I've had this one in the hopper awaiting the right moment. The Post ran an editorial in support of the National Endowment for the Arts. I quick sent this in reply. I haven't heard back, so I don't think they are going to run it. I'm beginning to think they're only going to run my second rate stuff. Oh well, true greatness is never appreciated in its own time. So, please go ahead and tell me how good I am now because I won't be getting it later.

Late Breaking Development -- the Post ran the letter.

You can reach the Post-Dispatch web page here.
You can send your own letter to the editor here.

Subject: Letter to the Editor

Let's talk about public funding of the Arts. There are those who support the funding of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) as if it is the only source of funding of the Arts and claim that an attack on NEA funding is a repudiation of the Arts in general. In fact, John Q. Public spends far more on the Arts than the NEA. The annual budget for the NEA is less than 1 dollar for every man, woman, and child in the United States. The American public spent over 20 dollars per person on movie admissions alone last year -- without any NEA involvement.

Let's ask ourselves what would happen if this agency were to be abolished. Catastrophe? No, some bureaucrats would be out of a job, some marginal artists would be out of a grant, and many institutions would be out of pocket change. By and large, most people wouldn't even notice. The Arts would continue to thrive in this country. I say this as a patron of the Arts -- I buy art for the walls of my house, I buy music and listen to it on the radio (rock, jazz, and classical), before children (and again as they get old enough to accompany) I was a season ticket holder to both The Muny and Stages, I visit the Art Museum, I see movies, I read books. And most of my fellow Americans do the same. Their tastes may differ from mine and so their mix of art patronage may vary, but that is the beauty (do I dare say, Art) of a free, individual society. Visit any mall (the heart of modern America), and you'll find that there is usually more than one music store, more than one bookstore, more than one art store (and an occasional art gallery), and usually a movie theater. There's been an ad on TV with Paul Newman pointing out that more people go to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art (if memory serves me right) than all the professional sports teams there in a year. It's clear that the American public supports the Arts with their interest and money.

So why do we need the federal government spending a dime on the arts? It's not like it is an investment that doesn't pay off for years for the beneficiaries and therefore requires some group investment that wouldn't otherwise take place. Nor does the money go into large infrastructure investments -- say underwriting a major performing arts center. The money is spent in dribs and drabs all around the country. No, the only reason to have the National Endowment is so that marginal and failed art and art forms that the American people are not willing to support on their own are perpetuated by an art elite. Which brings us to the notion that the public supports mere art -- crass, commercial, mass -- with its dollars, while the NEA supports True Art -- sublime, special, for the connoisseur -- with its funding. Hogwash. Art is art. Art is the unique experience communicated between the creator and the individual, and each person has her own experience regardless of how "mass" or "shallow" the art is. How can a community that rejects the notion that the government should tell us what to see, what to feel, what to think, accept the notion that the government should make the decisions as to what art we experience? Isn't Art too important to allow the government to meddle in? Isn't, in fact, a call for the abolition of the NEA a defense of the Arts in a free society?

Kevin Murphy

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This page last updated 15 April 1998

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