Friday, February 4, 2011

Oversupply-side Artsonomics?

National Endowment for the Arts Chair Rocco Landesman spoke out recently--and the arts community talked back to him.

Charles Isherwood's NYTimes blogpost (and the many comments to it) address Landesman's statement that maybe there's an oversupply of the arts (specifically, theater) for what the market can bear.

Criticisms of his comments have focused on how Landesman's a commercial theatre producer--not from the government or nonprofit sector--so his opinion on this matter is suspect.

I don't buy that.

But, it does strike me that nobody ever says we have too many businesses in America. Isn't the basic idea that the market will sort out the winners and losers? If it's true of business, it's also true of nonprofits--even if some of us don't really want to admit that.

But the real question this raises is what has this to do with where the National Endowment for the Arts is headed? There is all sorts of speculation on how the NEA will divide up its pitiful ly small (though the largest amount in a lot of years) $167 million now that Rocco is running it.

Is the NEA spreading the money too thin, weakening its impact but satisfying political imperatives of keeping some money going just about everywhere geographically?

The problem is that it has become even more of a political imperative at a time when a high profile group of GOP members of Congress have included on their list of proposed government cutbacks the entire elimination of the NEA, National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Such suggestions have certainly surfaced periodically--most notably due to the so-called "culture wars" of the 90s when Sen. Jesse Helms ran roughshod over the agency.

Now it's the "eliminate government from everything in our lives" armada that was elected in November that is targeting it -- but arts & humanities cuts are dwarfed by the many other items on their lengthy checklist.

The NEA and CPB survived the Helms era--and with some strong advocacy by the arts community, I feel confident they can survive the newest assault.

What kind of things the NEA will fund, however, remains to be seen.

Isherwood calls Landesman "Cowboy Mouth," a vocal shoot-from-the-hip type, whose comment on "too much theater" he tempered when there was an outcry.

Hopefully, he learned that an NEA chair should never be publicly stating that "less art" would be good for America!