What A Day For A Birthday
Today is the third anniversary of the launch of this blog as well as being my birthday, and this year I got an early birthday present. About three weeks ago I was notified that I’d received a Creative Capital/Andy Warhol Foundation Art Writer’s Grant for this little ongoing online experiment (along with a nice cash prize that will ease the pain a bit in the coming year). Although I didn’t start out writing about visual arts or activism those topics have become pretty significant elements in the blog, so it’s great to get some recognition from organizations like Creative Capital and the Warhol Foundation. Needless to say there aren’t a lot of places to go for support, monetary or otherwise, for either blogging or writing about art so it’s awesome that someone is giving it up for us art bloggists.
Back in the day when I started out as a fledgling artist there was a reasonable amount of funding, both public and private, for artists, experimental filmmakers, and other folks working in the creative arts. Very few people actually made a living from grants and fellowships but there was enough modest funding out there that a person had a decent shot at getting a few bones for a short film, a performance piece, or some time in the studio. Although I didn’t rely on grants to do my art I received enough support to help me make the work—when I was fresh out of grad school I got $1,500 from the Film Arts Foundation to make my next experimental video, which absolutely gave me the encouragement to continue in my artmaking endeavors. I subsequently got some shekels from now-defunct granting organizations like the Rocky Mountain Film Center, Art Matters, and New Langton Arts, all of which in turn had gotten some federal funding to support their grants programs. Not that I advocate a complete dependency on feeding from the public trough in order to create artwork, but in many ways those little bits of money here and there were just enough to keep me going and to help me to finish some projects than I otherwise might not have had I gone without.
But in the twenty years or so since my days as a young artist public arts funding institutions like the National Endowment for the Arts have been under constant attack by Republican philistines such as Sen. Jesse Helms and his minions. At its height in the 1990s the NEA’s total budget was about $190 million—peanuts compared to the Pentagon’s 1994 budget of $240 billion, but even back then the right-wing clearly understood the threat to their master narrative that unfettered arts funding posed.
The NEA’s 2009 budget was $160 million, which is about $92 million in 1990s dollars, or less than half its 1990 budget. This reduction has in turn has created a domino effect on arts funding large and small. I sat on the Board of Directors of two different media arts organizations (both of which in their heydays in the 1990s had memberships in the thousands) that have in the past decade become defunct due to greatly reduced federal, state, and private arts funding in this country. Although the worldwide economic recession and the end-times of late capitalism have contributed to its decline, the right-wing’s vendetta on the arts has certainly played a huge part in the atrophy of its funding in the U.S. It’s no secret that the Republican Party has been gunning for arts funding for decades since, unlike the left, it totally understands the significant role that culture plays in shaping public opinion and framing the national debate.
So it’s great that Creative Capital and the Warhol Foundation continue to stand up for fringe elements like arts writers and other troublemakers who insist on stirring things up and questioning the status quo. Their support is a small but significant salvo in the continuing ideological war for this country’s cultural heart and soul.