A question from David Baldner of Channelview, TX:
Nat'l. Endowment for the Arts
Will anyone, journalist or politician, have the courage to ask the following questions:
1. In awarding grants, are we giving our government the ability to "define" art, and does that ability to define art provide a forum for censorship?
2. Is there a time in history that shows that the arts benefited from government support?
3. Does the wealth generated by current professional artisans (actors, musicians, and others) have a place in supporting struggling artists to remove the government's role in the arts?
4. Did Shakespeare, VanGogh, daVinci, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Bach, Twain, Hemingway, or countless others receive government help?
Rep. Shimkus responds:
1) It is true that whenever government selects the winners of grants on a subjective basis it is de facto endorsing some forms of art over others. This is not censorship because the government is not prohibiting the expression of ideas or viewpoints. However, one can make a valid argument that the government's ability to influence art through this funding process may give it too much input into the content of art in America.
2) There were periods of time when the arts benefited from government financial support. I believe that the government directly supported the arts in the classical Roman period, the Renaissance period in Italy, and the Eighteenth Century in France. It is also true that some of these times, while golden ages in the arts, were times when the average citizen of these countries lived a subsistence lifestyle while government funds went to artists whose art work was enjoyed mainly by the wealthy aristocracy.
3) I believe that you may have a good point here, David. Some Hollywood stars make as much as $10 million to $20 million per movie. It does seem a little unseemly for workers in Texas or Illinois to be funding artists in New York and San Francisco when thousands of movie stars, rock stars and models are multi-millionaires and are doing very little on their own to support the arts about which they profess to be so concerned.
4) I am not sure which of these artists, if any, received government support.
Rep. Allen responds:
1. Rather than censorship, the NEA assures that diverse, sometimes
unpopular voices are heard. I believe that the arts and humanities are
vital to our free society as the incubators of open expression and
2. Throughout history the arts have received government support, from
the pharaohs seeking immortality through monumental building projects to
the Greeks celebrating their notion of government by the people, the
"demos," in the art of the Acropolis to the murals, statuary and
literary quotations found in every American public building from The
Capitol in Washington to David's local post office in Texas.
As a former president of the Portland Stage Company, I've seen firsthand
how a tiny amount of federal funding helps to support local efforts.
Maine is a small state. The NEA has played a major role in helping us
achieve innovative arts programming. NEA support spurs the local
economy. In Portland, for example, over 150,000 people visit the
Children's Museum of Maine each year. While there, they eat in our
restaurants, shop in our stores and access our public transportation
system. In rural Maine, small amounts of NEA funds help musical,
theatrical and other performing groups brighten our communities.
3. I strongly support a progressive tax system, assuring that those who
are more able to afford it bear a higher tax burden than those whose
incomes are more modest. To the extent that our tax system remains
progressive, those who have wealth- whether they are actors and athletes
fortunate enough to earn great wealth from their talents or Wall Street
speculators who reap an enormous windfall from the stock market -will
contribute more, proportionately, to support the arts.
4. As I recall, DaVinci enjoyed the patronage of King Francis I of
France and several rulers of Italian city-states; Shakespeare wrote his
plays for an acting company sponsored by the Duke of York, later King
James I; and Bach's Brandenburg Concertos were written under patronage
from the Elector of Brandenburg. More recently, in this country,
President Theodore Roosevelt, known for cleaning up the "spoils system"
in the federal civil service, arranged a government job for poet Walt
Whitman whose work he admired. While I am not aware of any government
support for Ernest Hemingway, I know that thousands of his
contemporaries including William Faulkner and Theodore Dreiser
participated in arts projects funded by Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works
Unfortunately, in most of those historic examples, the government
support generally came with a string attached: the recipient had to be a
propagandist for the patron. Anyone who has read Shakespeare's
"histories," for example, receives a heavy dose of Tudor and Stuart
What is different, and I believe better, about the NEA is that it is
government seed money without censorship and control. Is the NEA
perfect, no? Can it be made better, yes? Out of over 112,000 grants
awarded during the past 30 years, 45 have proven controversial. But, on
balance, the NEA effectively keeps politics out of the process.
Continue to next question...