh-style massacre of public funding, if the wrong side wins, because the first shot in this particular battle came from the guy who wants to replace the guy who is president (who, by the way, already has a not-quite-stellar record when it comes to the arts and the charitable status on nonprofits. As Alyssa Rosenberg notes here, Romney has actually hardened his position against public funding of the arts since the beginning (so very long ago) of the world’s longest primary season. He started out wanting to cut it in half, he’s now saying just cut the whole thing–the whole subsidy for the NEA, the NEH and PBS.”

Of course, the total funding of these three entities is just a handful of beans, but it less about saving money than it is about dumbing down the discussion.

Diane Ragsdale wrote a few weeks ago about the failure of many arts nonprofits (and their boards) to take seriously the mandate to create work that is in the public interest–that, basically, is for the good and welfare of society. That’s what nonprofits are required by law to do; we better society through service, and so are not obligated to better society through taxes. Diane’s piece notes that this isn’t often the case, drawing off of an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy that, she notes, doesn’t directly reference arts organizations but easily could. She’s right, and I think that this blind spot, over time, has contributed mightily to the reason that Romney can get so many points (because, honestly, that’s what this is about) by shouting about gutting public arts funding.

In an essay Diane wrote for me that we published in Counting New Beans, Ragsdale gets very clear and blunt very quickly about why Republicans can beat this particular horse to such great effect.

“What does it mean,” she asks, “when government cuts support of the arts? In a democracy, the government represents the people. My sense is that the government cuts the arts when it perceives that it will not encounter a huge political backlash for doing so. The government doesn’t value the arts because it perceives that the people don’t value the arts.” – Diane Ragsdale

In his interview in Counting New Beans, Oskar Eustis of the Public Theater in New York notes that, as artistic director, he was in essence hired for his taste. He, to his great credit, then goes on to note that his taste alone is insufficient, and he actually talks about “problematizing” his taste to ensure that the work selected is actively and wholly representative of the particular mission of the Public.

He understands, I think, that the artistic director’s role is not simply to pick good art, but to curate an affecting, transformative set of work for an audience over time.

Read more of  Clayton Lord’s insightful analysis here:  (Link)

One thought on “Politics: Romney goes after NEA, NEH and PBS while the Democrats Celebrate the Arts

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