Posts tagged with: national endowment for the arts

At the Mackinac Center blog, I look at a really shabby piece of reportage in GQ Magazine on ArtPrize, the annual public art competition in Grand Rapids, Mich. Grand Rapids is also where the Acton Institute is based and it’s a terrific Midwestern city doing a lot of things right. But when East Coast writer Matthew Power visited GR he saw only “flyover country,” a “provincial” mindset, “G.R.-usalem” (lots of churches) and “ordinary” local inhabitants.

You know where this is going. I say:

Ultimately, Power gets to his main point, which readers could easily anticipate as leveling a charge of what is perceived as the only sin known to Western Civilization by East Coast writers of a particular persuasion: hypocrisy. For it seems Rick DeVos’ parents fund free-market (including the Mackinac Center) and conservative Christian causes, and young Rick’s motivations are judged negatively by Power’s perceived “sins” of DeVos’ mere et pere and the causes they fund.

“To some of the [DeVos] family’s detractors, the millions in soft money and the funding of conservative Christian organizations suggest more ambitious goals: an end to nearly all government control and regulation, media, education … and the arts,” Power cavils. “Whatever their motives, it seemed odd that a family with such an agenda would let its heir apparent throw open the gates to its city in an open call to any and all artists, not matter how starving or unwashed.”

Power notes that the Acton Institute, a beneficiary of DeVos monies, “has advocated for the abolition of public funding for contemporary art” when, in fact, Acton has no official position whatsoever on the matter. True, some Acton articles and blog posts (several written by your author) take issue with public funding for art, arguing along with Jacques Barzun that the practice results in a “surfeit of fine art” (and I would argue strenuously against DeVos applying for and accepting a $100,00 National Endowment for the Arts grant for ArtPrize, as the businesses benefitting most from the competition could easily pony up the relatively insignificant amount) but, again, my opinions and for that matter the free-market ideology of Mr. DeVos’ parents hardly are germane to a story that merely aims to discredit ArtPrize by any means necessary.

Power winds up his Grand Rapids’ hit piece with interviews with the losers, apparently cheesed off that the public judging was insufficient to their superior aesthetic concepts and artistic execution. But, of course, that’s to be expected.

Read “GQ Hit Piece on GR ArtPrize” at the Mackinac Center.

In today’s edition of Capital Commentary, HBU assistant professor of literature Micah Mattix explores the question, “How Might the Arts Be Funded?” He ably and briefly surveys the recent history of politics surrounding the NEA.

And he concludes by noting that art is inherently “relational” and that “the problem with large, centralized organizations like the Endowment is that they are often unable to take such relational elements into account.”

He muses:

However the arts are to be funded, this relational element of art must be taken into account. Instead of encouraging artists to write against their audience out of spite or merely play it safe, funding should help artists to flourish while encouraging them to communicate the truth (of which speaking “prophetically” is part) in love. I wonder if funding the arts at the local level might help to do exactly this.

We can think of it in another helpful way as the concept of subsidiarity (which is a principle of society, not just politics) applied to the arts, specifically artists and their communities and audiences. In some ways this question about funding and the arts is a subset of the broader cultural critique of the market economy, that is, that markets do not support authentic cultural expression. This also has to do with whether you think work, leisure, or some third thing is the basis of culture.

In an argument analogous to that which Abraham Kuyper makes in his treatise, Common Grace in Science and Art, it may be at one time that the arts were necessarily dependent on institutional support from the church and the state in order to exist and grow. But we are certainly at the point, at least in the developed West, where it is not strictly necessary from a purely financial point of view that the government serve as the sole, or even primary, patron. The ideal in this vein is that the arts flourish and mature, come into their own and stand in their own independent space, related to other spheres yet distinct from them in terms of their general sustenance. (This is not to say that civic and sacred art projects are out of bounds, but that they do not exhaust the limits of art as a cultural phenomenon. They are, rather, projects that are intended to illustrate the grandeur of the empire, whether temporal or eternal, respectively.)

Mattix draws on a recent controversy over the Christian stewardship of art published in the Journal of Markets & Morality between Calvin Seerveld and Nathan Jacobs. You can find the text of their dialogue in issue 12.2, and you can also listen to a subsequent podcast moderated by David Michael Phelps (in two parts: Part 1 and Part 2).