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Art in the Age of Gingrich: Doing the Hokey-Pokey

by Jeff Gates

As you may know, there growing debate over the nature of economic opportunity in America. In an information-driven economy, society's class lines seem increasingly determined by knowledge and intellectual merit! More than at any time in our history, brains, not brawn, are key to economic success... Will you be part of the cognitive elite, you may be wondering? Will you make the cut?


The voters have spoken. Could you please ma little bit to the right? Umm, just a little bit more? Good. Now, doesn't that feel better?

What effect will Congress' conservative shift have on us in the arts? Will the Republicans' Contract With America (or as some are calling it, Contract On America) mean the elimination of the NEA? It doesn't call for it. But will art be institutionalized as a superfluous entitlement and will artists be subjected to a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy? A recent editorial in the Washington Post suggest that a conservative Congress doesn't necessarily mean the Endowment's elimination (the fastest growth by the NEA occurred during the Nixon Administration), but goes on to state that "sensible behavior by artists themselves could help in this regard, especially given their propensity to obligingly attack from the left when Congress attacks from the right. The ideological flavor of the next two years, still to be determined, is key."

text If the Post expects us to be good boys and girls by not rocking the already out-of-balance boat, in order to defend an agency which many feel has forgotten the importance of artists, they, too, need some reminding. In the war of words, where sound bites are fighting with substance for control, cultural programs are tagged "entitlements," while monies paid to farmers not to grow tobacco are called "subsidies." Given this conventional wisdom, we have taken the wrong ideological road and should be lobbying for increased subsidies instead (perhaps we can convince politicians we should be paid not to speak the truth). If, however, we are really talking about new strategies for change, maybe there are alternatives.

While many are still in shock over the results of the election and the recent politization of the NEA, we are beginning to ask: What do we do now? Certainly, we cannot rely on the Democratic party to defend us. Even with majorities in the House and Senate, a strong and diverse cultural agenda was not part of the platform. Noteworthy, however, was the clarity of the electorate's voice. While we may not all agree with what was said, and we genuinely have cause to fear the directions this country may go, the power remains with the people. And th is where we can begin.

Think of it. Postmodernists that we are (well, some of us), let's borrow some successful techniques from daily life. How about a corps of artists, canvassing our neighborhoods, going door to door. "Hi, we're artists from your neighborhood and we'd like to tell you what we've been doing with your tax dollars. Can we take just a few moments to talk with you and leave you some of our literature?"


© 1995 Jeff Gates. No reproduction in whole or in part may be used without prior consent of the author.

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