NEA

NEA

National Endowment for the Arts

There is one thing that is always more controversial than the rest is money.  Established in 1965 by Congress, The National Endowment for the Arts(NEA) provides government funds to the arts.  Anytime money is dispersed to few, there are people who disagree, especially with government money.  The NEA has awarded more than 140,000 grants totalling over $4 billion dollars. Many times, people have tried to stop this flow of funds from the government to the arts.

Fueling much of this controversy in 1981 Ronald Reagan intended to push Congress to abolish the NEA completely and he created a task force on the arts and humanities for just that purpose which included Charlton Heston and Joseph Coors however, the plan was abandoned when the task force discovered, “the needs involved and benefits of past assistance”. Again in 1989 the attacks continued, Donald Wildman with the American Family Association attacked “anti-christian bigotry” due to the work of Andres Serrano called Piss Christ.  Piss Christ was an unusually funded project from the NEA.  Such a project gave great fuel to the fire of the controversy.  Funding art that could be so offensive to a certain portion of the population.  Not much art, with such intensity for offensiveness, has been funded by the NEA since.

Other attempts have been made to de-fund the NEA such as conservative media continued to attack individual artists who received NEA support.  Many feel as though mixing government and art is like mixing government and religion.  The republican party took the fight to the courts and failed multiple times until they received support from the Republican revolution of 1994.  Gaining the majority in “the House” the House Speaker Newt Gingrich was able to renew the attack on the NEA and attempted to eliminate it completely.  Calling the NEH(National Endowment for the Humanities) wasteful and elitist, he tried to eliminate them both.

This attempt failed to shutdown the programs but were able to cut the funding to record lows.  Luckily for the arts, the NEA has rebounded from that time to rise to a budget of $121 million in 2004 and it has grown since.

Arts are a fundamental center-point for modern society.  Its various forms have survived through countless purges and silences from governments and organisations and when it is persecuted it only entices the artist in all of us to be more vigilant.

Jonathan Spies

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