NEA wants to end Jazz Masters program

The National Endowment of the Arts’ FY-12 Appropriations Request has just been posted, and cuts $21 million to return to its 2008 funding level. Among program “modifications”: the establishment of “American Artists of the Year awards,” which will “remove specific reference to Jazz, Folk, and Opera” and give discipline awards annually in two categories:

  • Performing Arts: Dance/Music/Opera/Musical Theater/Theater 
  • Visual Arts: Design/Media Arts/Museums/Visual Arts (including crafts)

This evidently means the end of the Jazz Masters Fellowships, which have been conferred upon 123 people since it began in 1982. Jazz Masters have also been documented by the Smithsonian Institution’s Oral History Project, and have received tour support for live performances.

There’s no dollar amount affixed to these Awards — that information is
not broken out as a separate line in the NEA’s overall budget. However, this modification is based on this statement in the budget request: 

Reductions necessary to accommodate a budget of $146.255 million will result in actions such as the following:

Replacement of the large-scale honorific celebrations in Jazz, Opera, and Folk and Traditional Arts with a less expensive effort which celebrates all of the arts (consistent with our 2012 legislative request).

 Other details of the new plan:

NEA American Artists of the Year honorific awards would be
made not only to individuals who have devoted a lifetime to the
advancement of artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation, but to
individuals who at mid-career have made an extraordinary contribution to
the arts.

I read this as:

  • To perform is to perform, never mind the process, stresses and circumstances performing artists live with in their separate disciplines require different sorts of energies and activities in pursuit of success. They will all be honored as one.
  • “(J)azz, folk and opera”
    artists will compete not only with others in their
    disciplines, but with each other, with composers of contemporary
    symphonic or chamber work, and also with dancers, musical theater and
    straight theater performers for honors (in the case of the Jazz Masters,
    the Awards come with a $25,000 honorarium).

And oh yeah, you don’t have
to have been at it all your lifetime, mid-career prominence will due (a determination implicit in the honors bestowed as 2010 Jazz Masters Awards to not only jazz elder Ellis Marsalis but also his accomplished, mid-career sons). This expands the field of possible honorees in all disciplines significantly. Receiving an American Artist of the Year Award may become tantamount, odds-wise to winning the lottery.

There’s sure to be more interesting news in this NEA document. Any of it good? If so, please comment below.
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  1. says

    I have always struggled with the idea of these grants, which, like other major prizes in the arts, seem a double edged sword. On the one hand, money is give to great artists, which allows them to make more great art. This is surely a worthwhile and necessary bottom-line result in a world that has largely turned its back on the arts. On the other hand, however, the more official prizes that are given away, the more jazz and other mediums like it become isolated from the public in the towers of high culture and academia. It doesn’t seem that the Jazz Masters awards have helped jazz to flourish in terms of gaining new audience members, but rather, as with the most recent set of prizes, bestowed honors on those already firmly established within the institution that has become jazz. In my view, the real future of this music lies outside such institutions.
    Just as Sartre wrote that “writers must never become institutions,” when he rejected his Nobel Prize, so too should jazz musicians be wary of anything that puts walls up between their music and the listeners. I for one, am not particularly sad to see these prizes go.
    HM: We can debate the ultimate value to the field of giving awards, cash or otherwise, to artists, but to my mind the low cost of giving the Jazz Masters awards is worth it because it lets the world know the USA does indeed recognize that certain artists have spent their lives contributing to an American cultural treasure.
    There are not “more official prizes” that jazz musicians are liable to get — consider that yesterday President Obama gave major honors to two sports stars, a classical cellist and a former President, and that the Kennedy Center Awards are going to people such as Paul McCartney (not a US citizen, though a great Beatle). Musicians given the Jazz Masters awards such as Dave Liebman, Ellis Marsalis, Muhal Richard Abrams are not going to be further removed from the genuine, active culture into ivory towered academia by getting a nod of acknowledgment and a few extra bucks. The Jazz Awards might be given *without* the $ and still be serving a purpose as an honorific. To *not* give Jazz Masters awards doesn’t do anything to promote jazz, either.

  2. says

    Mr. DiPiero:
    A bit of a correction on your determination that the NEA Jazz Masters awards haven’t assisted in gaining new audience members for jazz. As a result of the adjunct program first known as NEA Jazz Masters on Tour, now known as NEA Jazz Masters “Live”, untold thousands have been treated to performances across the country by NEA Jazz Masters, reaching audiences and performing in venues that might otherwise not have been possible were it not for the NEA Jazz Masters program and the funding it has granted to support those performances. As one of the administrators of the program I have recorded specific anecdotal evidence from audience members who have attended assorted performances supported by the NEA Jazz Masters on Tour and NEA Jazz Masters “Live” grant allocations and I have the voices on tape to prove that were it not for that specific funding, those audiences would not have experienced those artists in their community.
    Willard Jenkins
    Home of The Independent Ear

  3. Howard Bankhead says

    David vs Goliath
    One of the most important things we have to do as a community and nation is the development of our youth minds and character.
    One of the reasons students in the United States are falling behind in education and the arts, and lack a solid work ethic is, I believe, partially due to the effect of negative pop-culture. Those of you who support the arts will understand where I am coming from, others may not.
    New York City’s Madison Avenue and Hollywood spends billions of dollars to creatively manipulate and capture the minds of our young people, while education and funding for the arts are being cut for a variety of reasons. Some are legitimate, most are not. Of course, David is the educational system and arts communities across the country and Goliath is Madison Avenue-Hollywood, big businesses and the perpetuation of the negative influences of pop-culture.
    To make it plain, Madison Avenue-Hollywood helps fund sex, violence and vulgarity through commercial pop-culture which permeate our society. Intentionally or subliminally, Madison Avenue-Hollywood is continually feeding our youth a steady diet of sex and violence in video games, fashion, music and reality shows. You get the picture.
    As the community/village we must defeat the base and tasteless reality of Reality television.
    The sad part is that in many cases, caregivers of our youth, parents and guardians are willingly or unwittingly allowing these negative messages and images into our homes and directly into our children’s hearts and minds.
    If we, the community of those who know the powerful affect of the arts, in collaboration with parents and teachers, do not step-up, get up off the couch, put the remote down and get involved to make sure our young people are exposed to the positive experiences of good music, uplifting images and the value of healthy choices, it is our fault that our children will never know Coltrane, appreciate a “Starry Night” or experience a Midsummer Night’s Dream.
    In addition they will not receive one of the keys for developing their creative and artistic talents from which all of society will benefit, now and in the future. David must win the battle. Let us replace sex and violence with sax and violins.
    Support the NEA Jazz Master and Jazz Education in the schools.
    “anything positive is possible”
    Howard Bankhead
    Tennessee Valley Jazz Society-Huntsville, AL

    • liz Peak says

      Art, Music, Dance, are the basis of all creative thinking. To cut them is to doom our society to less than the best in education and in what our society has to offer.