Sunday, February 08, 2004


For most of my life, I have listened to committed Catholics malign the NEA as the source of a lot of what's wrong with the world. It's been right up there with the iconocalstic "enforcers" of Vatican II for popularity.

More than just greenlighting obscene trash like Mapplethorpe, the NEA in the hands of the mostly leftwing creative community was perpetually spewing unfair radical politics disguised at art on PBS, on NPR, PRI and at the local art museum.

My posture for many years has been to march around opining that government subsidized art was always bad art, and that a constiuent element of the artist's sacrifice was poverty. With all due respect, I disagree with myself.

I just finished serving as a panelist for the new "Gioia-ized" NEA, and I find myself now happily furnished with a new set of predispositions. The truth is, the NEA plays a vital role in supporting the dissemination of many wonderfully creative and beautiful artistic projects. The agency - at least under Gioia - is not about commissioning "important" works (ie. works that exist solely to make social policy statements), but rather about helping the average American have a broader access to the beautiful creative work being done out there. The presumption is that art is good for us, and that the government has a role in facilitating the well-roundedness of its citizenry. The evaluation forms we used in considering grants were all about artistic excellence, mastery of craft, and substance of the work -- standards taken right out of Aristotle for those who have eyes to read.

Gioia's NEA is not afraid of the prophetic role of the arts, but is intent on seeing that the messages inherent in supported projects be "fair." What a great little word, eh? Positively empowering.

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