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Writing

Inside Out at the NEA

by Jeff Gates

Art is Power.

- Longfellow

Politics is the art of the possible.

- Bismark

There is hardly a political question in the United States
which does not, sooner or later, turn into a judicial one.


- Alexis de Tocqueville
Democracy in America



I was excited to learn I had received an Arts Administration fellowship to the National Endowment for the Arts. This program invites approximately 15 people to spend three months working in various NEA programs. As an artist, an arts administrator and an advocate, I couldn't have picked a better time to be close to the action. Despite recent NEA controversies, I came to the agency with an open mind and a determination to explore its policies, its bureaucrats and its people. I was not disappointed.

In spite of the extensive coverage of the NEA during the last year, how it functions and what it funds are often misunderstood. Besides providing monies for arts education and to local, state and region arts agencies, there are 12 discipline-based programs within the NEA from dance and folk arts to literature and theater. I spent my time working in the visual arts program, which awards non-matching fellowships to individual artists as well as matching funds to artist-run organizations.

text Grants to organizations are made to assist in presenting contemporary visual artists' work, to commission artists for public art projects, and to support various proposals that enable artists, critics, curators and other art professional to create and present programs and publications that promote dialogue within art communities and with the public at large.

Prior to my arrival, I had spoken at length to Michael Faubion, assistant director of the program, about my possible contributions. Faubion was eager to mesh my interests with the needs of the area. During my tenure I completed a report on community interaction with and support Visual Artists' Organizations (VAOs). My final report reflects the incredible breadth of social programs, including but not limited to multicultural, arts education and international projects, that VAOs initiate.

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© 1990 Jeff Gates. No reproduction in whole or in part may be used without prior consent of the author.


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