Writing in the New York Times, Patricia Cohen discusses this historical role in light of a new study on the NEA’s impact:
“Ever since the late 1980s, when the performance artist Karen Finley started playing around with yams and chocolate, the National Endowment for the Arts has come under fire from some conservative lawmakers. Back then the agency was castigated for giving grants to provocative artists like Ms. Finley, whom some critics called obscene.Now House Republicans charge that the endowment supports programming primarily attended by the rich, causing “a wealth transfer from poorer to wealthier citizens.” A new study to be released on Wednesday challenges that assertion, however, and concludes that federally supported arts programs attract people across the income spectrum; the wealthy, yes, but also many below the poverty line.
“The study, by the National Center for Arts Research at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, was specifically intended to test lawmakers’ propositions about arts funding. Last year the House Budget Committee, led by Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, issued a proposed budget for the 2014 fiscal year, which eliminated all funding for the arts endowment as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.