Why Cuts To The NEA Might Be a Good Thing

From an email in my inbox today:

The House FY11 continuing budget resolution now includes a $43.1 million funding decrease to the NEA, which represents a 25% cut from current funding.

So why am I not freaking out? (Please don’t kill me…)

Limits inspire creativity. One cannot think outside a box that is not defined, and George Lucas can’t seem to make a good film unless all the odds are against him… which is why the original Star Wars movies were awesome and why the prequels… let’s not even talk about that.

The arts community is filled with great thinkers, but is horribly dependent on large grants from government, corporate, and foundation sponsorships or grants. Many regional theatres’ budget is only made up of 50% earned income, the rest being from grants and donations. Rocco Landesman of the NEA said that there is too much supply of theatre and not enough demand for it. But among these companies there’s too much demand for money and not enough supply.

So government funds are drying up, what are we to do? Find greener pastures. Maybe some in our own backyard. 501c3 organizations are supposed to exist for social benefit, and large grants sure help make programming possible, shouldn’t we look to our communities for support? If we are truly benefitting our communities isn’t it likely that they will also benefit us?

The challenge is that there’s more reaching out to do. Instead of writing to people in an office who may be hundreds of miles awwy, why not go door to door, business to business, event to event establishing yourself/your organization as a part of the community. Participate more. Learn about who you’ve been trying to serve and figure out how to better serve them. And picking up some people along the way who can help serve you.

You know, grassroots style. It’s a smart business move to have strong diversity in your income sources. That way if one backs out, goes under, or just disappears, you’re still left with several other sources of income.

Back to the NEA cuts. No, it’s not a good thing right now. People will lose jobs, friends of mine will lose jobs. Artists in certain institutions may find it harder to bring their visions to fruition. (See? You don’t need to kill me. I’m just trying to spark conversation)

There will be regional theaters that won’t be able to support themselves without the extra help and will restructure or dissolve.

But somewhere along the way someone will realize that their heavily NEA funded institution was relying on that money instead of connecting with their peers, their audience, their community. That they were feeling safe, they had security.

As Hecate says in Macbeth,

And you all know, security
Is mortals’ chiefest enemy. – III.v

Some of the best art I’ve seen has come from poor players. Who have narrow limits and use their powerful imaginations to make something amazing.

So could cuts to the NEA be good? In the long run it’s quite possible, provided that we move forward by embracing our limits and find new creative ways of supporting ourselves. I sorely wish the government would give artists more help, but that’s a fight (and blog post) for another day. Right now I think we should accept what is and forge our own new path. Let us struggle with what is.

It’s not the struggle that makes us artists, but Art that makes us struggle.
– Albert Camus