This is pretty sad. The NEA has made significant cuts to PBS broadcasts of classical music in favor of gaming, mobile, and web-based projects.
The cuts affect Live from Lincoln Center (down from $100,000 to $0), Great Performances from the Met (down from $150,000 to $50,000), and American Masters (down from $400,000 to $50,000). The Times reports that Alyce Myatt, a former vice-president of programming at PBS, said that
while public television and radio remain “the leads, we also know we have a generation — not of kids but adults — who are consuming content online and on mobile.”
She also expressed the imperative for the federal government to lead the field in the ever-shifting frontier of electronic media. Among the projects (sheesh, I almost wrote products) that did receive funding are:
a University of Southern California video game that uses the writings of Henry David Thoreau; Power Poetry, from Odysseus Group of New York City, which encourages youths to write poems via texting; the Flea Theater’s production of a play using interactive technology; and Spelman College’s “HERadventure,” an augmented reality computer game featuring a superheroine.
This was a blip a couple of weeks ago, and now, no one is talking about it. Here at thousandfold, our hair is on fire.
True, the Met is making money on its HD broadcasts, so the hundred grand is chump change. But the rest? I couldn’t help but wonder if Myatt has some axe to grind from her time at PBS.
Let’s think about this. If the NEA is taking the position that a Lincoln Center performance is just as good as teenage text poetry, that a Met production is on equal footing with a computer game, then we no longer have need of the NEA. The market provides plenty of opportunities for people to text (even poetry!) and play video games. If the NEA no longer wishes to preserve the canon of American art-making that the free market does not, then it is nothing more than a trade association for electronic media.
Myatt also expressed that the NEA must lead in this area. But has the government ever been charged with leading in any area? The government is there for us when the market fails us – look at other services, such as unemployment checks, public safety, water works. And the market has never supported art for art’s sake; it’s always been government-sponsored or in the hands of a few private citizens.
But at a time when arts participation is declining in the lively arts, as the NEA reports, there are fewer and fewer citizens to turn to who will carry the torch of attendance, much less philanthropy. If the government is leading the trend to individualized, electronics-based arts experiences, who will be left to support orchestras and opera houses?
Made us think of this quote, written when the NEA nearly lost its funding in the 90s:
Today, Congress seems to have forgotten that the original purpose of the endowment was to support “free art and free expression,” which clearly means to satisfy the needs of artists, not the tastes of the democratic majority. It was never the intention of the endowment to subsidize popular taste. No, the National Endowment was designed as a counter-market strategy, in the hope that by subsidizing cultural offerings at affordable prices the works of serious art could become available to all those normally excluded by income or education. This is a far cry from providing federal funding for “what the people want.”
Robert Brustein, “Arts Wars,” Reimagining American Theatre (1991), p. 271.