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Thursday, August 26, 2004

Getting Snarky on the NEA

Yesterday ArtsJournal.com linked to a short piece where Dana Gioia goes begging. He’s looking for someone, anyone, in Silicon Valley to open up their deep pockets to start building a world-class cultural institution there.

If Gioia thinks his old neighborhood needs a real arts institution, he ought to send some pork home from Washington to get the ball rolling instead of whining in the local paper. Killing off his silly “Shakespeare in American Communities” program would free up enough NEA capital to provide seed funding for a decent art museum or theater company back home.

I might feel differently about Gioia’s Shakespeare for the Provinces project if I thought that the target audiences for these performances would be able to draw a connection between our country’s current head of state and the political leaders in Shakespeare’s tragedies. (I’m thinking, specifically, of Macbeth’s vaulting ambition and eagerness to take counsel from untrustworthy advisors, Hamlet’s madness caused by a conflicted desire to revenge his father, and Lear’s series of just-plain-bad decisions that lead his kingdom into chaos.) But I'm not that optimistic about the conceptual abilities of my fellow citizens.

Arts patrons and funders of the type Gioia seeks (and I’m excluding from this class the new crop of collectors who are opening vanity museums around the country) turn up only a couple times in each generation. Those of us who live in cities fortunate enough to have benefited from their largess (places like Cleveland, Washington DC, Toledo, and New York) should be thankful we’re not reliant on the NEA to deliver our cultural experiences for us.

With the head of the NEA out begging for someone to turn the key to start culture in his home town instead of using the resources at his disposal to do it himself, we can see how ineffective the government’s attempts at supporting the arts have become.

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