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Robin Pogrebin-David Smith Smackdown on the Future of NEA

Robin Pogrebin, NY Times culture writer

: Robin Pogrebin scoops me…by breaking an embargo.

I’ll get to the subject of this headline in a moment, but first I wanted to call your attention to the announcement buried at end of my previous post, in which I introduced a new perk for CultureGrrl‘s Premier Donors. That select group received an advance heads-up about the topic of this post.

A contribution of of $25 or more will get you not only an e-mailed link to posts after they are published, but also (in most, but not all, cases) an early warning system about the topics to be covered in upcoming posts. (You can of course, opt out of these lists if your philanthropy is no-strings-attached.)

All exisiting donors will be automatically bumped up to premier status. New donors of $5-$24 will receive the post-publication e-mail links, but not the advance alerts.

Some posts will not be pre-announced, however, to prevent my being scooped by the likes of Robin Pogrebin. She recently did a terrific job (and I’m NOT kidding) in showing off her knowledge and analytical acumen in this discussion (more like a debate) with the risk-averse David Smith on the subject of President Obama‘s NEA and NEH appointments. They sparred on John Schaefer‘s “Soundcheck” program on New York Public Radio.

Robin opined that it would be nice if there were more risk-taking under NEA’s new administration and she noted that Rocco Landesman (scroll down), the agency’s Obama-nominated director designate, has been known as a “troublemaker” (in a good way). David has been disseminating his wishful-thinking predictions that the new federal heads for arts and humanities won’t rock the boat by being excessively cutting-edge in supporting creative artistic efforts and creative thought.

Smith detailed his views in this recent piece in the Wall Street Journal. But didn’t he get the memo from Bloomberg‘s Jeremy Gerard that Rocco is a game-changer, not someone who “ought to elicit a sigh of relief from conservatives,” as Smith put it in his WSJ essay? To understand more about Landesman’s non-conservative philosophy and lifestyle, you need to read David Owen‘s 1994 New Yorker profile. Pogrebin’s piece on the appointment is here.

Smith seems to see NEA as a big federal civic lesson about the importance and value of the arts. But does the National Science Foundation only hype the civic value of science? No. Its primary function is funding basic research by those who are pushing the frontiers of scientific knowledge and discovery. It supports
“‘high-risk, high pay-off’ ideas, novel collaborations and numerous projects
that may seem like science fiction today, but which the public will take for granted

NEA and NEH should do the same for their respective fields. That means, among other things, restoring fellowships for artists—the artworld’s equivalent of risk-taking “basic research.”

Meanwhile, NEA spokesperson Victoria Hutter informed me that there’s no word yet on whether Landesman will subjected to official confirmation hearings: “We don’t know when confirmation will take place,” Hutter said, “or whether or not there will be a hearing.” Dana Gioia, the previous NEA head, assumed his post without a hearing, she noted.

So let’s just get on with it! No NEA Four litmus test.

an ArtsJournal blog