ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The Sioux elders leading this ceremony on a sacred hill not far from Fargo, North Dakota, have gotten funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, money they say helps keep their traditional art form alive, and NEA grants helped make possible the 1995 blockbuster Vermeer exhibit in Washington. In its 32 years of existence the NEA has funded about 30,000 projects. Another one is the Cleo Parker Robinson dance ensemble based in Denver.
CLEO PARKER ROBINSON, Dance Company Founder: If I had not had dollars from the NEA, I don't know, I might not even have an organization, because they helped us understand the value of what they were doing. We are a product of the National Endowment for the Arts, and we're a million dollar organization. And we came from nothing, and we got support from the National Endowment, and that was a ripple effect.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But other projects, funded partly by the Endowment, have brought controversy and funding cutbacks. This 1995 performance in Minneapolis, for example, which involved bodily injury and blood, and there were the homoerotic photographs of the late Robert Mapplethorpe, which drew criticism from Sen. Jesse Helms.
SEN. JESSE HELMS: I don't even acknowledge that it's art. I don't even acknowledge that the fellow who did was an artist. I think he was a jerk.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Congressional critics have also pointed out that in an era of federal belt-tightening, the arts should be supported privately, not with tax money. These critics support the approach of the Fund for the Arts, a private venture in Louisville, Kentucky, that was established in 1949 as one of the nation's first community-wide art campaigns, and now raises about 5.3 million a year from 30,000 Louisville residents. Last year, the Republican-led Congress cut funding for the National Endowment for the Arts by one third and this year some members are arguing for eliminating it altogether. President Clinton affirmed his support for art funding in his State of the Union speech.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Our economy is measured in numbers and statistics, and it's very important. But the enduring worth of our nation lies in our shared values and our soaring spirit. So instead of cutting back on our modest effort to support the arts and humanity, I believe we should stand by them and challenge our artists, musicians--challenge our museums, libraries, and theaters.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And last month a blue ribbon committee appointed by the President to look into the state of the arts and humanities in America called for an increase in federal funding for both. Supporters of the National Endowment began their lobbying campaign today in Washington. In two days of activity here and throughout the country actors and painters, poets and playwrights will argue that federal funding is essential in building and preserving a vital national culture. Actor Alec Baldwin is a spokesman for the effort.
ALEC BALDWIN: And as more men and women, mothers and fathers, work harder and longer to maintain their standard of living, we must ask ourselves one question on Arts Advocacy Day: How can we turn our back on an endeavor that increases our children's cultural intelligence, heightens sensitivity, and deepens our collective sense of humanity? I suggest to you that we cannot.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Later this week the head of the National Endowment for the Arts, Jane Alexander, will go to Capitol Hill to argue for continued funding.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, for more on all this we turn to Alec Baldwin, whose most recent films are "Ghost of Mississippi," and "Bookworm," and who has also appeared on Broadway in numerous plays, and to Marc Morial, mayor of New Orleans and chairman of the Arts Committee of the U.S. Conference of Mayors; to Alice Goldfarb Marquis, a cultural historian and author of "Art Lessons, Learning from the Rise and Fall of the NEA," and to William Craig Rice, who teaches writing at Harvard University and who has written on the arts for the Heritage Foundation. Thank you all for being with us.
Mr. Baldwin, you're putting a lot of time and effort into lobbying to preserve federal funding for the arts. Why? Why is it important to you?
ALEC BALDWIN, Actor: Well, because I think that federal funding has always accomplished one thing dramatically well, and that is disseminating culture, programs, and dance music, theater in the arts, museums, throughout the country. Prior to the NEA, that situation was a pretty poor one. I mean, if you had 50 dance companies in this country, 45 of them were in Manhattan before 1968, presumably. And one of the many things--I could go on and one--but one of the many things that has been accomplished by the NEA is dissemination of this cultural heritage throughout the country and outside of the major urban cultural centers.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So even if it's centered in Washington, and it is a centralized organization, it has really worked hard, in your view, at getting grants to all kinds of organizations all over the country?
ALEC BALDWIN: Yeah. I don't think it only works toward that. I think it's achieved that. I mean, even recently, you have a unique mix and match of programs in the heartland of this country. You have a thing such as the cowboy poetry gathering in Elcko, Nevada, which is--the NEA provided seed money for this--it generates millions of dollars in income annually, a place in White Burg, Kentucky, called the Apple Shop, which is the largest employer in the community, it's a local arts agency for programming local film, theater, and the arts. You have the Plains Art Museum of Fargo, North Dakota, which is a museum that's hitched to the back of a semi truck that drives to rural parts of North Dakota conveying art, and then you have sponsorship of the Chamber Music Rural Residencies, which is a music ensemble that goes to rural school and alternative rural settings, such as hospitals, juvenile detection centers, and hospices, and performs chamber music for people there.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Ms. Marquis, what about that argument, what's wrong with federal funding for that kind of project?
ALICE GOLDFARB MARQUIS: I'm very concerned about any government agency trying to select people, artists, and organizations who will get funded, and others who are turned down for various reasons. I think the history of any government choices for the arts is a very sorry one.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Excuse me. Why--why--if private organizations, foundations can choose, why not government?
ALICE GOLDFARB MARQUIS: Because it becomes a very bureaucratic process, is the NEA claims that it provides an imprimatur for as a guide for private funding. I don't think it's up to a government agency to do that. Private funders can make those decisions themselves. The--it has a group of people in Washington deciding what is art. Those--the history of making those choices has been a very sorry one. The Nazis, for example, decided what was art and what was not. The Academy in 1973, France, decided what was art and what was not. They overlooked the Impressionists Gauguin, Van Gogh. In Eastern Europe under the Communists there was also an effort to decide what is art. That kind of procedure has a very bad history. It's not a good one.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mayor, what's your experience in New Orleans? How does it look from there?
ALICE GOLDFARB MARQUIS, Cultural Historian:
MAYOR MARC MORIAL, New Orleans: I think the important thing is that the NEA and its contribution are only but a small portion of all of the money that's invested in the arts throughout this country. Six hundred and fifty million is invested by local arts--local government into local arts organizations every year. One great example in New Orleans is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which is a multi-many hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impact which supports music, which supports art, which supports culture, not necessarily that it is funded by the NEA, but you take a counterpart effort in New Orleans, the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, which is a school for the arts, its very foundation 20 years ago was because of an anti-NEA grant. The important thing is, is that this about jobs, it's about economic development, and it's about building our mind and building our culture because we are a great nation.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And even though the cities are putting a lot of money into arts, you still think there's a need for federal funding?
MAYOR MARC MORIAL: Certainly, because those things that work well work well because we have a partnership. We have the federal government. We have state government. We have local government. We have private corporations and foundations working together to make art and culture significant in this country. And I think where there is this partnership it will work well, and I think the federal government has a responsibility to return our tax money to this kind of activity.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Rice, what about that? What's wrong with that kind of partnership?
WILLIAM CRAIG RICE, Writer: I think that the arts could be helped. An artist could certainly be helped if the federal government were to aid artists and arts organizations blindly; that is, what we need is less of this kind of picking of winners and more of a general amnesty, as it were. Artists are killed by things like the self-employment tax. They're in difficulty for self-insurance. There are all kinds of things that the federal government does that make it very hard for artists to thrive.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But you're opposed to federal funding that goes directly in the form of grants to artistic organizations?
WILLIAM CRAIG RICE: Yes.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Why?
WILLIAM CRAIG RICE: Because the history, if you look at it, is that it is the rich and the well-connected organizations and in some cases artists who wind up with the majority of the NEA money, and for instance, the Boston Symphony gets about 1 percent of its budget from the NEA. That's 40 cents per ticket sold. The Boston Symphony is fairly well endowed, as is the Philadelphia Orchestra. If you look across the board, the NEA has not typically been all that helpful to these small organizations that Mr. Baldwin gave us as examples. What we need is, as I say, is a blind system of support that doesn't pick winners because it's the networked people, it's the certain kinds of personalities and organizations that triumph under the current dispensation.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Baldwin, how do you respond to that, that the NEA helps the really big, already successful organizations more than the small ones?
ALEC BALDWIN: Well, I'm not qualified to make an examination of the decisions and the internal decision-making process at the NEA. I'm sure that many of the large urban centers receive more money than ex-urban areas because more people are interested in the arts potentially and there's more of a market for the arts in those areas. I don't know. But I know that the argument that I'm constantly hearing from people who are opposed to arts funding is two things: one is that they think that people in this country don't want arts funding; that they think that most of the people in this country share Mr. Rice's opinion, when, in truth, a recent Harris Poll said that 79 percent of the people in this country want the arts to be funded by the government and 57 percent of the people surveyed said they want that to come from the federal government. The fact remains when that whenever people say that the government shouldn't be in the arts business, the government should be in the business of anything that the people want the government to be in the business of that is good and decent and meaningful for the people in this country. The Constitution as such doesn't say that the government should be building highways, but we determined that that was important and that was necessary. And according to the survey, the overwhelming majority of people in this country feel that it's essential and necessary for us to be in the business of funding the arts as well.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Rice.
WILLIAM CRAIG RICE: That Harris Poll was very selectively worded. It asks questions such: Have you attended an arts event recently? And you could answer yes if you'd gone to a movie. Now, I happen to think that American cinema is a great art form, but the whole way that was set up was very, very skewed. Lou Harris, himself, has a strong record of support for federal funding of the arts. So it's not a particularly good source to cite.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But, Mr. Rice, what about the argument that we fund science, we fund roads, we--the federal government funds all these things, why not the arts?
WILLIAM CRAIG RICE: It seems to me that our history in the arts in America is profoundly decentralized. Amateurs have had a big role. It hasn't been ever until the NEA, except for a short period under Roosevelt--with the Works Project Administration--a matter of federal concern because it--our own examples or our great artists almost all came out of unpromising quarters and out of oppressed groups. Our heritage was not that of a centralized authority making our decisions for us.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ms. Marquis, you had something you wanted to say too.
ALICE GOLDFARB MARQUIS: Yes. What I would like to see if the government wants to get involved with the arts at all is I would like to see a census taken in each locality of venues where there can be art exhibitions, where there can be performances, school auditoriums, parks, recreation centers, and so on, and perhaps the local arts agency would be able to facilitate artists of all kinds performing and exhibiting all sorts of things locally and allow audiences, which in the past have always been the best judges of art, have not been critics, it's not been the experts; it's been audiences who go to a performance. So I think that would be a much wiser way of spending our money without putting the finger on the scale for certain arts organizations, especially the very wealthy ones, the biggest recipient of NEA funding--during all time has been the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
MAYOR MARC MORIAL: Let's not distort the case. The argument she's making, in fact, is an argument for what the NEA does. 40 percent of NEA dollars go to the states in block grants that the states, in turn, distribute many times through local arts organizations. And I think that is a suggestion on how our overall effort as a nation could be improved in terms of how we support arts and culture, not an argument to reduce the size of the NEA. I think the NEA has been in the forefront, promoting access--
ALICE GOLDFARB MARQUIS: No.
MAYOR MARC MORIAL: --by people to the arts. And I think that's in the record--certainly it needs to be strengthened, and it needs to be expanded, and it needs to be improved.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Have you--excuse me one second, Ms. Marquis, I just want to ask the Mayor--have you seen and of the results in New Orleans of the cuts--in federal funding for the arts--
MAYOR MARC MORIAL: We certainly have seen a result.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What have you seen?
MAYOR MARC MORIAL: We've seen programs that are literally in their embryonic stages which depend on that to perhaps leverage up additional dollars, who now have to reduce the number of people that they serve. You see local arts organizations that may not be able to pay their rent; that may not be able to afford part-time salaries for teachers and tutors. It has an impact. I think what the NEA does is seed many local activities and they, in turn, can go out and match that with corporate, with foundations, or with local dollars. It works, and I think the partnership is what's important in this regard.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Baldwin, what about the argument in a time when welfare recipients are being cut off and immigrants can't get their benefits that there's just not the money to pay for the arts?
ALEC BALDWIN: Well, there are people who have contended over and over again that we don't have the money for this and that some of the money is being wasted on objectionable and even pornographic material, which is a very rare instance, by the way--120,000 grants administered by this administration and--by this Endowment since 1968, and a very small handful of really controversial and objectionable things. But the fact remains that when you say we don't have the money for this, the truth is there are other places in government. I would think the argument of the people who say that we don't have the money for this more seriously, if they were willing to go out and conduct a similar witch hunt and to use similar kind of witch hunt tactics that they use, year in and year out during this time of reappropriation for the NEA to find where there was fraud and waste and money that could be saved, the amount of money that we're talking about here is so insignificant if the NEA were returned to the funding they had prior to these cuts, whether it was 130 or 150--I don't even remember now--but I know it's $99.5 million now the arts community is helping to balance the budget in this country. Federal income tax revenues from arts related incomes is $3.4 billion last year, people earning money in arts-related fields pay into the federal treasury $3.4 billion, and the government turned around and kicked back into seed money $99.5 million dollars.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ms. Marquis,. We have about five seconds. Just make a quick point. That's all we have time for. I'm sorry.
ALICE GOLDFARB MARQUIS: Actually, the--the donors through private donors give the arts more than $10 billion a year, and the government forgives at least $2 billion in taxes because they get a tax deduction, so that is a $2 billion subsidy for the arts. And I think that's fine.
WILLIAM CRAIG RICE: We could do a lot more to support the arts through reforming the tax codes.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thank you all. That's all the time we have. Thanks for being with us.