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If I ran the NEA

March 01, 2009

1. Speak up for the arts! Tell our story. Creativity is our nation's greatest natural resource.

2. Mobilize the arts community. Nobody can advocate for the arts more powerfully and more eloquently than artists themselves.

3. Put the arts back in our schools. Make the arts accessible to every American.

4. Integrate the arts into every department and agency. There isn't a government program or project that couldn't be enhanced by a cultural component.

5. Insist that arts funding not be seen as a handout. Artists have something of enormous value to offer society -- their talent and creativity -- for which they should be both recognized and compensated.



If I ran the NEA I would resume the individual artists' grants and I would strive to increase the budget.



For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, March 01, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 52 words Type of Material: Correction
The NEA: In today's Arts & Books section, the cover story "If I ran the NEA" says the National Endowment for the Arts riled opponents in 1996 with its plan to award grants to four controversial artists. In fact, the artists known as the NEA Four fought for their grants in 1990.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, March 08, 2009 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part D Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
The NEA: The article "If I Ran the NEA" last Sunday said the National Endowment for the Arts riled opponents in 1996 with its plan to award grants to four controversial artists. The artists known as the NEA Four fought for their grants in 1990.

I've sat on both sides of the NEA table. The weekly public radio show I host -- PRI's "Studio 360," the only nationally broadcast program dedicated to covering culture and the arts -- has been receiving an annual NEA grant. And three years ago, I served on an NEA panel charged with parceling out "literature" grants to nonprofit magazines, community writing workshops, book festivals and the like. (Participating in that process and working with NEA employees in Washington -- smart, conscientious and cheerful, do-gooders in the best sense -- entirely changed my default view of the federal government.)

I wouldn't actually want to follow Dana Gioia as chair of the endowment, because it would be so hard to improve on his performance. (If any member of the Bush administration deserved a medal, it was he.) But if I had the job, I might:

* start building a large, modestly paid corps of young and old artists and musicians and writers -- something like Teach for America crossed with 826 -- who would be dispatched to train and inspire kids in schools that have cut back or eliminated arts classes

* establish a national system, in league with the Congress for New Urbanism, the National Charrette Institute, and perhaps HUD, under which communities trying to manage growth and/or preserve or create indigenous local character would have access to NEA-subsidized SWAT teams of sympathetic and experienced urban planners and architects

* steer the NEA's Arts Journalism Institutes toward seeding and nurturing Web-based enterprises that publish compelling, accessible arts journalism and criticism, to fill the void as print newspapers and magazines retreat and disappear

* create a U.S. version of Britain's Turner Prize, since visual art is the one major cultural realm that lacks its own major American prize; a credentialed panel of critics and curators would choose the annual shortlist of nominees for our Whistler (or Hopper or Rothko) Prize, and the winner would be chosen by online popular vote.



So long as they keep funding public television and radio, I'm good. I grew up learning lots from "Sesame Street" and "The Electric Company" -- everything from the alphabet and numbers to sharing and a sense of humor, and I still listen to NPR daily. Ira Glass? "Wait, Wait . . . Don't Tell Me!"? Great good times. Uber-important. I can't imagine our world without them.



The arts are critical to my admittedly totally chauvinistic goals for my country: I want the United States to have the biggest economy in the world, the best standard of living, a healthy population that shoots at each other far less than we do now, systems of governance and justice that are both envy and inspiration to the world, and I want our athletes and artists to be total international badasses. If I ran the NEA, I'd double down on this part of the NEA's mission: "to bring the arts to all Americans." If our artists are going to be badasses, we need to tap all our potential pools of artistic talent, we need to cultivate a national expectation of artistic literacy, and artists need jobs doing and teaching art. My NEA would fund arts education in every juvie, jail and prison in the country -- creating those art jobs, probably slashing recidivism, making our big dumb prison system slightly less pointless, and maybe someday paying off down the road in the form of the next American international art star.



If I ran the NEA, I would put the emphasis on arts education for the young. I would encourage artists throughout the country to volunteer a few hours a week to mentor students in public schools.

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