2013 was a year like many others. The sun came out in the mornings, and government officials tried to shut down the National Endowment for the Arts. In March 2013 the U.S. House of Representatives budget called for slashing the NEA’s budget by 49 percent. That same month the House’s Budget Committee referred to the NEA and other federal cultural agencies as being “no longer justified, noting that NEA-funded activities are “generally enjoyed by people of higher-income levels, making them a wealth transfer from poorer to wealthier citizens.” In other words, we would be taxing the poor to build bastions for the rich.
In response to those claims, the National Center for Arts Research at Southern Methodist University (NCAR) has published a report to challenge this notion that NEA-funded art is for the wealthiest. They are super excited about what they’ve published, too. The study’s director told Art Seek that it proves that “the arts are far more democratic than they are given credit for.”
Here’s what they found out:
1) NEA grants do not favor arts organizations in wealthier communities; instead, funding is more often awarded to economically diverse communities [with a higher percentage of households that are wealthy and a higher percentage of households that are below the poverty line.]
2) Attendance rises with increases in the percentage of households below the poverty line, and with increases in the percentage of households with incomes above $200,000.
Alright, so those two findings need some interpretation. The first point says the NEA tends to fund activities in communities with large numbers of both rich and poor residents. In other words, these are places with a smaller middle-class. As for the second point, NEA-funded activities see higher attendance numbers in communities where such financial diversity is in place. But this type of very-rich-and-very-poor city sounds a lot like New York or any other metropolis. That’s not really big news.
What we still don’t know—and maybe this is for another report—is who’s going to those museums. College kids, gastroenterologists, factory workers, hedge-fund investors, or what? That’s what we really need to know, if we don’t want a repeat of 2013.