As the U.S. Congress struggles to balance the federal budget and
end the decades-long spiral of deficit spending, few programs seem
more worthy of outright elimination than the National Endowment for
the Arts (NEA). Indeed, since its inception in 1965, few federal
agencies have been mired in more controversy than the NEA.
Nevertheless, steadfast partisans of "welfare for artists" continue
to defend the Endowment, asserting that it promotes philanthropic
giving, makes cultural programs accessible to those who can least
afford them, and protects America's cultural heritage.
In fact, the NEA is an unwarranted extension of the federal
government into the voluntary sector. The Endowment, furthermore,
does not promote charitable giving. Despite Endowment claims that
its efforts bring art to the inner city, the agency offers little
more than a direct subsidy to the cultured, upper-middle class.
Finally, rather than promoting the best in art, the NEA continues
to offer tax dollars and the federal seal of approval to subsidize
"art" that is offensive to most Americans.
There are at least ten good reasons to eliminate funding for the
Reason #1: The Arts Will Have More
Than Enough Support without the NEA
The arts were flowering before the NEA came into being in 1965.
Indeed, the Endowment was created partly because of the tremendous
popular appeal of the arts at the time. Alvin Toffler's The
Culture Consumers, published in 1964, surveyed the booming
audience for art in the United States, a side benefit of a growing
economy and low inflation.2 Toffler's
book recalls the arts prior to the creation of the NEA-the era of
the great Georges Balanchine and Agnes de Mille ballets, for
example, when 26 million viewers would turn to CBS broadcasts of
Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. In fact, nearly
all of the major orchestras in the United States existed before
1965, and will continue to exist after NEA subsidies are ended.
In spite of the vast splendor created by American artists prior to
1965, partisans of the NEA claim that the arts in the United States
would face almost certain demise should the Endowment be abolished.
Yet Endowment funding is just a drop in the bucket compared to
giving to the arts by private citizens. For example, in 1996, the
Metropolitan Opera of New York received $390,000 from the
Endowment, a federal subsidy that totals only 0.29 percent of the
Opera's annual income of $133 million-and amounts to less than the
ticket revenue for a single sold-out performance.3
The growth of private-sector charitable giving in recent years
has rendered NEA funding relatively insignificant to the arts
community. Overall giving to the arts last year totaled almost $10
billion4-up from $6.5 billion in 19915-dwarfing the NEA's federal subsidy. This
40 percent increase in private giving occurred during the same
period that the NEA budget was reduced by 40 percent from
approximately $170 million to $99.5 million.6 Thus, as conservatives had predicted,
cutting the federal NEA subsidy coincided with increased private
support for the arts and culture.
That many major cultural institutions are in the midst of
successful fundraising efforts belies the questionable claim of NEA
supporters that private giving, no matter how generous, could never
compensate for the loss of public funds. As Chart 1 shows, many of
these institutional campaigns have fundraising targets many times
greater than the NEA's annual federal appropriation of $99.5
million. In New York City, the geographic area which receives the
largest relative share of NEA funding, the New York Public Library
is raising some $430 million (with 70 percent already completed),
the Museum of Modern Art, $300 million-450 million (with 30 percent
raised), the Metropolitan Museum of Art some $300 million (with 80
percent already obtained).7 In fact,
philanthropist Frederick A. O. Schwartz, Jr., recently told The
New York Times that "we've entered a period of institutional
excitement comparable only to that which occurred after the Civil
War until World War I when several of the city's great civic and
cultural institutions were built."8
In Great Britain, economist David Sawers's comparative study of
subsidized and unsubsidized performing arts concluded that major
cultural venues would continue to thrive were government subsidies
to be eliminated. According to Sawers's calculation, 80 percent of
all London theater box office receipts, including ballet and opera,
went to unsubsidized theater.9
(Britain's renowned Glyndebourne opera, for example, relies
entirely on private funding.)
Even smaller organizations can succeed without depending on the
federal government. As Bradley Scholar William Craig Rice argues
cogently in The Heritage Foundation's Policy Review, "The
arts will flower without the NEA." His survey shows that many arts
venues can easily replace NEA funding, and suggests a number of
alternative strategies for those who might find the disappearance
of the federal agency problematic.10
Reason #2: The NEA Is Welfare for
Despite Endowment claims that federal funding permits
underpriviledged individuals to gain access to the arts, NEA grants
offer little more than a subsidy to the well-to-do. One-fifth of
direct NEA grants go to multimillion-dollar arts organizations.11 Harvard University Political Scientist
Edward C. Banfield has noted that the "art public is now, as it has
always been, overwhelmingly middle and upper middle class and above
average in income-relatively prosperous people who would probably
enjoy art about as much in the absence of subsidies."12 The poor and the middle class, thus,
benefit less from public art subsidies than does the museum- and
orchestra-going upper-middle class. Sawers argues that "those who
finance the subsidies through taxes are likely to be different from
and poorer than those who benefit from the subsidies."13 In fact, the $99.5 million that funds
the NEA also represents the entire annual tax burden for over
436,000 working-class American families.14
As part of the Endowment's effort to dispel its elitist image,
Chairman Jane Alexander has led a nationwide campaign painting the
NEA as a social welfare program that can help underprivileged youth
to fight violence and drugs. In congressional testimony, she has
trumpeted her "American Canvas" initiative "to gain a better
understanding of how the arts can transform communities."15 But despite the heartwarming
anecdotes, claims for the therapeutic use of the arts are not
supported by empirical scientific evidence. Studies that claim to
show the arts prevent crime are methodologically questionable, due
to problems of self selection. And the arts offer no cure for
alcoholism either: Tom Dardis devotes his 292-page scholarly work,
The Thirsty Muse, precisely to the high occurrence of
alcohol abuse among American writers.16
Reason #3: The NEA Discourages
Charitable Gifts to the Arts
Defenders of the NEA argue that the much of its benefit lies in
its ability to confer an imprimatur, similar to the "Good
Housekeeping Seal of Approval," necessary to encourage private
support of the arts. NEA officials have asserted frequently that by
persuading donors who would otherwise not give, Endowment support
can offer a financial "leverage" of up to ten times the amount of a
federal grant award.17 There is little
or no empirical evidence to support such claims. The only available
study of "matching grants"-those designed specifically to stimulate
giving- concluded that matching grants did not increase total
giving to the arts. Instead, "matching grants" appear to shift
existing money around from one recipient to another, "thereby
reducing the private resources available to other arts
organizations in a specific community."18 Indeed, a study by the Association of
American Cultures (AAC) revealed that private funders found major
museum exhibits, opera, ballet, symphony orchestras, and public
television to be "attractive" for donors without an official
Economist Tyler Cowen also sees an ominous effect to government
arts programs: "Once donors believe that government has accepted
the responsibility for maintaining culture, they will be less
willing to give."20 This analysis is
consistent with recent public statements from foundation executives
that the private sector will not make up the gap resulting from
decreases in NEA funding, despite record levels of private giving
in recent years. Cowen's conclusion: "The government can best
support the arts by leaving them alone, offering background
assistance through the tax system and the enforcement of
Reason #4: The NEA Lowers the Quality
of American Art
NEA funding also threatens the independence of art and of
artists. Recognizing how government subsidies threaten artistic
inspiration, Ralph Waldo Emerson declared that "Beauty will not
come at the call of the legislature.... It will come, as always,
unannounced, and spring up between the feet of brave and earnest
men."22 Recent critics echo Emerson's
creed. McGill University Management Professor Reuven Brenner has
declared: "The NEA's opponents have it right. Bureaucratic culture
is not genuine culture.... It was the unsubsidized writers,
painters and musicians-imprisoned in their homes if they were
lucky, in asylums or in gulags if they weren't-who created lasting
Indeed, to many of the NEA's critics, the idea of a federal
"seal of approval" on art may be the "greatest anathema of all."24 Thus, to maintain its editorial
independence, The New Criterion, a journal edited by former
New York Times art critic Hilton Kramer, has rejected NEA
funding since its founding some 15 years ago. In 1983, Kramer was a
vocal, principled critic of an NEA program offering subsidies to
art critics; his opposition forced the agency to scrap the
When government gets in the business of subsidizing art, the
impact upon art is often pernicious. According to Bruce Bustard,
author of a catalogue for the current retrospective on art funded
through President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Public Works of Art
Project," notes that the "New Deal produced no true masterpieces."
Instead, as Washington Post columnist James Glassman
declared, the PWA "stifle[d] creativity," producing works "that are
dreary, unimaginative condescending and political."26
Cowen notes that the "NEA attempts to create a mini-industrial
policy for the arts. But governments have a terrible record for
choosing future winners and losers, whether in business or the
arts."27 Government subsidies often
can hurt the quality of art by promoting a new cult of mediocrity.
Rice has pointed out that the NEA helps the well-connected and the
well-established at the expense of less sophisticated-and possibly
more talented-outsiders.28 The NEA
thereby reduces the importance of popular appeal for the arts,
substituting instead the need to please a third-party government
patron, and thus driving a wedge between artists and audiences.
In his major comparative study of subsidized and unsubsidized
art in Great Britain, Sawers noted that government subsidies
actually work to reduce choice and diversity in the artistic
marketplace by encouraging artists to emulate each other in order
to achieve success in the grants process. Privately funded venues,
thus, are more artistically flexible than publicly funded ones.
(For example, it was private orchestras that introduced the "early
music" movement into Britain.29) In
addition, such favoritism endangers funding for otherwise worthy
arts organizations merely because "they do not receive a public
arts agency matching grant."30
The threat to quality art from federal subsidies was already
crystal clear to Toffler in the 1960s: "Recognizing the reality of
the danger of political or bureaucratic interference in the process
of artistic decision making, the principle should be established
that the United States government will make absolutely no grants to
independent arts institutions-directly or through the states-to
underwrite operating expenses or the costs of artistic production.
Proposals for a national arts foundation that would distribute
funds to foster experiment, innovation...are on the wrong track.
They ask the government to make decisions in a field in which it
has vested political interests."31
Reason #5: The NEA Will Continue to
In November 1996, in a 2-1 decision, the Ninth U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals upheld a 1992 ruling in the "NEA Four" case of
Karen Finley, Tim Miller, John Fleck, and Holly Hughes-all
"performance artists" whose grant requests were denied on grounds
their art lacked merit.32 The Court
ruled that the 1990 statutory requirement that the Endowment
consider "general standards of decency and respect" in awarding
grants was unconstitutional.33 The
congressional reauthorization of the agency in 1990 had added this
"decency provision" in keeping with recommendations of the
Presidential Commission headed by John Brademas and Leonard
Without such a "decency" standard, the NEA can subsidize
whatever type of art it chooses. As a result, attorney Bruce Fein
called the Court of Appeals decision a recipe for "government
subsidized depravity" that must (if not reversed by the Supreme
Court) force Congress to "abolish the NEA, an ignoble experiment
that, like Prohibition, has not improved with age."34 Literary critic Jonathan Yardley,
writing in the Washington Post, declared: "Only fools-of
whom, alas, in the Ôarts community' there are many-would
argue that the federal government is obliged to underwrite obscene,
pornographic or otherwise offensive "art."35
There is no shortage of examples of indecent material supported
directly or indirectly by the NEA. Nevertheless, Jane Alexander has
never criticized any of these NEA grantees publicly. And the
Clinton Administration has yet to file an appeal of the Ninth
Circuit's decision. Moreover, no Member of Congress has yet
attempted to provide a legislative fix that would require NEA grant
recipients to abide by general standards of decency in their
On March 6, 1997, Congressman Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), Chairman of
the Education and Workforce Subcommittee that has oversight over
the NEA, complained about books published by an NEA-funded press
called "Fiction Collective 2," which he described as an "offense to
the senses." Hoekstra cited four Fiction Collective 2 books and
noted that the publisher's parent organization had received an
additional $45,000 grant to establish a World Wide Web site.
According to The Washington Times, the NEA granted $25,000
to Fiction Collective 2, which featured works containing sexual
torture, incest, child sex, sadomasochism, and child sex; the
"excerpts depict a scene in which a brother-sister team rape their
younger sister, the torture of a Mexican male prostitute and oral
sex between two women."36 Pat Trueman,
former Chief of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the
United States Department of Justice Criminal Division,
characterized the works as "troubling" and said the NEA posed a
"direct threat to the prosecution" of obscenity and child
pornography because of its official stamp on such material.37Incredibly, the NEA continues to defend
such funding decisions publicly. "Fiction Collective 2 is a highly
respected, pre-eminent publisher of innovative, quality fiction,"
NEA spokeswoman Cherie Simon said.38
The current controversy is nothing new for the NEA. In November
1996, Representative Hoekstra questioned NEA funding of a film
distributor handling "patently offensive and possibly pornographic
movies-several of which appear to deal with the sexuality of
children."39 He noted the NEA gave
$112,700 over three years to "Women Make Movies," which subsidized
distribution of films including:
- "Ten Cents a Dance," a three-vignette video in which "two women
awkwardly discuss their mutual attraction." It "depicts anonymous
bathroom sex between two men" and includes an "ironic episode of
heterosexual phone sex."
- "Sex Fish" portrays a "furious montage of oral sex, public
rest-room cruising and...tropical fish," the catalog says.
- "Coming Home" talks of the "sexy fun of trying to fit a lesbian
couple in a bathtub!"
- "Seventeen Rooms" purports to answer the question, "What do
lesbians do in bed?"
- "BloodSisters" reveals a "diverse cross-section of the lesbian
Three other films center on the sexual or lesbian experiences of
girls age 12 and under. "These listings have the appearance of a
veritable taxpayer-funded peep show," said Hoekstra in a letter to
NEA Chairman Alexander. He noted that the distributor was
circulating films of Annie Sprinkle, a pornographic "performance
artist" who appeared at "The Kitchen," a New York venue receiving
NEA support.40 In response, The New
York Times launched an ad hominem attack on Hoekstra
(while neglecting to mention that The New York Times Company
Foundation had sponsored Sprinkle's performance at one time).41
Another frequent response supporters of the NEA make to such
criticism is to claim that instances of funding pornography and
other indecent material were simple mistakes. But such "mistakes"
seem part of a regular pattern of support for indecency, repeated
year after year. This pattern is well-documented in the appendix to
Reason #6: The NEA Promotes
Politically Correct Art
A radical virus of multiculturalism, moreover, has permanently
infected the agency, causing artistic efforts to be evaluated by
race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation instead of artistic
merit.42 In 1993, Roger Kimball
reported that an "effort to impose quotas and politically correct
thinking" was "taking precedence over mundane considerations of
quality."43 Perhaps the most prominent
case of reverse discrimination was the cancellation of a grant to
the Hudson Review, which based its selections on "literary
More recently, Jan Breslauer wrote in The Washington Post
that multiculturalism was now "systemic" at the agency.45 Breslauer, theater critic for The
Los Angeles Times, pointed out that "private grantees are
required to conform to the NEA's specifications" and the "art
world's version of affirmative action" has had "a profoundly
corrosive effect on the American arts-pigeonholing artists and
pressuring them to produce work that satisfies a politically
correct agenda rather than their best creative instincts." NEA
funding of "race-based politics" has encouraged ethnic separatism
and Balkanization at the expense of a shared American culture.
Because of federal dollars, Breslauer discovered, "Artists were
routinely placed on bills, in seasons, or in exhibits because of
who they were rather than what kind of art they'd made" and
"artistic directors began to push artists toward `purer' (read:
stereotypical) expressions of the ethnicity they were paying them
to represent."46 The result, Breslauer
concluded, is that "most people in the arts establishment continue
to defer, at least publicly, to the demands of political
Aside from such blatant cultural engineering, the NEA also seems
intent on pushing "art" that offers little more than a decidedly
- Last summer, the Phoenix Art Museum, a recipient of NEA
funding, presented an exhibit featuring: an American flag in a
toilet, an American flag made out of human skin, and a flag on the
museum floor to be stepped upon. Fabian Montoya, an 11-year-old
boy, picked up the American flag to rescue it. Museum curators
replaced it, prompting Representative Matt Salmon (R-AZ) and the
Phoenix American Legion to applaud the boy's patriotism by
presenting him with a flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol.
Whereas the American Legion, Senator Bob Dole, and House Speaker
Newt Gingrich condemned the exhibit, NEA Chairman Alexander
remained conspicuously silent.
- Artist Robbie Conal plastered "NEWTWIT" posters all over
Washington, D.C., and sold them at the NEA-subsidized Washington
Project for the Arts.48
- And the NEA still has not fully answered a 1996 query from
Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) for details of its support to the (now
defunct) Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts in San Francisco,
which had received an estimated $30,000 per year from the NEA since
the early 1980s. The reason for the inquiry was to determine what
the NEA knew about the activities of one of the leaders of the
center, Gilberto Osorio. Osorio co-founded the center in 1977, and
since had been exposed as a commandante in the FMLN guerrilla
command during the civil war in El Salvador by San Francisco
journalist Stephen Schwartz.49 One of
the FMLN missions undertaken while Osorio had been chief of
operations was a June 19, 1985, attack on a restaurant in San
Salvador that killed four U.S. Marines and two civilian employees
of the Wang Corporation. In 1982, Osorio reportedly had ordered
that any American found in San Vicente province be executed.
Schwartz concluded, "some of their [NEA] grantees may be guilty of
more than just crimes against good taste."50
Reason #7: The NEA Wastes
Like any federal bureaucracy, the NEA wastes tax dollars on
administrative overhead and bureaucracy. Anecdotes of other forms
of NEA waste are legion. The Cato Institute's Sheldon Richman and
David Boaz note that "Thanks to an NEA grantee, the American
taxpayers once paid $1,500 for a poem, `lighght.' That wasn't the
title or a typo. That was the entire poem."51 In addition to such frivolities, the
Endowment diverts resources from creative activities as artists are
lured from producing art to courting federal grant dollars and even
attending demonstrations in Washington, D.C.
There are other ways that the NEA wastes tax dollars: Author
Alice Goldfarb Marquis estimates that approximately half of NEA
funds go to organizations that lobby the government for more
money.52 Not only has the NEA
politicized art, but because federal grant dollars are fungible,
they can be used for other purposes besides the support of quality
art. In addition, approximately 19 percent of the NEA's total
budget is spent on administrative expenses-an unusually high figure
for a government program.53
As noted above, Sawers's comparative study of British fine arts
noted little difference in the quality of art between subsidized
and unsubsidized venues. Sawers did uncover one major difference,
however, between subsidized and unsubsidized companies:
unsubsidized companies had fewer, if any, performers under
contract, relying instead on freelance staff. Fixed and total costs
for unsubsidized companies were, therefore, substantially lower
than those of the subsidized companies. Subsidized venues kept
"more permanent staff on their payroll" instead of lowering ticket
prices.54 Subsidies, thus, result in
higher ticket prices to force the public to subsidize bloated arts
Reason #8: The NEA Is Beyond
In 1990, the Presidential Commission on the NEA, headed by John
Brademas and Leonard Garment, concluded that the NEA had an
obligation to maintain a high standard of decency and respect
because it distributed taxpayer dollars. The recent record of the
agency, and the November 1996 appellate court decision in the case
of the "NEA Four," make it unlikely that the Endowment will be able
to ever honor that recommendation. NEA Chairman Alexander has not
condemned the continued subsidies for indecent art nor explained
how such grant requests managed to get through her
"reorganization." Unfortunately, not a single Senator or
Representative has asked her to do so.
Recent history shows that despite cosmetic "reorganizations" at
the NEA, the Endowment is impervious to genuine change because of
the specific arts constituencies it serves. Every few years,
whether it be by Nancy Hanks in the Nixon Administration,
Livingston Biddle in the Carter Administration, or Frank Hodsoll in
the Reagan Administration, NEA administrators promise that
reorganization will be bring massive change to the agency. All
these efforts have failed. It was, in fact, under Mr. Hodsoll's
tenure in the Reagan Administration that grants were awarded to
Robert Mapplethorpe, known for his homerotic photography, and to
Andres Serrano, infamous for creating the exhibit "Piss
Recent changes in the titles of NEA departments have had little
effect. In the words of Alice Goldfarb Marquis, "All Ms. Alexander
has done is, to coin a phrase, re-arrange the deckchairs on the
Titanic."55 Indeed, Alexander has
retained veteran NEA executive Ana Steele in a top management
position to this date. Steele approved the payment of over $250,000
to the "NEA Four" while serving as acting chairman in 1993.
The NEA claims to have changed, no doubt in hopes of mollifying
congressional critics. Yet the NEA has continued to fund
organizations that have subsidized materials offensive to ordinary
citizens while attempting to recast its public image as a friend of
children, families, and education. It is a "two-track" ploy,
speaking of family values to the general public and privately of
another agenda to the arts lobby. For example, Chairman Alexander
has defended NEA fellowships to individual artists, prohibited by
Congress after years of scandals. In her congressional testimony of
March 13, 1997, she declared: "I ask you again in the strongest
terms to lift the ban on support to individual artists."56
To send its signal to the avant garde arts constituency,
the NEA continues to fund a handful of "cutting-edge" organizations
in each grantmaking cycle. The NEA has even maintained its
peer-review panel process used to review grants, by changing its
name to "discipline review"; The Heritage Foundation cited this
process in 1991 as ridden with corruption and conflicts of
interest, and as a major factor in the Endowment's selection of
offensive and indecent proposals.57
Despite the rhetoric of reform issuing from its lobbyists, and
five years of reduced budgets, the reality remains defiantly
unchanged at the NEA.
Reason #9: Abolishing the NEA Will
Prove to the American Public that Congress Is Willing to Eliminate
President Clinton proposes to spend $1.7 trillion in his FY 1998
budget. Over the next five years, the Administration seeks to
increase federal spending by $249 billion.58 Further, Clinton also proposes to
increase the NEA's funding to $119,240,000, a rise of 20 percent.59 These dramatic increases in spending
come in the age when the federal debt exceeded $5 trillion for the
first time and on the heels of a 1996 federal deficit of $107
In this era of budgetary constraint, in which the need to reduce
the federal deficit is forcing fundamental choices about vital
needs-such as housing and medical care for the elderly-such
boondoggles as the NEA should be among the first programs to be
eliminated. Representative Wally Herger (R-CA), citing a recent NEA
grant to his own constituents (the California Indian Basket Weavers
Association), pointedly said that he "does not believe that in an
era of tight federal dollars, basket weaving should have a top
priority in Congress."60 Whenever
American families have to cut make cuts in their spending,
nonessential spending-such as entertainment expenses-are the first
to go. If Congress cannot stand up and eliminate the $99.5 million
FY 1997 appropriation for the NEA, how will it be able to make the
case for far more fundamental budget cuts?
Reason #10: Funding the NEA Disturbs
the U.S. Tradition of Limited Government
In retrospect, turmoil over the NEA was predictable, due to the
long tradition in the United States of opposing the use of federal
tax dollars to fund the arts. During the Constitutional Convention
in Philadelphia in 1787, delegate Charles Pinckney introduced a
motion calling for the federal government to subsidize the arts in
the United States. Although the Founding Fathers were cultured men
who knew firsthand of various European systems for public arts
patronage, they overwhelmingly rejected Pickney's suggestion
because of their belief in limited, constitutional government.
Accordingly, nowhere in its list of powers enumerated and delegated
to the federal government does the Constitution specify a power to
subsidize the arts.
Moreover, as David Boaz of the Cato Institute argues, federal
arts subsidies pose the danger of federal control over expression:
"Government funding of anything involves government
controlÉ. As we should not want an established church, so we
should not want established art."61 As
Cowen notes, "When the government promotes its favored art, the
most innovative creators find it more difficult to rise to the
top.... But the true costs of government funding do not show up on
our tax bill. The NEA and other government arts agencies politicize
art and jeopardize the principles of democratic government."62 The French government, for example,
tried to suppress Impressionism through its control of the
The deep-seated American belief against public support of
artists continues today. Public opinion polls, moreover, show that
a majority of Americans favor elimination of the NEA when the
agency is mentioned by name.63 A June
1995 Wall Street Journal-Peter Hart poll showed 54 percent
of Americans favored eliminating the NEA entirely versus 38 percent
in favor of maintaining it at any level of funding. An earlier
January 19, 1995, Los Angeles Times poll found 69 percent of
the American people favored cutting the NEA budget.64 More recently, a poll performed by The
Polling Company in March 1997 demonstrated that 57 percent of
Americans favor the proposition that "Congress should stop funding
the NEA with federal taxpayer dollars and instead leave funding
decisions with state government and private groups."
After more than three decades, the National Endowment for the
Arts has failed in its mission to enhance cultural life in the
United States. Despite numerous attempts to reinvent it, the NEA
continues to promote the worst excesses of multiculturalism and
political correctness, subsidizing art that demeans the values of
ordinary Americans. As the federal debt soars to over $5 trillion,
it is time to terminate the NEA as a wasteful, unjustified,
unnecessary, and unpopular federal expenditure. Ending the NEA
would be good for the arts and good for America.
The NEA has used tax dollars to subsidize pornography,
sadomasochism, and other forms of indecency. Here are some selected
- In 1995, the NEA-funded "Highways," a venue featuring a summer
"Ecco Lesbo/Ecco Homo" festival in Santa Monica, California. The
festival featured a program actually called "Not for Republicans"
in which a performance artist ruminated on "Sex with Newt's Mom."
The artistic director was Tim Miller (of the "NEA Four"). Former
Clinton adviser Paul Begala agreed that items in the published
schedule were obscene.65
- NEA grants announced in December 1996 included $20,000 to the
"Woolly Mammoth Theater" venue for Tim Miller, one of the "NEA
Four" performance artists. He had stripped twice, talked about
picking up homosexual prostitutes, and asked members of the
audience to blow on his genitals in a 1995 production entitled
"Naked Breath." The NEA also awarded $25,000 to "Camera News,
Inc.," also known as "Third World Newsreel," a New York distributor
of Marxist revolutionary propaganda films.66
- In June 1996, Representative Hoekstra raised questions about
"The Watermelon Woman." The film was funded by a $31,500 NEA grant.
It contained what one review described as the "hottest dyke sex
scene ever recorded on celluloid." "I had high hopes that Jane
Alexander would forbid further outrages by the NEA, but apparently
even she-nice lady that she is-lacks the power and the will to put
an end to the NEA's obsession with handing out the taxpayers' money
to self-proclaimed `artists' whose mentality is just so much
flotsam floating around in a sewer," said Senator Jesse Helms.67
- Hilton Kramer, in a March 1996 issue of The New York
Observer, noted a new "disgusting" Whitney exhibition he
characterized as a "jolly rape of the public sensibilities." The
Whitney was showing the work of Edward Kienholz, and "it almost
goes without saying that this America-as-a merde [French for
excrement] show is supported by a grant from the National Endowment
for the Arts." The Whitney Museum recently received the largest
grant issued by the NEA thus far in 1997-$400,000.
- The Sunday Maine-Telegram, reported on March 3, 1996,
that William L. Pope, a Professor at Bates College, received
$20,000 grant in the final round of NEA grants to individual
performance artists. He intended to use the money for at least two
projects. In one, he would chain himself to an ATM machine in New
York City wearing only his underwear. In the other, he "plans to
walk the streets of New York wearing a six-foot-long white tube
like a codpiece. He's rigged it up so he can put an egg in one end,
and it will roll out the faux, white penis." The
Maine-Telegram noted that the NEA individual fellowship
program "will go out with a bang, at least with this grant."
- "Sex Is," a pornographic video displaying the NEA credit, is
still in distribution.
- Bob Flanagan's "Super Masochist," featuring sexual torture, and
an Andres Serrano exhibit featuring "Piss Christ" were shown at the
NEA-funded New Museum in New York City. Flanagan (now deceased) was
recently the star of a film at the Sundance Film Festival entitled
"Sick," which showed him nailing his male organs to a wooden plank.
"Sick" is also on the 1997 schedule of the New Directors/New Films
series co-sponsored by the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Both institutions
have been NEA grant recipients, and Lincoln Center chief Nathan
Leventhal is one of President Clinton's nominees for the National
Council on the Arts. His nomination is pending in the Senate.
- Ron Athey's video of his ritual torture and bloodletting,
subsidized indirectly through tour promotion at NEA venues like
Walker Art Gallery and PS 122 in New York. (Walker Art Center
grants actually increased in the year after the museum booked
- Joel-Peter Witkin, a four-time recipient of NEA individual
fellowships whose photograph of severed heads and chopped up bodies
were displayed by Senator Helms on the Senate floor two years ago
as evidence of the moral corruption of the NEA (Helms discussed one
featuring a man's head being used as a flowerpot). Witkin was
honored with a retrospective at New York's NEA-funded Guggenheim
museum. Even The New York Times condemned the show as
- Karen Finley, also of the "NEA Four," brought her new
"performance piece" to an NEA-funded venue in Boston.
- Holly Hughes, another of the "NEA Four" (and recipient of a
1994 individual fellowship), brought her act to an NEA-funded
institution in suburban Virginia.
- New York City's New Museum, an NEA-funded operation, hosted a
retrospective of the work of Andres Serrano, which once more
included an exhibit of "Piss Christ."
- New York's Museum of Modern Art, funded by the NEA, hosted an
NEA-funded exhibit of Bruce Nauman's work, also displayed at the
Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum, which included neon signs reading
"S- and Die" and "F- and Die."
- The NEA literature program subsidized the author of a book
entitled The Gay 100, which claims that such historical
figures as Saint Augustine were homosexuals.
1 Laurence Jarvik is an Adjunct
Scholar at The Heritage Foundation, Editor of The National
Endowments: A Critical Symposium (Second Thoughts Books, 1995),
and author of PBS: Behind the Screen (Prima, 1997).
2 Alvin Toffler, The Culture
Consumers: A Study of Art and Affluence in America (New York:
Random House, 1973), p. 188.
3 A typical sold-out performance
at the Met brings in nearly $485,000 in ticket revenue, given the
average ticket price of $125 and a seating capacity of
4 Creative America: Report of
the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities,
Washington, D.C., February 1997.
5 Joseph Ziegler, Testimony before
House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, March 5, 1997.
6 Giving USA 1996 (New
York: AAFRC Trust For Philanthropy, 1996).
7 Judith Miller, "Big Arts Groups
Starting Drives for New Funds," The New York Times, February
3, 1997, p. 1
9 David Sawers, "Should the
Taxpayer Support the Arts?" Current Controversies No. 7,
Institute for Economic Affairs, London, 1993, p. 22
10 William Craig Rice, "I Hear
America Singing: The Arts Will Flower Without the NEA," Policy
Review, March/April 1997, pp. 37-45.
11 Derrick Max, "Staff Briefing
on the National Endowment for the Arts," U.S. House of
Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce,
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, p. 29.
12 Edward C. Banfield, The
Democratic Muse (New York: Basic Books, 1984); as cited in
"Cultural Agencies," Cato Handbook for Congress: 105th
Congress (Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute, 1997).
13 Sawers, "Should the Taxpayer
Support the Arts?" p. 22.
14 Heritage Tabulations from
1993 IRS Public Use File.
15 Jane Alexander, Testimony to
the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, March 13,
16 Tom Dardis, The Thirsty
Muse: Alcohol and the American Writer (New York: Ticknor and
17 See Jane Alexander, Testimony
to the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, May 8,
18 David B. Pankratz,
Multiculturalism and Public Arts Policy (Westport, CT:
Bergin and Garvey, 1993), p. 55.
19 Ibid., p. 56.
20 Tyler Cowen, draft ms. for
Chapter 6, "Market Liberalization vs. Government Reaction" in
Enterprise and the Arts, forthcoming from Harvard University
Press, pp. 22-31.
22 Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Art,"
in Work (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1883), p. 342.
23 Reuven Brenner, "Culture By
Committee," The Wall Street Journal, February 27,
24 Laurence Jarvik and Nancy
Strickland, "Forget the Speeches: The NEA Is a Racket,"
Baltimore Sun, January 22, 1995.
25 Hilton Kramer, "Criticism
Endowed: reflections on a debacle," The New Criterion,
November 1983, pp. 1-5.
26 James K. Glassman, "No Money
for the Arts," The Washington Post, April 1, 1997, p.
27 Cowen, "Market Liberalization
vs. Government Reaction," pp. 2-22.
28 William Craig Rice, The
NewsHour, debate moderated by Elizabeth Farnsworth, March 10,
29 Sawers, "Should the Taxpayer
Support the Arts?" p. 39.
30 Pankratz, Multiculturalism
and Public Arts Policy, p. 55.
31 Toffler, The Culture
Consumers, p. 200.
32 Diane Haithman, "Did NEA Win
Battle, Lose War?" Los Angeles Times, November 13, 1996, p.
33 Affirming opinion of Judge
James R. Browning, U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, filed
November 5, 1996, in Karen Finley et al., v. National
Endowment for the Arts.
34 Bruce Fein, "Dollars for
Depravity?" The Washington Times, November 19, 1996.
35 Jonathan Yardley, "Art and
the Pocketbook of the Beholder," The Washington Post, March
17, 1997, p. D2.
36 Julia Duin, "NEA Funds
`Offense to the Senses,' Lawmakers Lip Arts Agency for Aiding
Prurient Publications," The Washington Times, March 8, 1997,
37 Patrick A. Trueman, Director
of Governmental Affairs, American Family Association, Testimony
before the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, March 5,
39 Representative Pete Hoekstra,
letter to NEA Chairman Jane Alexander, November 16, 1996.
41 Frank Rich, "Lesbian
Lookout," The New York Times, March 13, 1997, p.
42 See Pankratz,
Multiculturalism and Public Arts Policy.
43 Roger Kimball, "Diversity
Quotas at NEA Skewer Magazine," The Wall Street Journal,
June 24, 1993.
45 Jan Breslauer, "The NEA's
Real Offense: Agency Pigeonholes Artists by Ethnicity," The
Washington Post, March 16, 1997, p. G1.
47 Ibid., p. G8.
48 Laurence Jarvik, "Committing
Suicide at the NEA," COMINT: A Journal About Public Media,
Vol. 5, No. 1 (Spring 1996), p. 44.
49 Ibid., p. 46
51 "Cultural Agencies," in
Cato Handbook for Congress, 105th Congress, (Washington,
D.C.: Cato Institute, 1997).
52 Alice Goldfarb Marquis,
Art Lessons: Learning from the Rise and Fall of Public Arts
Funding (New York: Basic Books, 1995).
53 Max, "Staff Briefing on the
National Endowment for the Arts," p. 27.
54 Sawers, "Should the Taxpayer
Support the Arts?" p. 33.
55 Alice Goldfarb Marquis,
letter to author, February 7, 1997.
56 Jane Alexander, Testimony
before the Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies, U.S.
House of Representatives, March 13, 1997 .
57 Robert Knight, "The National
Endowment for the Arts: Misusing Taxpayer's Money," Heritage
Foundation Backgrounder No. 803, January 18, 1991; Robert
Knight, "The National Endowment: It's Time to Free the Arts,"
Family Research Council Insight, January 1995, p. 1.
58 "The Era of Big Government is
Back: Talking Points on President Clinton's Fiscal Year 1998
Budget," Heritage Foundation Talking Points No. 17, February
24, 1997, p. 1.
59 Appendix to the Budget of the
United States, p. 1080.
60 Judith Miller, "Federal Arts
Agency Slices its Smaller Pie," The New York Times,
April 10, 1997, p. B6.
61 David Boaz, "The Separation
of Art and State: Who is going to make decisions?" Vital
Speeches of the Day, Vol. LXI, No. 17 (June 15, 1995).
62 Cowen, "Market Liberalization vs. Government
Reaction," pp. 2-22.
63 Pro-NEA pollsters tend to ask about "the arts,"
not the federal agency and its record.
64 Jarvik, "Committing Suicide at the NEA," p.
66 Julia Duin, "NEA makes grants as fight for life
nears, Agency conducts `business as usual' with its selections,"
The Washington Times, December 19, 1996.
67 Julia Duin, "Black lesbian
film likely to rekindle arts-funding furor NEA defends graphic
comedy," The Washington Times, June 14, 1996.