Does America Still Need a National Endowment for the Arts?

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Kickstarter.com website screenshot
AlamyWith fundraising sites such as Kickstarter, does the U.S. really need a National Endowment for the Arts?
For a government agency that gets about as much funding in a year as Lockheed Martin (LMT) gets paid to build a single jet fighter for the Pentagon, the National Endowment for the Arts sure does catch a lot of flak.

In 2013, the NEA received less than $139 million in funding. That's only a bit more than Lockheed charges for one of its top-of-the-line F-35 stealth fighter jets. And in its nearly 50-year history, the NEA has never received more than $176 million in a single annual budget. That's less than Lockheed used to charge for one of its F-22s.

So what's all the fuss about?

The Argument Against Funding Art

Established in 1965 to provide public funding for arts education, painting, dance, music, literature and other forms of art -- and the museums, theaters and opera houses that show them -- the NEA has been subject to continual attack by congressional budget-cutters since the early 1980s.

Critics of the agency argue that taxpayer funds shouldn't be used to support nonessential activities like the arts. They object particularly to paying for "art" that offends the sensibilities of the taxpayers who pay for it. (Witness the controversies over NEA-funded exhibitions by photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and artist Andres Serrano).

Of course, opinions will always differ on whether public funds should be used to fund private art. Defenders of the practice might even argue that these funds must be available, because art might never be created if it lacks financial support.

But what if we could sidestep all of this controversy? What if there's no need for an NEA at all?

The Solution?: Kicking Government out of Art

As it turns out, artists may not need the NEA anymore. They may be able to attract the funds they need to support their work with crowdfunding. In fact, they're doing this already.

Perry Chen, founder of the crowdfunding website Kickstarter, told The Washington Post earlier this year that since Kickstarter's beginning in 2009, "over $600 million in arts projects" have been funded through his website.
Spread over the five years of Kickstarter's existence, that was close to 80 percent of funds allocated to the NEA.

Indeed, Kickstarter is almost certainly bigger than the NEA today. If you consider "design and video-related" projects to constitute art, then in 2012, artists attracted $323.6 million in funds from Kickstarter. That's more than twice the NEA's $146 million budget for the year. It's money going to projects big -- like Zach Braff's planned 2014 production of "Wish I Was Here," and small -- like the Hip-Hop Word Count database of song lyrics that opened in the Museum of Modern Art in 2011.

What It Means to You

So an argument can be made that with the advent of Kickstarter, there's really no need for the NEA anymore -- that taxpayers should no longer be footing the bill for the agency's multimillion-dollar budget, or paying the salaries of its 100-plus government employees.

Sure, it's true that the NEA has always played a minor role in funding the arts. The Post points out that in 2011, for example, "individuals contributed $13 billion to arts and cultural charities." The NEA's budget amounted to just 1 percent of that. But even so, it's not every artist who can tap that $13 billion stream in private funding. Unless a new artist knows a donor with deep pockets, or otherwise has some kind of "in" with a source of private funds, it's entirely possible that the NEA would offer the best chance of funding.

But now that Kickstarter is here, you really don't need to know anyone to get funding for an arts project. Say you need to raise $10,000 to open an arts exhibition. Rather than find an arts-loving sugar daddy, or butter up Uncle Sam for a government grant, all you need to do today is convince 1,000 of your fellow taxpayers that your idea is good enough to be worth $10 apiece to fund it. That's only 0.0003 percent of the population, and shouldn't be out of the realm of possibility for any halfway decent idea.

Of course, if your "art" is complete and utter dreck, it's still going to be hard to find funding, even through Kickstarter. But then again, that's why people were objecting to the NEA in the first place.

Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith lives too far away to have visited the Kickstarter-funded exhibit at MoMA, but he'll probably go see Zach Braff's new Kickstarter-funded flick. Or at least rent it on Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of Lockheed Martin.


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jdykbpl45

Just another outfit pimping for Obama! Defund it.

December 28 2013 at 10:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
amiller667

What we fund at a national level talks about what we believe in as American values. The pittance delivered to the NEA each year leverages 10 times the amount in other funds from private sources. It keeps performances and exhibits affordable so the arts are not only available to the rich. There are no more visual arts fellowships so frabbitz doesn't have to worry about being offended by art he/she doesn't understand. The arts bring vitality to downtowns, beautify neighborhoods (blighted and not), and help us memorialize and commemorate both living and dead. I'm happy our government sees fit to set aside even this small amount to deliver big and beautiful to our nation at a bargain rate.

December 27 2013 at 3:22 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
WildMtHoney888

Artists do not need any endowment. They create. Most artists do it for the love of doing it. And without government help the work can go worldwide. Been there done that. Gazing at the glass. My glass art and glass art & glass patterns are worldwide. For both glass and film, glue on lead. Isn\'t that the point of art. To make something that will outlast you that is not the same pattern everyone else has? Or is it about getting that endowment so you can call yourself an artist? As you laugh to the bank.
Now let me get an endowment for nailing a nail to a piece of wood. And call it the nail of man killing nature by industrialization.

December 27 2013 at 1:18 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
frabittz

The endowment for the ARTS ??? Personnally I think it should be scrapped.Anyone who thinks we should give money to these fools that think putting a crucifix in a jar and pissing in it is an idot.I`m not saying this being a religious person as I am not.I`m saying this because that so called piece af art (Gaaack) was some aholes warped sense of humor desighned to do nothing but create controvercy !

December 27 2013 at 12:39 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
njmac

Americans spend less than a postage stamp per person annually on the arts via the NEA. So for those who say it is a waste please give me a break! Germany, France and other Western countries spend on average $10 per person towards the arts because they see the value that arts and culture give their nations. Kickstarter is not going to fund cutting edge and challenging work or arts organizations so please take that argument and shove it. Kickstarter does not do what the NEA does which is give legitimacy to American artists and the art they create. Plus the arts, in general, generate lots of jobs and income for states and their communities. I don't want to just go bowling in my spare time!!!

December 27 2013 at 12:37 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
housebrook

perhaps if we spend more money on the arts we would have less wars and not need to give money to VA because they would all be living fulfilling lives in a cultural rich country without wars

I know at this time that is only a silly dream, but maybe one day it can be more realistic
another thought:
when you are similar with deep pockets of wealth you would know that the rich spend their money on the arts .The Vatican's wealth is deep in artistic artifacts. The arts is a great investment. And all those tourist dollars in Europe ...go to see the arts .
Human nature is be see the beauty in the world ... and hopefully it helps us see the beauty in each other .... The arts encourage this in us all . We become a lesser society without the arts

So there are many reasons to have a more balanced society . The arts is just one thing we should spend our money on ... besides war

December 27 2013 at 12:12 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to housebrook's comment
WildMtHoney888

Really? Dump money into artists to stop war. Sure that is a great defense. After all we are in a utopia in your minds eye. A few flowery words and all is right with the world. To bad reality crushes delusion. Show me one point in history and you can go back thousands of years. Where an peace loving artistic socieity has lasted to date. You cant. They found out the hard way might wins. And the winner rewrites history. And about all that is left are ruins. That is how history balances it out.

December 27 2013 at 1:43 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to WildMtHoney888's comment
housebrook

I didn't say the arts would stop war
I said if we had a more culturally enriched society maybe the individuals in our society would eventually see other options than war . I also said that was a silly hope .
The point is, I guess,
if , as a society, we only focus on war, than that is all we can hope for as a society ...and if you look at history warring societies did not end well

December 27 2013 at 2:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down
carmen.nicolari

NO!!!! Waste of tax payer dollars!

December 27 2013 at 12:08 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Welcome, Lentzes

What is your vision for the future of American culture?
Country music. Stock car racing. Wrestling matches. Hunting and fishing. Line dancing. Vast, elegant museums with oil paintings of dudes and doggies. Empty opera houses playing hip-hop concerts. Symphonies dumbed-down into Pops. 1000 satellite TV channels of reality TV. Poker, Rodeo, Jewelry, NATCAR and Tractor Pull Channels. Endlessly violent movies on in HD. A constant stream of sex and profanity paraded before children on daytime TV. Blue-collar comedy clubs. Perverse, hideously violent and wretched video games. Packs of Harlies riding as thundering proxies for virility. Roller derbies with bodacious babes. Could this really be the proud culture of the greatest super-power on the planet? It’s the culture of the world’s crassest carnival. God, what’s happened to America? Corporate culture. Can all Americans really be such Yahoos? A great nation's culture doesn't happen by chance: we have to FUND it. American culture, as it now exists, is a joke.
Does anyone share a vision for American culture like this?
I want American culture to lift our nation like a rising tide. Our culture should move Americans to think deeply and act nobly and bond us. Other nations should witness true American genius and admire, rather than seek to murder us. Gifted artists should flourish here. Our museums should show manifestly the finest art on the planet. America should invent the next schools of art, which incite the same awe worldwide as, say, the French Impressionists. Our symphonies and operas should play to packed houses. I envision vibrant theatre that is stunning in its power, wit, poignancy and virtuosity. I seek to record digitally the real American indigenous music like jazz and blues for a breathlessly awaiting world and future generations. Original sculptures of staggering beauty shaped in new clays should be displayed at every American corporation and in new museums. I want to kill every best-seller list and encourage Americans to discover for themselves inspired new literature that will endure in perpetuity. Let’s pluck from squalid obscurity underground, and publish, the next Hemingways, Fitzgeralds, Morrisons, Bellows, Barths, Vonneguts and Faulkners. I yearn for more independent films written and produced with wit, vision, clarity and substance. And TV that isn’t a common, everyday embarrassment to watch with children. Prima ballerinas and opera divas should hold the celebrity of rock stars, as they did in Paris when Proust was a national hero. I seek to inspire the next generations of original American dance. I want to visit galleries and museums filled with painting and photography that takes one’s breath away with its sheer, beatific splendor.
We need to INVEST in American culture and capitalism has given us the pure carnival culture we now possess.

December 27 2013 at 11:05 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Welcome, Lentzes's comment
jdykbpl45

**** floats in on the rising tide.

December 28 2013 at 10:44 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
stock market

The NEA,, along with the EPA, should be dropped. Also, how about getting out of the United Nations? They bleed us dry and never pay their parking fines in NY. While I'm at it....that creeping disease called Lobbyists - thousands of them. I guess I don't have enough space to continue what else should be done.

December 27 2013 at 10:57 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
dfmarr

Who's running this government....the Medicis?

December 27 2013 at 10:25 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply