The New York Times reports today that political goodwill toward the National Endowment for the Arts has been on the rise — thanks, in part, to the very cautious, bridge-building efforts of the two previous NEA heads, Bill Ivey and Dana Gioia. They turned NEA funding more toward non-controversial, non-confrontational areas such as design and arts education. Will Rocco Landesman — whose appointment is expected to be confirmed next month — follow their lead or strike out on his own?
Well, that has been the question since Landesman’s appointment, hasn’t it? What the Times adds is some data depth to what Ivey and Gioia actually did with the money, and it focuses the questions about what Landesman can and could do:
Robert L. Lynch, president of Americans for the Arts, a lobbying group, said Mr. Gioia’s effort to create a better image for the agency through these initiatives was “a good thing but not necessarily a long-term strategy.”
“The emphasis needs to be using the leverage power of a tiny amount of money so that more things get funded in more places by people themselves,” Mr. Lynch added … The fiscal impact of the endowment’s small budget has always been magnified by its outsize cultural influence, the thinking goes; the stamp of approval conferred by even a paltry N.E.A. grant can provide an arts organization with a powerful fund-raising tool….
The question that probably most preoccupies people in the arts is whether Mr. Landesman will succeed in securing more money for the endowment — its budget still pales in comparison with those of other federal agencies — and if he will try to restore the N.E.A.’s ability to make grants to individual artists. Although he declined to comment on his plans for the agency, Politico.com reported this month that Mr. Landesman had expressed an interest in reinstating those grants. …
Some say that it is unlikely that the grants will be revived, because they require the N.E.A. to approve art before knowing its content. “I don’t know if we’re at a point where the political process can withstand the vicissitudes of contemporary art,” Mr. Ivey said. “It does expose the agency more than any other single activity.”