NEA taxpayer dollars helps artists feel good about themselves


The Washington Post tried to create what it thought was a clever agit/prop video in favor of the National Endowment for the Arts. Rather than showing NEA funding in big cities, the video explored funding largely in rural, conservative Indiana, represented by Republican congressmen. The hope was to whip up support among Republicans to save the NEA.

If the Republicans do spare the NEA, it won't be because of this video, which unintentionally highlights the frivolous expenditures made by the agency.

Some highlights:

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The hidden loom. The NEA funds a program in "a basement of a county museum" to show people how clothes were loomed in the 19th century. How vital is that? In a basement of an obscure county museum, how many people have even seen it?

Resident artist in an empty museum. Another NEA grant pays for a "resident artist" in a small museum. There's no mention of what this resident artist does, or how many people he reaches, but the telling part of the video is where a museum official is being interviewed in what looks like a museum without a single visitor.

Quilting to improve lilting self-confidence. Another NEA grant goes to a woman who hand stitches quilts in the forest and then donates them. We learn that kids won't know the joys of quilting without an NEA grant. How did people ever learn the joys of quilting before the NEA? If people stopped quilting (actually, I think most of them have), what is the loss to the nation? Daren Redman, the quilter who got the grant, says there is a real benefit; every time she gets taxpayer money, she says her sense of self-confidence goes up.

Scribbling in hospitals to stop artist from crying. The NEA also paid $63,000 to hire someone to go to hospitals and give patients colored pencils and paper to scribble with. The benefit? We don't know, because the artist they hired broke down in tears and started crying when asked to explain. I get the feeling that like Daren Redman the quilter, the money is being spent not to help citizens but to help emotionally fragile artists feel better about themselves.

Tunnel made of branches. At one park an NEA grant is funding a small 30 foot tunnel made of branches so children can crawl through it in order to appreciate wicker baskets. Yes, tunnel=wicker baskets. Don't think about it, don't question it.

Turning abandoned houses into art galleries. For artists whose work isn't good enough to get into local art galleries, the NEA funded turning abandoned houses into art galleries. At least when they came to film the houses they had the good sense to have people around so it didn't look empty like an empty museum. The narrator says, "Can you imagine a block where half the houses are occupied by artists? What could that do to a community?"

My answer: perhaps generate a lot of foreclosures?

In the NEA's defense, some of these expenditures are only in the thousands or even only in the hundreds of dollars. But the point is not how small they are, but how low-priority they are. If we cannot even cut money to build tunnels made of branches and pay for scribbling paper in hospitals, what can we cut money for?

It's sad that 11 Republican congressmen signed onto a letter with Democrats calling for the NEA to get even more money. If ten more Republicans feel the same way, the NEA will not be cut. And if the NEA can't be cut, what can be?



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