It’s time to reexamine the role of government in the arts.
David Marcus writes: In 1989 Jesse Helms, the contentious and controversial conservative senator from North Carolina, launched an attack on the National Endowment for the Arts for its support of shows that included work which he deemed offensive. Ten years later as Mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani engaged in a similar attack, threatening to cut off the city’s support of the Brooklyn Museum because of its show “Sensation” which featured Chris Offili’s painting “The Holy Virgin Mary”, a depiction of of the Blessed Mother emblazoned with elephant dung.
These two controversies have come to frame the perception of conservative opposition to public funding for the arts. It is viewed as a battle between liberals who value free speech and broad access to the arts and conservatives who want to censor art and cut funding to those institutions that bring art to the people. It is a battle that conservatives have been soundly losing. It is the wrong battle. The better argument against the current model of federal arts spending is much more simple, and much closer to the heart of the conservative movement. What conservatives should be saying is that the NEA and the tax exempt status of many arts organizations are hurting the very art forms they purport to support. They are in fact making American art less relevant to American’s lives. Read the rest of this entry »