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A case for the National Endowment for the Arts

Werning is a junior graphic design major and can be contacted at stephanie.werning@drake.edu

I would like to offer a counter-argument for the opinion piece published by Benjamin Levine on Nov. 13. In his piece, he writes:

“I don’t even need to do any research on the agency (National Endowment for the Arts) to know that it needs to be sliced from the federal budget.”

I believe that his self-professed ignorance displayed in this sentence undermines his whole argument.  This is the equivalent of saying, “I don’t understand the war in Iraq, and I don’t feel like learning about it, so the government should eliminate military spending.”

Ignorance of a subject does not give someone authority to write about it in a beneficial way.

I think if the writer had taken the time to learn about the NEA, then he would have discovered that the vast majority of the projects it endorses are community-building endeavors that are seldom politically charged. Often, communities are able to experience great artistic opportunities that they would miss out on if the organization were cut from our budget.

In 2005, the NEA provided $45,000 to support the American Classical Orchestra in Norwalk, Conn., as a learning grant for its Classical Music for Kids program. This program has helped over 850,000 young students learn about classical music, and the theme of the year followed Thomas Jefferson’s life and connection with music.

In 2010, The NEA granted $30,000 to the American Folk Festival in Bangor, Maine. This yearly festival celebrates multicultural heritage, and the grant delivers a wide variety of art to the small Maine community. In addition to inspiring an audience of about 168,000 people, the event generated $9.8 million in revenue for Bangor.

These are just a couple of examples of how the NEA has positively impacted communities. Surprisingly, it doesn’t adhere to a “radical, liberal agenda.” In fact, the American Classical Orchestra’s project celebrates the life of Thomas Jefferson, an influential conservative historical figure. In addition, the American Folk Festival Grant generated roughly $9.8 million for a small community.

Of course, the NEA has been the target of scrutiny due to corruption, and I believe eliminating this corruption is of the utmost importance. But for the most part, the NEA strengthens our nation’s culture. Levine argues that government should have no influence in the arts. In an ideal world, I would agree that ultimate artistic freedom could be achieved with no ties or pressures by organizations. But ours is not an ideal world; art costs money to produce.

It is prudent to cut back on useless spending and demand transparency from government organizations, but eliminating the NEA sends a message that art is useless or trivial. This couldn’t be further from the truth; art is integral to our culture. It brings communities together, fosters excellence in education and can even improve the economy. A nation that promotes the arts embraces the richness of its past and invests in a more beautiful future for its citizens.


  1. Benjamin Levine December 7, 2011

    Although you completely misrepresented me as being ignorant — I actually gave plenty of reasons why we should abolish it — I really appreciate this article. At least you wrote an entire article with your name attached to it, in contrast to those who hide behind their comments.

    1. Caleb Schmotter December 11, 2011

      I must heartily disagree with your representation of Ms. Werning’s representation of yourself. She does in no way “misrepresent” your article as being ignorant. You did that all by yourself. The funding of artists by those in power is a trend that has been ongoing since the Renaissance itself. What would the world be without the works of da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello, Bellini, Masaccio, and all the rest? Their works were paid for by the aristocracy and the ruling clergy. I would much prefer to live in a world that is able to benefit from art in some form than none at all. Your only other reason for cutting funding is the one word poem, “lighght”. Concerning its history I suggest you read this ‘enlightening’ article


      Compared to the widespread benefits that Ms. Werning illuminated, I cannot help but feel your argument is largely invalid. Apparently you believe that anything that functions at less than 100% efficiency is worthless. Furthermore your repeated assertions that no more research is necessary has led me to the conclusion that the benefits far outweigh the costs and you would prefer that no one bother with said research lest they should uncover the weakness of your argument.

      1. Benjamin Levine December 14, 2011


        First, you make the absurd implication that without public funding of the artists da Vinci and Michelangelo would not exist. Art is not the product of government or government subsidies. You act as if Congress literally gives birth to the very concept of art. The NEA was created in 1965. I’m not sure if you know this, but there was art before that year. “I would much prefer to live in a world that is able to benefit from art in some form than none at all.” You sound truly like a brainwashed statist who cannot imagine life without government.

        Now, you should also be aware of the fact that the NEA constitutes a very small percentage of funding for the arts. Private donations overwhelmingly dominate public funding, which means that the arts would survive without the NEA undoubtedly.

        And, finally, I did not “repeat” assertions that no more research is necessary. Rather, I began my article in that manner because of the NEAs unconstitutional nature. Since it is no function of the federal government to be involved in the arts, its efficacy is irrelevat. Then, as to not have any shortcomings, I showed that even when efficacy does not matter, the NEA is a failed program and it embodies wasteful spending.

        1. Benjamin Levine December 14, 2011

          public funding of the arts,*

  2. student December 8, 2011

    I’m a music major and I think music is pretty pointless and dumb.

  3. D December 11, 2011

    This really isn’t a bad piece. You acknowledge some of the shortcomings of the National Endowment for the Arts. And Ben, I’m pretty sure plenty more people think you are ignorant because of the exact line that Stephanie quoted. To the student who commented on their major and music being “pretty pointless and dumb.,” maybe you should change your major if your heart isn’t in it.

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