Art Advocacy


On the Attitudes of Artists…

 During a stay in Brooklyn recently, the topic of “tortured artistic genius” came up after a 5 hour theater festival with friends from graduate school.

Talking about Picasso and his disgusting treatment of his family and just people in general, my response to one of the producers of the theater festival’s comment “Don’t artists have to be tortured in some way to create great art?” – Sure, I think some emotional immaturity or trauma, some kind of hyperbolic emotional response to something can manifest itself into some amazing art work, but you can still be a DECENT HUMAN BEING and simultaneously make ground breaking art.

Artists should challenge the status quo of society, but being a complete dick about it won’t get you too far anymore. America seems to demand humility from those in the public eye and artists shouldn’t be treated any differently. And in my experience, there are a handful of artists (in all mediums) that could truly benefit from being knocked down a peg or two.

We are a very self-analytical crowd, and we should continue to be.

If you are no longer your own worst critic, something has gone very, very wrong.


On Artistic Compensation…

after having a very heated discussion with fellow art friends, this message submitted anonymously, by, let’s call them “Pay Me, Jerks!”

Artists Have Bills to Pay, Too!

What is it about artists that make people think we don’t want or deserve compensation for our work?

Is it because you think us bohemian vagrants with no home and no reason to keep up any form of personal hygiene? That we wear the same paint/clay/soiled clothes everyday without the desire to ever clean ourselves? Newsflash: We have homes, and rent to pay, along with the electric, gas, phone and internet bills just like any other schmo off the street. And GUESS WHAT: We kind of want to be able to buy toilet paper and laundry detergent and hand soap, too! Do you know what it’s like when you only have about three bathroom sessions left on your current toilet paper roll and you have no idea where the money is going to come from to buy more when you run out? It’s FUCKING SCARY man. (a 1st world horror, I know)

 Do you think we eat out of dumpsters? Or do you think we all just eat out of the community garden, or the garden we have in our back yards? Well GUESS WHAT: some of us don’t have community gardens, and others of us HATE gardening because we are AWFUL at it. Some of us actually like strolling the isles of a proper grocery store in search of a good, hearty meal to make when we get back home (we haven’t paid the rent on it yet, of course). WHY DON’T YOU WANT US TO EAT? What have we ever done (other than everything you ask us to do without pay) to deserve your cold shoulder when it comes to a little chunk of change? Hell, we might even start settling for just the cost of materials so we can feel semi-appreciated (Christ, I’m starting to feel like Barack Obama in the middle of a debt crisis). And IT IS a crisis, mind you.

 From now on, can we just pretend to look through our budgets and try to find some scraps of money to give the artists who give their EVERYTHING to the artwork that they produce? We’re not asking you to break the bank for us (they’re already broken, and it wasn’t an artist’s fault!) We’re asking only for a basic right: that if you like our work and need to borrow our talents, that we could exchange a bit of mutual respect (whoa whoa, not too much, our egos might inflate enormously) in the form of dollar dollar bills, the universal way of saying “thank you, job well done.”

 So here’s some advice to all those wanting to use an artist’s ideas and skills but not wanting to fork over the cash: Put together SOMETHING to offer in exchange for a talent that many would LOVE to have, because if you keep asking for free shit, your organization is going to start LOOKING like you always ask for free shit. (Meaning: Artists are not above expressing their frustrations in the free art they hand over to you, and then you’ve wasted both your time, and theirs.)



Conservative Views on Art

John Frohnmayer, a former lawyer and the Chairman of the NEA during the heart of the Culture Wars(1990′s) outlines four attitudes that underline the conservative view, advocated by Senator Helms and Congressman Dick Armey, that art should not offend:

(1)   Art does not have utility; therefore it must be on good behavior to be tolerated at all.

(2)   The government should not have its hands on art to begin with; it should be far too busy dealing with budgets and international issues to be bothered with art.

(3)   People should not have to stretch for art, if it’s difficult, it should not be in public.

(4)   Elected officials and the American public did not like to be confronted with tough issues.

Are these still the conservative views on art?

How did they get to these 4 points?




In honor of the NEA’s 45th Birthday – here’s a bit of my thesis on the history, formation and early years of the NEA. Enjoy!

From the WPA to the National Endowment for the Arts

The first major effort on behalf of the federal government to aid the arts on a national scale was the arts program of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Works Progress Administration. The program was initially triggered by a letter from the painter George Biddle addressed to his former prep school roommate, President Roosevelt. The letter was sent in 1933 and specifically cited the Mexican mural movement and the pivotal role the government of Mexico played in its orchestration. From 1935 to 1938 the WPA was the largest public arts initiative in the history of the world. The program directly employed more than 40,000 artists and 1,371 murals were commissioned to be painted in post offices and other public buildings. There was also a Federal Theater Project, a Federal Writers Project, Federal Symphony Orchestras and more. (Benedict, 42) However, no matter how much positive feedback the program generated, the negative feedback always took center stage. Some of the Federal Theater Project’s performances attacked the American capitalist system, and some of the murals were painted by communist artists. In 1938, there was an investigation of the WPA programs by the House Committee on Un-American Affairs and a proposed bill to give a few of the New Deal arts programs permanent status failed to secure enough support in Congress. In 1939, funding for the WPA programs was drastically cut, by 1941 the nation was focused on military aid and by 1943 the first federal arts program was dead. (Benedict, 42)

By the 1950’s, there were four general types of art activities that the United States government had a deep-rooted interest: international cultural exchanges; the design and decoration of public buildings; government collections such as the National Gallery; and the design of coins and stamps. During the 1950’s the role of government-endorsed arts increased: Art was to be used as an instrument of American foreign policy in the Cold War. Despite these agendas, the American funding for the arts was considerably low compared to their European counter parts. There seemed to still be strong opposition, not to the arts itself, but to government aid to the arts. It was not until the administration of John F. Kennedy that the United States government looked into funding the arts through peer review grant panels, as was done in the Arts Council of Great Britain. This way, only existing arts organizations and individual artists who met the standards of experts in the field would receive funding. Kennedy soon appointed Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., a Harvard historian and avid supporter of federal aid for the arts, to serve on his White House staff. Schlesinger in turn appointed August Heckscher, director of the Twentieth Century Fund, as the first special consultant to the President for arts. Heckscher set three goals for himself and his administration:

(1)   Contribute to the establishment of a Federal Advisory Council on the Arts;

(2)   Prepare a report which would include policy recommendations for the future on the arts and national government and;

(3)   Institutionalize the role of special assistant to the President for arts.

The afternoon Kennedy was shot was preceded by a morning when Richard Goodwin, a presidential speechwriter, was appointed the full-time special assistant to the President for arts. (Benedict, 49) When Lyndon Johnson took office after Kennedy’s assassination, he was met with Schlesinger’s memorandum, “Future of the Arts Program,” in which he makes a political argument for Johnson’s sake:

“[Art] can strengthen the connections between the administration and the intellectual artistic community – something not to be dismissed when victory or defeat next fall will probably depend on who carries New York, Pennsylvania, California, Illinois and Michigan.”

In 1964, Roger Stevens was appointed the special assistant to the President and successfully created the Federal Advisory Council on the Arts. A month after Stevens was put in place, scholars in the field of American humanities released a report of the status of humanities in American society. Supporters of both arts legislation and humanities legislation agreed to join forces and advocate for a National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities, in which each field was to be allocated their own national endowment. Therefore, under the Presidency of Lyndon Johnson, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was created.

It took the United States of America 176 years to commit itself to a program of continuous, direct government financial support for the arts. Quality is the deciding factor in what the National Endowment for the Arts funds and its peer panels demonstrate a remarkable instinct for pinpointing and supporting quality, as well as the potential for quality. The NEA has made a valiant effort to provide support for emerging artists, which are the NEA’s own form of research and development. In fact, every Pulitzer Prize-winning play since 1976 received its premiere production at a nonprofit theater that was partially funded by the NEA. (Benedict, 22) Thanks to the NEA and the matching grants it instituted to foster the development of state art agencies in all U.S. states and territories, the 7,700 arts organizations that existed in 1965 inflated to more than 40,000 in 2005 and continues to grow.

The NEA, however, has never been seen or totally accepted as the authority of the arts in America by any means. John Frohnmayer, the Chairman of the NEA from 1989 to 1992, in his book, Leaving Town Alive, says that on his first day in office, he immediately sensed that the national art world was not the one big happy family that he envisioned, but rather a group of highly vocal and talented advocates all scrambling for pieces of a pie too small to feed everyone. Not only were artists of the nation scrambling for government aid, but the conservatives and liberals in the governing bodies that determined how much funding will go to the arts were up in arms about the use of public money, taste, morality and censorship of art that was assisted with NEA grants. The wisdom of the original Endowment legislation had been that Congress would not inject either politics or its own aesthetic judgment into the choices the Endowment made. (Frohmayer, 59) That wisdom, it was clear, once Jesse Helms, Senator from North Carolina, stood on the Senate floor to denounce the exhibit of homosexual “pornography” in the context of “fine art,” was no longer part of Congress’ dealings with the NEA. The Arts Endowment operates on two levels, the first is to develop policy to promote the arts and the second to respond to grant applications to implement those polices. (Frohnmayer, 11) Because of the outrage and controversy, a third level of operations was imposed upon the Endowment, which was the protection of artists’ First Amendment rights, which had always been designated for the judiciary branch of government. This new level and the infamous “Culture Wars” that resulted in an almost lethal funding cutback to the NEA will be further discussed in the fourth section, The Laws of Obscenity in America.

The NEA today is still alive and fully functioning, but it continues to recover from the funding cuts it received during the Culture Wars by having to fight for reauthorization and an increased budget nearly every year. The more difficult task at hand, though, is repairing the negative impact that controversial art, which was partially paid for by tax money, had on the American public’s view of government funded art projects.”



USA Today Chimes in on the Benefits of Art ON small and large Economies

“As the nation’s economy has struggled amid falling property values, many other communities are counting on the arts as a means of economic development. In downtown areas of Baltimore and Phoenix and smaller towns such as Paducah, Ky., officials see the arts as a chance to bring redevelopment, grant dollars and people back to struggling neighborhoods.”

Click on the pic below for full article.











9-22-2010. Our U.S. Senators brought home their grades on our Congressional Arts Report Card, and although they weren’t graded on their paintings or musical scales, they managed to fail the arts.

The Americans for the Arts Action Fund is featuring 12 of the 28 senators that failed the arts as the Dirty Dozen online now. Take a moment to see why each of these senators received an F and learn what you can do to make sure they do better next time!





Pennsylvania Resources:


Citizens for the Arts in PA


Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance


Arts and Business Council of Greater Philadelphia/PVLA


Theater Alliance of Greater Philadelphia




National Resources:


American Association of Museums


Americans for the Arts


National Endowment for the Arts


New York Times Arts Section




Legal Resources:


Self Employed Visual Artist Taxes


Moral Rights Basics


First Amendment Center


Obscenity Law – Radford University


US Copyright Laws




The Art Law Blog




Keeping Track of YOur Elected Officials:


Project Vote Smart


U.S. House of Representatives


U.S. Senate


Open Congress





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