This past Friday, WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show broadcast a 32-minute segment on arts and culture policy and funding. As I mentioned last week, this was part of the “30 Issues in 30 Days” series for which several topics have been opened up for public discussion via wiki. I’m proud to say that two of my contributions were selected to be read on air. First, Brian began the show by reading this language that I wrote for the “Opening Copy” segment:

Currently, the arts represent barely one twentieth of one percent of the total federal budget. Many casual observers may be unaware that the National Endowment for the Arts accounts for only a tiny fraction of the total amount granted to arts organizations in this country. The NEA is not even the largest public arts funder in the United States (that distinction belongs to New York’s own Department of Cultural Affairs). The United States government’s investment in its artistic infrastructure is dwarfed by that of most other developed countries, particularly those in Western Europe.

Later, he read from and paraphrased a paragraph I had posted to the “key questions” portion of the wiki:

In many nonprofit fields, there is a recent emphasis on finding effective, proven organizations with scalable models that can marshal resources to address social issues as efficiently as possible–an idea that in practice leads, logically, to funding large-budget institutions. Indeed, many a “cultural district” or “cultural revitalization” plan in cities across America has centered support on one or two flagship institutions anchoring the arts community–the performing arts center, the symphony orchestra, the art museum, the repertory theatre. However, there has been quite a bit of research coming out from various corners over the past decade suggesting that it is smaller, “neighborhood-based” arts organizations that often have disproportionate positive effects on their surroundings. For one thing, smaller arts organizations are much more likely to serve non-traditional audiences than flagship institutions, particularly if they are located in the kinds of neighborhoods in which non-traditional audiences live. (See this study for example: Furthermore, clusters of smaller organizations provide important infrastructure for the artistic community, including opportunities to showcase their work at every level of profile and experience, as well as opportunities to share costs and collaborate with other artists. Yet small arts organizations are chronically undercapitalized, primarily because there are simply too many of them for most funders to deal with; one will often see grant guidelines excluding organizations with budgets of less than $100,000, for example, in order to keep the number of applications down. For arts fields such as jazz music where the bulk of the relevant organizations are (a) smaller than that and (b) not organized as non-profits anyway, this undercapitalization threatens to stunt whatever advantages these creative talents might otherwise bring to the community. So the question there is, assuming all of the above is true, how can we ensure adequate support of a wide range of high-quality organizations of all sizes and artistic persuasions without overstressing philanthropic resources?

Ironically, even though the wiki had stated that contributors would be credited on the air, I was identified only as “one of you” or “one of the contributors” in both instances. Nevertheless, it makes me warm and fuzzy inside to know that I posted two paragraphs of content to the wiki and both were quoted extensively. :) And hey, perhaps my anonymity was for the best: it seems I made a wee little error in my arithmetic when I wrote about the NEA. That one-twentieth of one percent that I said the NEA takes up of the federal budget? Turns out it’s actually one two-hundredth of one percent. Yeah.

You can listen to the show here.

  • Judd

    It’s great to see you tackling these issues, Ian. Obviously, I’m on board with the direction that your writing suggests….and I’ll be curious to see where your thoughts develop, going forward.