by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Kevin Williamson of National Review Online explains why the National Endowment for the Arts ought to be defunded “for art’s sake.”
Of course we should kill the National Endowment for the Arts — not because we don’t care about art, but because we do. The ladies and gentlemen of the NEA are the Medicis of mediocrity, and the sooner we are done with them the better.
The case against the NEA is not that abolishing it will save the federal government a tremendous amount of money. It won’t. The NEA’s budget is, relatively speaking, chickenfeed — $148 million this year. (Which is literally less than Tyson spends on chickenfeed, if you were wondering.) We are not going to balance the budget on cuts — even cuts of 100 percent — to the NEA, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and foreign aid. About 80 percent of the federal budget is Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other health-care programs, national security, and interest on the debt. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t pay attention to the little things, but our fiscal problem is far larger than the NEA and similar programs.
And there is nothing wrong with spending money on cultural programs in principle. …
… The case against the NEA is that it is bad for art and bad for artists.
It helps to understand what the NEA actually is and what it does. The National Endowment for the Arts has relatively little interest in art — or, if you must, “the arts” — per se. It spends a great deal of money not on art but on the artsy and the art-ish: community-development programs with an arts component; educational initiatives that touch art, music, or theater, however tangentially; partnerships between municipal agencies and politically connected nonprofits that function as a way to shunt federal funds into the coffers friendly mayors’ offices and those of their allies.