Fox News’s misleading attacks on the NEA, coming as they did just prior to the confirmation of a new Chairman for the organization, seem to be raising a lot of hackles in the arts world. Is the concern justified? Barry Hessenius thinks so, and warns that things might get a lot worse as conservatives gear up for a new culture war. Barry also links to a report that I meant to cite in last week’s essay, but forgot: 51 Republican Congressmen signed a letter to NEA Acting Chair Patrice Walker Powell demanding that the money from the “offending” grants be returned. The Congressman who spearheaded the effort, Cliff Stearns (R-FL), learned about the grants from (surprise!) Fox News, who contacted his office seeking comment on their original story. (Stearns is known as a reliable NEA basher, according to the article.) Predictably, the letter reflects all of the worst distortions and errors in the article, claiming that “much of this taxpayer money is being used to fund art projects that many Americans find offensive” despite only being able to name the same three grants cited in the Fox article that collectively total 0.2% of the NEA’s stimulus money (and 13 millionths of one percent of the stimulus bill as a whole). But don’t worry, friends — as Stearns says, “our intent is not to censor artistic freedom.” Barry certainly agrees; here’s what he thinks the real intent is:
I still believe those who make these kinds of baseless attacks are not at all interested in the art the organizations it seeks to attack are, or are not, involved with. I don’t think it was any coincidence in the first Cultural Wars that almost brought down the NEA that the “issue” in most of the attacks was gay related – Mapplethorpe nudes, a gay film festival in Texas, the production of the play Angels Over America in North Carolina – because what the attacks were really about wasn’t taxpayer money or art or pornography, they were about fund raising for the evangelical wing of the Republican party – and nothing has ever been more successful in raising funds from that sector than the specter of gay rights. When the coffers of the right wing are running dry, the time-tested solution is to trot out the threat of gays having equal rights – and it has, for a long time, worked very well. Couple the gay rights issue with the accusation that taxpayer money is spent on anti-American pornography – and, well, the potential for a fund raising bonanza is just too tempting for the right wing to ignore. A new cultural war is an easy way to grab headlines, raise the level of visceral response, and rally their troops.
Unbelievably (or maybe all too believably), Fox News’s clownishness about the NEA doesn’t stop with their execrable July 30 article. Poking around as I am wont to do on political websites, I found this gem from News Corpse, an entire website dedicated to exposing Fox’s liberal relationship with the truth:
The National Endowment for the Arts??? Are they really mobilizing against town hall protesters? Were those artists who were crashing community centers and public halls where Tea Baggers were fighting to keep the insurance companies between you and your doctor?
The problem with this picture is that Carpenter’s article [linked to from the image] says nothing about the National Endowment for the Arts whose logo is prominently displayed in the upper-right corner. There is a passage that mentions the NEA, but she is referring to the National Education Association. Rather than ascertain the facts, Fox Nation saw an acronym that could just as well have belonged to a favorite foe of theirs, so they giddily inserted the wrong logo into their graphic.
(Emphasis mine.) The graphic is off the front page now, but in case you suspect News Corpse (an admittedly partisan website) just made that graphic up, I went to the Fox Nation website myself before they took it down and took the following screen cap for posterity:
This is all, of course, very entertaining, but in the rest of the arts world life goes on:
- New NEA chief Rocco Landesman has raised a few eyebrows with his suggestion that arts organizations in geographically remote areas shouldn’t receive any special consideration. The loudest voice in dissent (so far–I expect he’ll be joined soon by Arlene Goldbard) is that of Scott Walters, whose (ironically, NEA-funded) <100k Project has values diametrically opposed to those reflected in the new Chairman’s quote.
- Meanwhile, you can hear the former Chairman (Dana Gioia) speak at a Sonoma County Community Foundation fundraiser here. And Jean Cook and Casey Rae-Hunter from the Future of Music Coalition offer a roadmap to engaging with the federal government beyond the NEA.
- Man, and I thought orchestra heads were well-paid: the Museum of Modern Art’s director Glenn Lowry took home a cool $2.7 million in total compensation last year. Bloomberg has the dirt on other museum directors as well.
- Are arts departments and schools at universities getting hit harder than other subject areas? Anecdotal evidence suggests so, according to this New York Times article. One institution, though, isn’t cutting back: Goucher College. The Baltimore-based institution is debuting a new Master of Arts in Cultural Sustainability program, focusing on the practice of sustaining cultural traditions in a changing world. (The syllabus for a class at Goucher this spring is available at CANu.)
- Thankfully, some philanthropists are getting smart about their arts investments. Deutsche Bank is pumping $1.4 million in emergency funding to arts organizations that “have established strong roots within their communities, but lack access to deep-pocketed donors.” And The Kresge Foundation is giving community revitalization through the arts a try, piloting a $600,000, two-year program in Baltimore, Detroit, and St. Louis. (h/t Philanthropy News Digest) More of this please!
- Speaking of smart philanthropy, remember our friends at GiveWell? They just announced an open application for a $250,000 grant (or group of grants) for economic empowerment in sub-Saharan Africa. The application materials and notes from the review process will be shared publicly unless expressly prohibited by the applicant, there’s a simple first-round application to filter out all but the strongest candidates, and they’re open to funding research if necessary. This is what disruptive innovation looks like. Meanwhile, the Chronicle of Philanthropy catches up with the group’s progress since their very public marketing flame-out a year and a half ago (subscription required).
- Seth Godin sets up an interesting graph of “bandwidth vs. sync,” posits that commercially viable products either require high levels of attention or involve interaction with multiple people, and places art in the “scrap heap” of neither. (At least he acknowledged art as a means of communication.)
- CultureFuture’s Guy Yedwab responds to my Gifts of the Muse Arts Policy Library write-up here and here, making some good points about the two supposedly unique intrinsic benefits of the arts that I identified myself as well as the internal logic of the monograph.
- The NonProfit Times has been making a splash recently with their Power & Influence Top 50 feature about the movers and shakers in the field. But I found another product of theirs more compelling: their “Best NonProfit Organizations to Work For” list. It’s a brilliant idea from a business perspective: first of all, everyone loves lists, and everyone cares about work, so a lot of people will want to read this issue – it will probably be a big seller for them. Second, lots of organizations will want to be on that list for the reputation capital it will provide them, so they’ll get lots of entries. But the best idea is the reporting function. See, the magazine will survey all of your employees for free as part of your participation in the program – you can be one of the best nonprofits to work for without paying NPT a cent. But you don’t ever get to see what your employees actually said about working at your organization – unless you pay about $600-900 for the customized report. It sounds like a lot at first, but actually, it’s really not much at all considering how much it would cost to hire an outside consultant to perform the same survey for you. And even for a relatively small organization of 15 employees, having that information for internal planning would be really valuable – definitely worth 600 bucks. For a larger organization the price is a steal. All in all, a great example of a win-win business model.
- Acclaimed Harvard economist Edward Glaeser is attempting to do a real cost-benefit analysis of high-speed rail, taking into account not just direct purchases but also externalities such as environmental impact, quality of life, etc. This is the direction economics needs to go in to stay relevant. The series is in multiple parts and only the first two are published so far. Meanwhile, Empire State professor Eric Zencey makes a compelling case for why we should just dump GDP as a concept altogether.
- How Netflix gets those movies to your home so fast.