The fact is, the House Republicans are right. As I have pointed out in these pages before, millions of tax payer dollars are going to support the cultural lives of the wealthy, and everybody knows it. This new study and the New York Times’ disingenuous interpretation of it do nothing to change the facts. What we do learn from both the study and the misreporting on it is that the non profit arts community and its champions are more interested in pretending the problem doesn’t exist than in solving it. We also learn that this new attack on the NEA is working, and it has them nervous. After all, nobody ever funded a study to prove that Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs are not offensive.
It is vital that those who favor reform in this arena continue to shine a light on this issue and work for ways to fix it. There are potential improvements that can be made short of doing away with the NEA altogether. A cap on ticket prices for NEA funded events, for example, seems a fair balance. While the National Center for Arts Research might think its dubious that the NEA derives its funds from poorer Americans, there are plenty of middle class Americans who pay a lot of taxes and cannot afford to attend NEA funded events. A pair of tickets to a mainstage production at the NEA funded Atlantic Theater Company in New York costs $130. Two seats to see Baryshnikov in “Man in a Case” at Berkeley Rep in San Francisco costs $230. If people want to drop that kind of cash to see a play, that’s great. But don’t ask taxpayers who can’t afford it to chip in. Or in other words, do not derive your funding from people too poor to go to the show.