After reading David’s series on funding increases for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), I wanted to find out where the NEA spends its money. I am motivated by the following concern:
How much of the NEA budget does the NEA “piss away” money on things like “Piss Christ?” I suspect Piss Christ and its ilk are funded somewhere in the low thousands, like around 15,000 dollars. The cumulative dollar value attached by the government to things like Piss Christ is probably around 100,000 dollars over the past 10 years. My thesis is that the vast majority of NEA funding probably goes to worthwhile projects. If my thesis is correct, funding for Piss Christ is off-set by less shock-value laden artistic endeavors. These less shock-value endeavors are probably banal in nature, but do some good for communities around the U.S., and can be reasonably justified. In short, why condemn the entire NEA for funding “Piss Christ” to the point of demanding the NEA close its doors when the vast majority of payments go to more worthwhile endeavors? Please note that this is not David’s position (he’s simply my muse).
“Conservatives have long criticized the National Endowment for the Arts for funding questionable art projects – some of them sexually explicit or even described as blasphemous.
As CNSNews.com reported in 2002, the NEA has generated controversy for years, thanks in large part to taxpayer-funded works such as “Piss Christ,” the photograph of a crucifix immersed in urine that received NEA funding in the mid-1990s and was subsequently attacked by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and then-Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.).
Conservatives have crusaded against the use of tax dollars for such projects but haven’t been able to muster enough votes in Congress to kill NEA funding.”
To understand the budget (as I am trying to do, and boy it’s not easy), please refer to the NEA Annual Performance Report for Fiscal Year 2002. You can find it on the NEA’s website. I could not find a direct link to “budget” or Annual Performance Report off the main webpage. Suspicious? Nah. Many government websites don’t have easily identifiable links to the budget. Trying to find a University’s budget statement is hard, let alone one for the country.
The NEA allocates money to seven main areas: Access, creativity, arts learning, heritage/preservation, organizational capacity, community arts development, and partnerships. Let’s look at the most likely contributors to Piss Christ: Access and Creativity. Note that the budget for FY2002 was 121 million dollars.
Access (broaden public access to the excellence and diversity of the arts). This includes concerts/readings/performances, schools and other residencies, and exhibitions: 292 total awards, from which 10,000 performances, exhibitions, etc. have been funded. The total cost: about 14 million dollars.
Creativity (foster opportunities for the creation and presentation of artistically excellent work). This includes artworks created, performances, exhibitions, and fellowships to writers: 845 awards, from which 27,000 performances, exhibitions etc. have been funded. The total cost: about 20 million dollars.
The rest, about 87 million dollars, goes to arts learning in schools, conservation/restoration of art, strengthening organizational and fincancial capabilities of arts programs, community arts programs, and partnerships with state and regional arts programs.
It doesn’t seem that 34 million dollars (access and creativity combined) can ALL go to Piss Christs. More than likely, the majority goes to non shock-value arts like dance performances, retrospectives on artistis, funding for museums, etc. The angry little Piss Christ maker, I’m sure, rarely gets funded. For an example list of who, exactly, gets funding, see the NEA website at this address: