cover image Art Lessons: Learning from the Rise and Fall of Public Arts Funding

Art Lessons: Learning from the Rise and Fall of Public Arts Funding

Alice Goldfarb Marquis. Basic Books, $25 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-465-00437-9

Marquis characterizes the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) as a cultural bureaucracy dominated by powerful interests--corporate arts patrons, state and local arts councils, unions, advocates for various disciplines. In a lively, slashing history of public arts funding in the U.S. from the end of WWII to the present, she finds that ``Americans venerate the arts... even though they seldom attend or participate.'' Highbrow arts institutions, knowing they can depend on NEA grants and wealthy donors, cling timidly to tradition, in her analysis. Meanwhile, the relatively small amounts spent on the ``cutting edge'' support a vested ``avant-garde mainstream'' of generally baffling, boring or repellent works, according to Marquis (The Art Biz). She spells out a revolutionary blueprint for democratizing public support for the arts, whereby professional arts managers in every locality or neighborhood would fill public spaces--schools, auditoriums, community centers, parks, plazas--with cultural presentations. In her plan, Congress would get out of the culture business, and a 5% tax on movie tickets, video rentals and sports would create a new, nonelitist endowment for the arts. (May)