NEA, National Endowment for the Arts – Art Centers, not Art Groups (Repost)

Rocco Landesman, the Chairman of the NEA, National Endowments for the arts, was a guest on the Diane Rehm Show 1/25/10. The guest host was Susan Page. I emailed a comment, Page read it, and Landesman answered it. Here’s the exchange

Susan Page: Here is a question you may like less well. It’s from Tom… It’s an email from Tom Hendricks who identifies himself as the editor of the web magazine Musea and he says,

“The NEA should get out of the art decision business, and help set up regional art centers open to all local and traveling artists and all arts – not just a NEA chosen few.
Let the community decide region by region. (He writes)
The NEA has not had a good track record for choosing and funding great art.”

Well what do you think about Tom’s idea that you set up regional art centers that would just be open to all comers?”

Rocco Landesman: I think to a great extent that already exists. 40% of all the NEA funding goes to the state agencies, which then filters out through the various local arts agencies and there’s quite a bit of local input and control in that way and I think there’s quite a bit of decentralization of arts funding because of that as it is.

Susan Page: What about Tom’s point also that the NEA does not have a good track record for choosing and funding great art. What kind of record do you think… This would be of course from before your tenure there, but what kind of record do you think the NEA has on that front?

Rocco Landesman: I think very strong. We fund on the basis of peer reviews. We get the best people in the disciplines to look at the submissions and proposals and my own sense is at least to the extent i’ve been out in the field and talking to people that we do a very good job of supporting and funding excellence. Now there may be people who haven’t gotten a grant or been rejected that object. I think we make mistakes but by and large I think we do a very good job.
My extra comments. Note all the bureaucracy in the NEA process that mine would eliminate. For my regional art centers, you sign up and show your art. On big nights traveling shows do their art. In the NEA there is endless layers of filters, and peer group reviews. BTW what peer group do you know that supports what’s new to them?
Landesman is also FOR funding individual artists, though that is mostly not allowed at this time. Yet that sets up funding for NEA darlings. And why should the government be in the art review business? Are they who we look to, for art knowledge and art picks?
He also says about the politicalization of art, that he is opposed to ‘message’ art. “I have a visceral aversion to what is sometimes called message art. I can’t stand it and I hope the NEA isn’t going to fund it.” Sadly, though he is trying to keep politics out of his funding decisions, it says to me that any art with any content that isn’t deemed safe will not be funded. But who decides what is safe and who decides what is message art?
I do agree with him that there are basic standards to great art, but my opinion is that the state is not the one to decide what those standards are. Art centers would allow all Americans to decide.


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