Monday evening in Washington, DC marked the 25th Annual Arts Advocacy Day with its keynote event: the Annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on the Arts and Public Policy. Chosen to deliver this poignant speech was Alec Baldwin, who stunned the crowd with the same eloquence and wit we’ve all come to expect:
“If I had any influence, I’d want the (National Endowment for the Arts) to have a budget of a billion dollars,” Baldwin said. “We spend too much money on war in this country.”
I know, I know, but try to hold back your weeping at the vast Hollywood intellect who, in his benevolence, deigns to instruct us in the ways of national cultural policy. Bear in mind, obviously one billion dollars within the scope of our national budget and massive debt is not much, but it is quite a leap from the 146 million, which is currently the NEA’s 2012 budget. Before outrage sets in, understand that this is not a proclamation made because he believes it will happen, or even should, but because asking for a major increase to the NEA budget rather than a steady increase of a few million will cause controversy and make headlines. Not only will this distract from the true economic argument, it creates a position of cultural and artistic superiority by the Left that is bound to turn into some type of “War on the Arts.” In order to show his solidarity with artists, Baldwin continued his presence in arts advocacy by lobbying at the Hill on Tuesday:
Baldwin beautifully states in this one tweet the whole problem with the liberal view of funding the arts with public money; that their funding premise is based entirely on the externalities of arts rather than on the arts in and of themselves. Saying that federal funding of the arts is a positive because of all these possible results would be quite convincing … if there weren’t plenty of other, more effective ways at improving local economies, creating jobs, or improving children’s test scores.
The fault here lies in liberals not understanding that the art should be funded because, well, it’s art. It is an expression of humanity and it’s nature, and should invested in because we dialogue with it and that dialogue is necessary for human culture. Art should be funded for what it is, not how it can be used, and the most important factor for funding it lies in that each person should be able to choose what arts they wish to fund. Scarily, Baldwin manages to make one (mostly) valid point during his speech:
“There are tremendous parts of the country right now where there’s a need for federal funding for the arts in order to bring that to people on a level that they can afford,” he said. “We still have a cultural heritage to protect in this country. This is what’s going to enrich people’s lives.”
Here he is absolutely correct; there are plenty of areas in the country in need of arts funding but in no way are those areas ever going to see federal funding. If anything, the NEA is only further cutting its smaller grants, and investing all of its money in larger grants and projects that most often go to already substantial organizations. Now before the near-immediate reaction begins on the necessity of eliminating the NEA right now, understand that it was the cuts to the NEA during the culture wars of the 90’s and its now over-protective nature that makes it the shell of an organization it is today. The controversy of the 90’s was a visceral reaction against the NEA by the Right–it cut arts funding without a plan to transition into a non-federally funded arts culture. This failure led to a continued leftist stronghold on the arts.
Visceral reactions are a liberal response; let’s not become that monster ourselves. Conservatism is based in logic, planning, concern for the local communities and the individuals within them. With the right course of action, the arts culture can and will be turned in its favor; away from massive government arts funding towards an arts system based in individual choice within public arts funding as well as strong private patronage of the arts. Instead of conservatives screaming for cuts of rather insignificantly funded federal organizations, the process of moving away from federally funded arts requires a plan that garners mass nonpartisan support, particularly from artists, and which liberals can’t attack without looking like bumbling fools. This is far less impossible than it might sound, mostly because unlike Alec Baldwin and his leftist ilk, conservatives are pretty fond of using their brains.