Rational and Irrational Thoughts

Funding the Arts: Still Less Expensive than Buying an Elected Official

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announced the recipients of the 2012 Jazz Masters Award, “the nation’s highest honor in jazz.” This lofty honor bestows the grand sum of $25,000 on each of the five recipients, embarrassingly low for the likes of Charlie Haden and Jack DeJohnette, two of this year’s five recipients. Incidently, the FY2012 appropriations request for the NEA was 146 million. Contextualize this with the 5 billion dollars spent on both parties to influence the 2008 federal election. It would seem that modest funding to preserve our American artistic treasures is still much cheaper than buying a candidate. More recently, super PAC receipts as of 12/31/11 are 99 million and counting for the combined presidential candidates and we’re only at the beginning. Indeed, this chart by Dynamic Arts Consulting indicates that NEA funding took a hit in 1996 (well after the Mapplethorpe controversy), and has been losing ground to inflation since. At these prices, slashing the NEA budget would go a short distance to solving our budget dilemma, but we need not look far to see how the arts may have fallen out of favor. A quick Google search “defund nea” yields pages of “ideology” in favor of pulling the plug completely. Of these, my favorite is the Heritage Foundation’s “Ten Good Reasons to Eliminate Funding for the National Endowment for the Arts”. And of these ten, my very favorite is reason number 5: “The NEA will continue to fund pornography”. I’m curious as to how difficult it was to find volunteers over at the Heritage Foundation to sacrifice their personal morals and screen all the NEA funded artworks to find the most objectionable examples.

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